Be a nuisance where it counts. Do your part to inform and stimulate the public to join your action. Be depressed, discouraged, and disappointed at failure and the disheartening effects of ignorance, greed, corruption, and bad politics—but never give up.
–Marjory Stoneman Douglas
Marjory Stoneman Douglas, for whom the now infamous Parkland, Florida, high school was named in 1990, led a life of unabashed activism for 108 years—for woman suffrage, equality, and environmentalism. Also a researcher, author, and journalist, she was almost single-handedly responsible for saving the Everglades from development.
No matter which of the varied roles she undertook in her long life, Marjory Stoneman Douglas lived up to her exhortation. Whether as a journalist for her father’s Miami Herald—where three days after being assigned “society” stories she decided to write about woman suffrage—or trying to convince Florida House members to support the woman suffrage amendment and encountering “blank walls” of indifference; or staring down Ku Klux Klan members attempting to block her and her father from traveling in certain sections of her community—Marjory Stoneman Douglas showed courage, perseverance, and determination. She would let nothing—and no one—stop her from advocating for what she felt was right … including President Richard Nixon, who in 1970 halted plans for an airport in the Everglades after the first of six planned runways had already been built, over concerns raised by Stoneman Douglas about destroying wetlands and upsetting the ecosystem.
Born in 1890 in Minnesota, Stoneman Douglas attended Wellesley College in Massachusetts, where she was elected class orator. Her time here saw her first involvement in woman suffrage. She graduated in 1912; the following year, she joined the American Red Cross in Europe, reporting on World War I for the Associated Press.
Back in Miami and the Herald in 1917, Stoneman Douglas lobbied for the woman suffrage amendment. While the 19th amendment to the Constitution, which gave women the right to vote, was ratified in 1920, Florida did not officially ratify it until 1969.
She left the newspaper in 1923 and went on to write scores of books and other pieces, including novels and treatises on the environment. Perhaps her most important work was the 1947 book, The Everglades: River of Grass; according to The New York Times, it “changed forever the way Americans look at wetlands.”
Douglas’ efforts in the name of equality never wavered; she was a charter member of the South’s first chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, campaigning tirelessly for the Equal Rights Amendment. In 1990, Broward County (Florida) named its new high school—ironically, built over a part of the Everglades—after her. It would become infamous for a very different reason some 28 years later.
She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Bill Clinton in 1993. Marjory Stoneman Douglas died in 1998 at age 108.
Regrettably, the name Marjory Stoneman Douglas will likely always be most famous for the Parkland, Florida, high school that bears her name: On February 14, 2018, a gunman killed 17 people there, including 14 students. Following in Stoneman Douglas’ activist footsteps, the students from the school began a massive movement to better regulate guns. On March 24, 2018, more than 800,000 people marched in Washington, D.C., and in over 800 cities worldwide to demand new gun laws.
She would have been proud.
Editor’s Note: This biography, published with permission, is adapted from a similar piece to be published in the forthcoming (September 2018) Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1600-2000. See http://womhist.alexanderstreet.com/.