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Marjory Stoneman Douglas
Photo courtesy of NPS Photo

Today when we hear the name Marjory Stoneman Douglas, we think of the terrible tragedy that occurred this year at the Parkland school named after this incredible woman. Marjory took on the fight for feminism, racial justice, and conservation long before these causes became popular. Marjory’s name needs to be remembered for all the accomplishments she achieved to preserve the Everglades for many generations to come. Here is her life story.

“There are no other Everglades in the world. They are, they have always been, one of the unique regions of the earth; remote, never wholly known. Nothing anywhere else is like them…”

These are the opening words from Marjory Stoneman Douglas’ immortal book, The Everglades: River of Grass.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas, born April 7, 1890 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, graduated from Wellesley with straight A’s. In 1915, following a brief marriage, she arrived in Miami to live with her father, the founder and editor of the Miami Herald. Before long, her father asked her to fill in temporarily for the society editor. Marjory soon took over the job full-time. After numerous years at The Miami Herald, Marjorie left originally for medical reasons and eventually became an independent writer. She wanted to be an individual rather than an employee, and she was a loner.

It was 1917 and the First World War was raging in Europe. The Navy had sent a ship from Key West to Miami to enlist men and women into the Naval Reserve. Marjory was the first woman to enlist. She joined the Navy, became a yeoman first class, and was stationed in Miami. After a year, she was discharged,joined the American Red Cross, and went to Paris where she stayed to cover how the American Red Cross turned over their facilities throughout Europe to local authorities.

In 1926, Marjory, with some help from her friends, designed and built the cottage in Coconut Grove in which she lived for the rest of her life. Today, the State of Florida owns the house.

One project that Marjory supported in print, and by serving on the committee, was the creation of Everglades National Park. She visited the Everglades often. In the Ten Thousand islands at the edge of the Everglades, she saw “great flocks of birds, amazing flights of 30,000 to 40,000 in one swoop…” In 1934, the park was designated by Congress. It took another 13 years to acquire land and secure funding. The park officially opened in 1947.

One of Marjory’s long-time friends, Hervey Allen, the editor for Rinehart and Company of its Rivers of America series, asked Marjory to write a book about the Miami River. She asked him if she could write about the Everglades as being connected to the Miami River. He agreed. This began Marjory’s research into the Everglades ecosystem. The book took five years. It was published the same year Everglades National Park was dedicated, 1947. The Everglades: River of Grass has become the definitive description of the natural treasure she fought so hard to protect.

In 1969, she formed Friends of the Everglades. Her purpose was to create awareness of the potential destruction of a large portion of the Everglades by a huge jetport being built in the fragile wetlands. Marjory, a born advocate, said “I’ll do whatever I can” to stop the jetport. The jetport was stopped after one runway was built.

Marjory spent the rest of her life defending the Everglades. She expanded Friends of the Everglades into Broward, Palm Beach, Lee, St. Lucie, Osceola, Hendry, Glades, and Monroe Counties. She received many awards and tributes for her work. In 1993, at the age of 103, Marjory was awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom. Its citation said, “An extra-ordinary woman who has devoted her long life to protecting the fragile eco-system of the Everglades, and to the cause of equal rights for all Americans, Marjory Stoneman Douglas personifies passionate commitment. Her crusade to preserve and restore the Everglades has enhanced our Nation’s respect for our precious environment, reminding all of us of nature’s delicate balance. Grateful Americans honor the “Grandmother of the Glades” by following her splendid example in safeguarding America’s beauty and splendor for generations to come.”

Marjory Stoneman Douglas died in 1998 at the age or 108. Her ashes were scattered in the Everglades she worked so tirelessly to preserve.

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