**Reposted from March 14, 2018
Marjory Stoneman Douglas was a writer, a journalist, a women’s suffrage activist, and a relentless advocate for preservation of Florida’s Everglades. We all now know her as the namesake of the high school where–one months ago today–a mass shooting took the lives of 17 students. Today, I’m remembering not only Marjory, but also the 17 students who were killed and their classmates who stood up, found their voices, and are using them just as Marjory did about the causes she was passionate about. As if she could foresee that she would one day need to inspire the students at her namesake high school, she once said: “Be a nuisance when it counts. Do your part to inform and stimulate the public to join your action. Be depressed, discouraged, & disappointed at failure & the disheartening effects of ignorance, greed, corruption & bad politics–but never give up.”
Marjory was born in 1890 in Minneapolis. Her mother was a concert violinist and her father an entrepreneur. She was born with a strong appreciation for and empathy with nature. When her father read “The Song of Hiawatha” to her, she burst in to tears at the part about the tree giving its life so that Hiawatha could have wood for her canoe. She read all the books she could get her hands on while she was growing up and she began to write when she was a teenager. She contributed to magazines and received an award from the Boston Herald for a short story when she was 16.
She graduated from Wellesley College with straight-As and an English degree in 1912. While in college, she joined a suffrage club and began advocating for women’s suffrage. She met and married Kenneth Douglas in 1914. He turned out to be a con artist who was probably already married to someone else. Although she stuck with him while he did a six-month stint in jail on a bad check conviction, she left him soon after that when he tried to scam her father. Her uncle talked her into leaving him and moving to Miami where her father had moved after separating from her mother many years before.
At that time, in 1915, Florida, and even Miami, was very rural. Her father was a newspaper publisher, and he worked at the paper that later became The Miami Herald, where Marjory worked. She started her journalism career as a columnist, writing–as many women journalists did at that time–about social events. She sometimes wove fiction into her stories to make them better and, after a while, got into some trouble for doing that. She left the paper for awhile and joined the Navy, but also didn’t like that. So she requested and was granted a discharge so she could join the Red Cross. That job took her to Paris, where she helped care for war wounded. This experience, in her words, “helped me understand the plight of refugees in Miami sixty years later.”
After the war, she went back to the Miami Herald, where she became well known for her column “The Galley.” Through this column, she was able to have a voice in many important issues of the day, including responsible urban planning as Miami blossomed into a giant city, women’s suffrage, sanitation, civil rights, etc. She wrote a column about a 22-year-old from North Dakota, who was beaten to death in a Florida labor prison. Her column was read aloud before the Florida Legislature, which–inspired by it–passed a law against convict leasing. She said “I think that’s the single most important thing I was ever able to accomplish as a result of something I’ve written.” She continued to write fiction, including plays and short stories. One of her short stories, about poachers who killed Everglades birds for their feathers, was an O. Henry Finalist in 1928.
The book she is most well-known for is “The Everglades: River of Grass,” which changed the thinking about the Everglades from being a useless swamp to being an important and complex ecosystem surrounding a river that is worthy of preserving. She did meticulous and extensive research for the book, the first line of which was “There are no other Everglades in the world.” She remained involved in Everglades preservation for the remaining years of her life.
She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the US’s highest civilian honor, and has been honored with numerous other awards. The high school in Parkland, FL was named after her when it opened in 1990, as were other schools. She died in 1998 at the age of 108!
Here’s a link to “The Everglades: River of Grass.”