Marjory Stoneman Douglas (1890 – 1998) – known by many as “The Mother of the Everglades” – lived a long, illustrious and inspiring life. She was a journalist, writer, activist, feminist and environmentalist – all accurate ways of saying that she refused to be anything other than one hundred per cent herself throughout her 108 years alive.
Douglas developed her rigorous and unwavering sense of self from a very young age. Her parents parted ways when she was six years old, at which point she was abruptly moved to Massachusetts with her mother, aunt and grandparents who often disparaged her father and did not get on well among themselves. Her mother was institutionalized several times and constantly struggled with mental well-being. Douglas escaped this contentious environment by reading, and credits her difficult upbringing with making her “a skeptic and a dissenter” for the rest of her life.
Notwithstanding the tougher side of her family life, she developed as deep capacity for empathy and strong sense of environmentalism even as a young child. One of her earliest memories was of her father reading her The Song of Hiawatha and crying when the tree was sacrificed to build the protagonist’s canoe. In 1915, following the death of her mother and a tumultuous marriage, Douglas began working for her father at the Miami Herald.
She began as a society columnist, but the limitations of that role were not enough to constrain her passion, wit and feistiness and she soon used her writing to further the causes she believed in – namely suffrage, racial justice and, most famously, the conservation and restoration of the Florida Everglades. All the while, her articles and stories were expertly-penned, well-researched, informative and entertaining.
“She had a tongue like a switchblade and the moral authority to embarrass bureaucrats and politicians and make things happen,” wrote Jeff Klinkenberg, a reporter for the St. Petersburg Times.
Her 1947 book The Everglades: River of Grass is perhaps her most well-known work and is still considered by many to be the defining commentary on the national wonder she spent the majority of her life fighting to protect. Highly influential in the conservation of the ecosystem, it has been published in numerous editions and has sold some 500,000 copies since its release. She later founded Friends of the Everglades and continued fighting the battle against development for the rest of her days. Her ashes were scattered over the Everglades National Park.
She has accrued many honors and awards throughout her career, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, awarded to her by Bill Clinton in 1993. Although well-deserved, she was not appeased by these awards, explaining to a friend that she would prefer to see the Everglades restored than her name on a building.
Douglas has been noted as justifying her Everglades activism by saying, “It is a woman’s business to be interested in the environment. It’s an extended form of housekeeping,” and this statement is the perfect encapsulation of her as an individual – sly, insightful, immensely witty and aware of the status quo but not content to live within its confines. The collection of writing presented here on POBA showcases all of those qualities many times over.
Image: Everglades Pond by A.E. Backus, c. 1950