Ghosts of Elections Past: Remembering the Presidential Election of 1920

Harding/Coolidge Election Poster circa 1920

Today we bring you a guest post by R. Boyd Murphree, Project Manager, Florida Family and Community History, Digital Services and Shared Collections, University of Florida, George A. Smathers Libraries. He can be contacted at and is also on Twitter @boyd_murphree.

The 2016 presidential election has triggered an avalanche of vitriol and sheer nastiness that seems destined to make the election one of the most divisive in US history. Few presidential races have garnered more negative press and generated more negative public reaction than the battle between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. The bitterness of 2016 brings to mind the famous elections of 1860 (Lincoln and secession) and 1968 (Nixon and Vietnam) as parallel periods of anxiety and political division among the electorate.

A more subtle but equally instructive example from past presidential races is the election of 1920, when the nation confronted many of the same issues that dominate the current contest: race, terrorism, the role of women in politics, and uncertainty about America’s role in the world. Going into the election, Florida, like the rest of the Deep South, was a Democratic stronghold. The few Florida newspapers available in Chronicling America from 1920 reflect the Southern, white, male and Democratic view of the issues and the candidates.

Ocala Evening Star November 3, 1920

Unlike Trump and Clinton, whose controversial names are unlikely to disappear any time soon from American political memory, the names Harding and Cox are seldom recalled today. James M. Cox, the Democratic nominee in 1920, long ago entered the pantheon of losing, little-known presidential contenders. Of course, Republican Warren G. Harding won the presidency, but he is remembered more for love affairs than affairs of state. However, it is not the personalities of the candidates that makes the election of 1920 pertinent today, but the issues that permeated the race.

Ocala Evening Star October 20, 1920

Only two years earlier, the nation emerged victorious from World War I. Despite this victory, America was divided about the results of a peace that left millions dead for questionable gain. Americans were ready to turn inward and embrace Harding’s call for a return to “normalcy” in foreign and domestic affairs. That normalcy was also disturbed in 1919 by a wave of strikes and bombings that resulted in the nation’s first Red Scare, a fear that the success of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia would bring anarchism and communism to America’s shores. The Red Scare encouraged suspicion of foreigners and foreign doctrines that seemed to endanger American security, fueling the resurrection of the Ku Klux Klan, which would become a powerful and violent presence in the country during the next decade.

Ocala Evening Star July 12, 1920

Fear of the foreign was matched by fear of the familiar. On August 18, 1920, the nation ratified the Nineteenth Amendment giving women the vote. The election of 1920 became the first presidential election in which all American women of legal age in each of then forty-eight states had the right to vote. Florida had not ratified the Nineteenth Amendment and would not do so until 1969. Many Florida legislators believed that extending the vote to women would only encourage more African Americans to vote (black women could vote for the first time). After the national ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment made Florida’s continued opposition irrelevant, the same segregationists urged white Florida women to register and vote to offset the expected increase in black voting, now that black women had the vote. Florida women could vote and did so on November 2, 1920, the date of the presidential election. The Ocala Evening Star reported the historic moment on Election Day by noting the names of the first seven white women to vote in Marion County and, with less eye for detail, observed, “A majority of the colored voters are women.”

Ocala Evening Star November 2, 1920

The fact that African Americans showed up at the polls in large numbers—the Ocala Evening Star reported heavy voting on the “colored side” on election morning—was the result of an organized drive, especially among black women, to register African Americans to vote and vote Republican. The goal of this “Florida movement,” according to historian Paul Ortiz, was “a statewide movement aimed at shattering white supremacy” (Ortiz, 172).

Whites reacted with organized opposition to the black vote. Groups of armed whites, led by the newly resurgent Ku Klux Klan, formed to intimidate and prevent blacks from voting across the state. The resilience of the Florida movement did result in successful black voting in a number of cities, but African American voters in many localities were not so fortunate. Central Florida became the scene of the worst racial violence on Election Day when white residents of Orange County attacked African Americans in Ocoee. African Americans in Ocoee resisted the white mob and a bloody battle raged for several hours in the now burning black community. Known as the Ocoee Massacre, the fighting resulted in the deaths of dozens of African Americans and drove hundreds of others from the town.

Ocala Evening Star November 3, 1920

As Ocoee burned, Americans awoke to a resounding Republican victory on the morning after Election Day. Hoover swept the nation with over sixty percent of the popular vote and 404 electoral votes to Cox’s 127. The election resolved which party would dominate Washington during the 1920s, but many of the election’s most divisive issues remain with the county to this day.

Ocala Evening Star November 3, 1920

Citations and Additional Sources

Abraham Lincoln, “That a government of the people shall not perish from the earth” Photographic print. c1920 July 30. From: Library of Congress, (accessed October 17, 2016).

Johnson, Kenneth R. “Florida Women Get the Vote.” Florida Historical Quarterly 48, no. 3 (January 1970): 299-312.

Ortiz, Paul. Emancipation Betrayed: The Hidden History of Black Organizing and White Violence in Florida From Reconstruction to the Bloody Election of 1920 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005).

Pietrusza, David. 1920 The Year of Six Presidents (New York: Carroll and Graf, 2007).


Florida Panthers Leap Out of the Past


Panther Florida Memory
Florida Panther at the Tallahassee Museum of History and Natural Science Courtesy of Florida Memory

On March 3rd we celebrate the 117th anniversary of Florida’s statehood. The 27th state to join the Union, Florida in 1845 was largely unsettled by non-Native American groups. From its discovery by Europeans onward, settlers struggled to learn how to survive in a difficult climate filled with potentially troublesome plants and animals. While mentioning Florida wildlife may invoke a variety of images including the alligator and manatee, the state animal is officially the Florida Panther. To celebrate Florida’s birthday, we want to take the time to discuss this state symbol and just a few of its numerous appearances in our historic newspaper collection.

The Florida Panther (also known as the catamount or painter) was selected by school children in the state during the early 1980s to be the state animal. It faced stiff competition during this election, beating out the alligator, Key Deer, and manatee. By the late 20th century, the panther had secured a spot on the Federal endangered species list due to there being only about 20 left in existence. This Federal protection is a far cry from the cultural attitude of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a time when panthers were routinely sought out and killed by people all over Florida. For example, a 1916 advertisement for Ten Thousand Islands (now a part of the Everglades National Park) by West Coast Transportation Company promoted the region as “the best area for hunting, fishing, and boating” and includes “panther” on the list of animals that can be found (and presumably hunted) in the area.

Thousand Islands hunting area
Punta Gorda Herald-March 16, 1916

The simplest explanation as to why they were the targets of human aggression is because humans feared them and the big cats caused property damage. These large carnivorous mammals routinely grow to be between 75 and 160 pounds and, in the past, had no scruples about entering towns in search of food. In March of 1901 the Ocala Evening Star included a front page story about a Panther who “invaded the streets” of Perry, Florida. The Panther was reported to have attacked two dogs belonging to Mr. W. E. Quarterman, “eating one and badly wounding the other.” This is a rare story because it does not end in the panther’s death, rather, it simply states that the animal “departed, leaving nothing but his tracks and a partly devoured dog.” A panther living in the Pensacola area was not as lucky. In January of 1907 the Pensacola Journal reported that “wild cats in that vicinity were working sad havoc” and had caused W.D. Henderson to lose “25-30” lambs during the present season. This lead the farmer to join forces with Country Treasurer Williams and “the famous colored catamount hunter,” Ransom Dean, to deal with the animals. The paper reports that they were able to successfully kill two and ends by stating that Mr. Henderson “thinks that either the county commissioners or the cattle growers of the county, or both, should provide a bounty for these destructive animals.”

Perry Panther Dog
Ocala Evening Star-March 23, 1909

Panthers in their natural habitat weren’t much safer than those that ventured into land settled by humans. In April 1908 both the Pensacola Journal and Ocala Evening Star reran a story originally from the Tampa Tribune reporting a panther incident near Punta Gorda. It seems that five young men decided to go camping on Captiva Island despite warnings that it was “infested with various wild animals.” While the trip went well at first, that Friday night P.Q.S. Hatch was attacked by a panther while hunting. Two of his companions arrived after Hatch fired a distress signal from his gun, and Gene Whidden, witnessing the confrontation, “killed the panther by shooting it in the head with a rifle.” Hatch emerged from the event “terribly clawed all over” but ultimately survived.

In addition to the fact that they were considered game animals until 1958, panthers are threatened by other aspects of human activity beyond hunting and poaching. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Service reports road kills are the most common human related cause of panther death in the wild. While this has certainly been exacerbated by the growth of Florida interstates, stories of panthers sightings near roads is not a new occurrence. In 1914 the Pensacola Journal re-ran a short story from the DeLand News about a panther who “was getting ready to spring upon” a hog near the road until “the headlight of an automobile” scared the cat into the brush “before they had the chance to shoot.” Interestingly, this article also notes that this particular panther was the first longtime resident Sheriff Smith had seen in many years and that “forty years ago there were many” in the Volusia county area.

Auto Hog Panther
Pensacola Journal-July 26, 1914


Despite the well-chronicled negativity in instances of human-panther interaction in historical newspapers from Florida, some stories have a happier ending. In May of 1899, the Ocala Evening Star includes a quick blurb about Louis Volk, a local man who captured a catamount kitten. This man apparently displayed the living animal in the show window of A. E. Delouest, a local hardware store. While it may be a good idea to question the claim that it “is becoming somewhat domesticated,” this story nonetheless shows a different side to panther human-panther encounter. One thing becomes very clear while reading about panthers in historical Floridian newspapers: humans have a certain fascination with this particular animal. Perhaps that’s what led school children to choose it to represent Florida as the State Animal.

Catamount Kitten
Ocala Evening Star-May 30, 1899

Works Cited and Additional Information

Celebrating Chronicling America’s 10 Million Pages

October 7, 2015

UF Libraries’ Florida and Puerto Rico Newspaper Project Celebrates Contributions

to Chronicling America’s 10 Million Pages

Free, searchable database of historic newspapers reflects Florida & Puerto Rico history

The University of Florida and the University of Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras today join the Library of Congress and the National Endowment for the Humanities in celebrating a major milestone for Chronicling America, a free, searchable database of historic U.S. newspapers. The Library announced today that more than 10 million pages have been posted to the site, which includes news from Florida related to the development of the citrus industry, natural disasters, wartime development and other historic events. News from Puerto Rico related to commerce, industry, agriculture, the Spanish America War and more can also be found in Chronicling America.

Launched by the Library of Congress and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) in 2007, Chronicling America provides enhanced and permanent access to historically significant newspapers published in the United States between 1836 and 1922. It is part of the National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP), a joint effort between the two agencies and partners in 40 states and territories.

The NDNP awards grants to entities in each state and territory to identify and digitize historic newspaper content. Awardees receive NEH funding to select and digitize 100,000 pages of historic newspapers published in their states between 1836 and 1922. Uniform technical specifications are provided to ensure consistency of all content, and digital files are transferred to the Library of Congress for long-term management and access. The first awards were made in 2005. Since then, NEH has awarded more than $30 million in support of the project.

The UF George A. Smathers Libraries was awarded an NEH grant in 2013 to collaborate with the University of Puerto Rico-Río Piedras to digitize historic newspapers from Florida and Puerto Rico that are currently on aging microfilm. In August 2015, the Smathers Libraries received a supplemental award from the NEH to digitize additional content. The total award of $613,000 provides funding support for the “Florida and Puerto Rico Digital Newspaper Project”, which is part of the state and territory’s involvement in the NDNP.

“Because these pages are not just on microfilm anymore, it completely changes the access. Anybody with an Internet connection can see them,” said project director Patrick Reakes, the UF libraries’ Associate Dean of Scholarly Resources and Services. “It’s also a more sustainable way to preserve them. Microfilm gets old and brittle and hard to read. Once these pages are digitized, they’re safe. They’ll still be readable in the future.”

“Chronicling America is one of the great online treasures, a remarkable window into our history and a testament to the power of collaborative efforts among cultural institutions nationwide,” said Mark Sweeney, the Library of Congress Associate Librarian for Library Services. “The Library of Congress is proud to work alongside NEH and all our partner institutions to make this vision a growing reality. In the coming years, we look forward to adding newspapers from the remaining states and territories, as new partners join the program.”

“We at the National Endowment for the Humanities are proud to support the Chronicling America historic newspaper project,” said NEH Chairman William Adams. “This invaluable resource preserves and makes available to all the first draft of America’s history so that we can see the ideas and events that shaped our republic unfold in the headlines of their times.”

While newspapers are frequently available for general use through microfilm and can be shared among users by interlibrary loan or purchasing copies, digitizing pages and providing full-text keyword access to the content is transformative for research of all kinds. In addition to saving researchers hours of scrolling through reels of microfilm, full-text access allows users to discover connections between research topics and uncover little-known stories in American history. The Chronicling America site includes a broad, curated set of newspapers selected for their historical value that users can browse or search. Through a few clicks they can narrow their focus to newspapers published all on the same day, in the same region, or the entire country. In addition, the content in Chronicling America is available for bulk download and API use, fostering new research approaches through computational and linguistic analysis.


Chronicling America Facts:

  • Between January and December 2014, the site logged 3.8 million visits and 41.7 million page views;
  • The resource includes more than 285,000 pages in almost 100 non-English newspapers (French, German, Italian and Spanish);
  • More than 250 Recommended Topics pages have been created, offering a gateway to exploration for users at any level. Topics include presidential assassinations, historic events such as the sinking of the Titanic, inventions and famous individuals such as the Wright Brothers, and cultural or offbeat subjects such as fashion trends, ping-pong and world’s fairs;
  • NEH has awarded a total of more than $30 million in grants to 40 partner institutions to contribute to Chronicling America, listed at;

About the Library of Congress: Founded in 1800, the Library of Congress is the nation’s first-established federal cultural institution and the largest library in the world. It seeks to spark imagination and creativity and to further human understanding and wisdom by providing access to knowledge through its magnificent collections, programs, publications and exhibitions. Many of the Library’s rich resources can be accessed through its website at

About the National Endowment for the Humanities: Celebrating its 50th anniversary as an independent federal agency in 2015, National Endowment for the Humanities brings the best in humanities research, public programs, education, and preservation projects to the American people. To date, NEH has awarded $5 billion in grants to build the nation’s cultural capital – at museums, libraries, colleges and universities, archives, and historical societies – and advance our understanding and appreciation of history, literature, philosophy, and language. Learn more at