May Mann Jennings & the Creation of Royal Palm State Park

Park Postcard UF00091225
Image from the America’s Swamp Collection in UFDC

On this blog we’ve looked at a few issues related to how events associated with the American Conservation movement, including the founding of the National Park Service and the establishment of the first National Wildlife Refuge on Pelican Island, were covered in our digitized newspapers. Today, we’ll look at the efforts in Florida, spearheaded by May Mann Jennings and other Florida women, that led to the creation of Royal Palm State Park. Royal Palm is notable because it was the first State Park in Florida and later served as the “nucleus” of Everglades National Park.

While most front page headlines in our papers about environmental issues focus on men as policy makers, in the early 20th century, Florida women played a prominent role in early conservation efforts in the state. According to historian Leslie Poole, women “helped set the environmental agenda in Florida” that was “often a reaction to problems created by male-dominated industry, development, and government” (Poole 7). Poole argues what motivated women to get involved in environmental causes was their desire “to try to clean it up or repair it, as they did at home, especially when it threatened the health of their children, neighbors, and community-both human and nonhuman” (Poole 77). Prior to the passage of the 19th amendment, women had a limited voice in government in the traditional sense. To compensate for this limitation, women utilized their social networks, including women’s clubs and organizations, to lobby for the creation of Royal Palm State Park as well as other causes including improving education, better medical facilities, and prohibition. The work of groups like the State Federation of Women’s Clubs and local affiliated organizations may have less frequently made the front page, but they received considerable coverage on the society pages of various Florida papers.

Jennings Fl Memory
Photo of May Mann Jennings, taken in 1901 while serving as Florida’s First Lady. Image retrieved from Florida Memory

One of the most prominent women involved in environmental efforts during the early 20th century was May Mann Jennings, who is referred to in our papers as Mrs. W.S. Jennings. Jennings was born in 1872 in New Jersey, but her family moved to Crystal River, Florida in 1874. Highly educated and interested in politics, Jennings worked as a legislative assistant for her father when he served as a member of the Florida House of Representatives. During her father’s campaign for the position, she met William Sherman Jennings, future Governor of Florida, who she married in 1891. After marrying, she was involved with various civic groups within the state including the Florida Federation of Women’s Clubs (serving as its president from 1914 to 1917), the Y.W.C.A, and the Florida League of Women Voters. Jennings is considered to be the “Mother of Florida Forestry.” Her lifetime involvement in the custodianship of Royal Palm resulted in her appointment to the Everglades National Park Commission prior to its dedication by President Harry S. Truman in 1947. Her involvement in Florida society and politics means that reports of her activities can be found throughout our papers.

The idea of reclaiming the Everglades to make the land usable had been popular among white Floridians since the mid-19th century. W.S. Jennings, May’s husband, supported the project while Governor. During his term he received “a patent to the lands south of the Okeechobee in the name of Florida” and hired an engineer “who surveyed glades lands in the Miami area” to determine what would be necessary to drain the area. After completing his term he remained involved in dredging efforts (Dovell 190). Jennings’ successor, Governor Napoleon B. Broward, promised to pursue Everglades’ drainage to make the land suitable for agricultural use in his successful election campaign. While we now view the Everglades as a rich and unique ecological system, at the time the land was viewed as empty and awaiting human use. However, there were those in the state, such as May Mann Jennings, who sought to conserve areas of the Everglades to preserve its beauty.

Reclaiming a Watery Wilderness
The Sun (Jacksonville)-March 10, 1906

Jennings learned of the existence of Paradise Key-which would be preserved as Royal Palm State Park-from fellow Florida Federation of Women’s Clubs member Mary Barr Munroe. Munroe was involved in a number of environmental causes in Florida and suggested “the group try to protect” the area at the 1905 FFWC convention. The Paradise Key area is a “hammock” or grouping of trees that form an ecological island in their shade. This particular hammock was notable for having “almost one thousand royal palms, tall and majestic trees native to the state that towered 100 feet or more in height” (Poole 86). It was the presence of the palm trees that led to the name of the park. Jennings used her ties in Tallahassee and network of politicized women to lobby the state to purchase and allow them to maintain the land. Achieving the creation of the park became a legislative priority for the FFWC during the 1915 legislative session, and they were ultimately successful. The land was ceded to them by the state, making them the custodians of the first State Park in Florida.

Receiving custodianship of Royal Palm State Park necessitated that the Florida Federation of Women’s Clubs secure funding for maintenance of the area, including hiring a custodian for the grounds. One early plan to raise money included sending out foot-long strips with slots for coins to women’s clubs throughout the state with the intention of raising “a mile of dimes” for park upkeep. In a letter printed in the January 2, 1916 edition of The Pensacola journal, Jennings estimated the mile of dimes would provide over $6,000 for the endowment fund. Beyond fundraising efforts targeting the general public, the FFWC were also “assisted” by the County Commissioners of Dade County and, in 1921, the legislature not only expanded the park by 2000 acres but also granted the FFWC $2500 in funding for the park annually. Poole argues that the legislature’s support of “Royal Palm State Park signified the state’s rising participation in a park movement that was sweeping the nation and redefining conservation to include preservation of landscapes” (Poole 95).

Royal Palm Hammock Jennings.jpg
Pensacola journal-February 6, 1916

The park was dedicated in November of 1916 to much fanfare and the event was covered extensively by the state press. Newspapers in the early 20th century frequently featured travel reports, especially positive ones that highlighted the virtues of Florida. Because of this, there are many stories in our paper which either focus on or include positive reviews of Royal Palm State Park. In Florence P. Haden’s retelling of her visit for The Pensacola journal she states that the “men were as intent as college boys in their work of naming the trees” and that the park “will interest scientists and tourists.” Another report about the “Charms of the East Coast” discusses the FFWC’s “purpose…to preserve the quietness of the forest as a sanctuary for the birds of the air, and things that crawl.” In reality, the FFWC made considerable changes to the hammock and, as Poole points out, “Florida’s first park was no model of wilderness preservation. Its female creators had very definite ideas of what they wanted the park to be, and much of it involved manipulation of the landscape with little care about saving the neighboring wetlands-indeed, most favored the state policy of draining the Everglades for agricultural production” (Poole 98). Despite these well-intended mistakes, the work of women like May Mann Jennings, who worked tirelessly for parks in Florida, contributed significantly to the Conservation movement in early 20th century Florida.

A Visit to the Hammock
Pensacola journal-December 26, 1915

May Mann Jennings’ papers have been digitized and can be found in the “America’s Swamp: The Historical Everglades Project” in UF Digital Collections.

 

Citations and Additional Sources

Chapman, Ann E. “American Conservation in the Twentieth Century.” National Parks Service. Accessed May 20, 2017. https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/massachusetts_conservation/American_Conservation_in_the_Twentieth_Century.html.

Dovell, Janius E. “The Everglades, a Florida Frontier.” Agricultural History, Vol. 22, No. 3 (July, 1948): 187-197.

Poole, Leslie Kemp. “Let Florida Be Green: Women, Activism, and the Environmental Century, 1900-2000.” PhD diss. University of Florida, 2012. (UFDC UFE0044352).

Vance, Linda Darlene Moore. “May Mann Jennings, Florida’s Genteel Activist.” PhD diss., University of Florida, 1980. (Internet Archive 99209).

Vance, Linda D. “May Mann Jennings and Royal Palm State Park.” The Florida Historical Quarterly, Vol. 55, No. 1 (July, 1976): 1-17.

 

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Ruth Law: The Aviatrix’s Florida Connection

It’s difficult to talk about the history of aviation in the United States without looking at activities that took place in Florida. As we’ve discussed in the past, Naval Air Station Pensacola played an important role in U.S. military aviation history. But the same hard-packed white sand at Daytona Beach that attracted automobile enthusiasts also caught the attention of early aviators looking for a warm place to fly year-round; well before the Navy set its sights on Pensacola. One notable individual to take advantage of the natural runway at Daytona Beach in the 1910s was aviatrix Ruth Law. Today, we’ll look at coverage of Law’s winter seasons in Daytona as well as the headlines she continued to make in Florida after achieving national recognition for her flying skills.

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Photo of Aviatrix Ruth Law and Mrs. Robert Goelet- Courtesy of Florida Memory

Born May 21, 1887, Law and her brother were both known for being adventurous. While her brother Rodman became a stuntman, Ruth demonstrated an interest in aviation. Ruth Law was rebuffed by Orville Wright when she expressed interest in enrolling in their pilot training school because of Wright’s belief that “women were unfit to fly” (DeMace). However, she was able to convince Phil Page to take her on as a student in 1912, determined to learn not only how to fly, but also how to mechanically maintain her aircraft (Lebow 204-205). Her choice in instructor possibly played some role in her eventual employment in Daytona. People interested in aviation had visited the beaches near Daytona since 1909 with the intention of using the smooth sand and tree-free land as a runway. In 1911 Glenn Curtiss signed a contract with civic leaders agreeing that one of the pilots in his employ would make a series of flights from the beach. The popularity of these flights prompted the owners of the Clarendon Hotel to sign a contract with aviator W. Starling Burgess for the 1912 winter season “to furnish an airplane and pilot to fly hotel guests” from “January to April” (Punnett 16). The pilot furnished by Burgess for the 1912 season was none other than Ruth’s teacher Phil Page, who made daily flights when the weather permitted. Page opted not to return in 1913 and, instead, “the job was won by Charles Oliver, but not for himself.” Oliver served as the agent “for his wife, the famous pioneer woman pilot, Ruth Bancroft Law” who, despite only learning to fly in 1912, had already began to make a name for herself in the aviation field (Punnett 23).

Ruth Law Flights
The Daytona daily news-February 15, 1915

The Daytona daily news enthusiastically covered Law’s flights during the 1913-1916 winter seasons; the paper even had the honor of “selecting the first person” to be her passenger. On January 12, 1913 “at least 5,000” people witnessed Law fly with Col. C.M. Bingham who “appeared to thoroughly enjoy the sensation of being carried through the air far above the heads of the big crowd.” Over the next four winter seasons, Law’s flights were frequently featured in the Clarendon Hotel section of The Daytona daily news, which served as a society section for happenings at the hotel. The paper also featured advertisements which promoted her activities. These ads include the aforementioned passenger flights with her (which cost $15.00-equivalent to about $360 in 2017), local programs featuring exhibition flights, and mention of the brand of oil and gas used by Law. While in Florida, she roused late sleepers with her “buzzing engine”, executed her first loop-the-loop, and threw a grapefruit/baseball from her airplane to the manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers (called the Superbas in our papers), becoming a part of one of the most iconic stories in Florida baseball history. The 1916 season would be her last in Daytona having decided to go to France to “enter the army aviation corps of the Entente allies.”

Given the seasonal nature of Law’s work, stories about the aviatrix aren’t unique to The Daytona daily news. If you search for “Ruth Law” in Chronicling America, you’ll discover a variety of papers from all over the United States that report on Law’s exhibitions and visits. Florida papers outside of Daytona tended to run stories about Law’s professional achievements year-round. Both The Pensacola journal and The Lakeland evening telegram ran Associated Press stories about her November 20, 1916 record-breaking flight “from Chicago to Hornell, New York” which “smashed the American cross-country flight record” (McGraw). Her flight, among other things, reopened discussions about the possibility of “aerial Mail Service” in the U.S., which became a reality in 1918.

Woman breaks american long distance
The Pensacola journal-November 20, 1916

Reading about Law in our papers, it becomes apparent that despite the fact that she broke records, her gender shaped how newspapers covered her accomplishments. Eileen F. Lebow discusses Law’s frustration with the media leading up to her Chicago-New York flight in Before Amelia: Women Pilots in the Early Days of Aviation saying that “if she (Law) was hoping the headlines would play down the ‘little girl’ aspect, she was wrong. Her youth and sex were emphasized” (Lebow 214). Despite wishing news outlets wouldn’t focus on her gender, some stories with this angle were intended to be complimentary. One story in The Pensacola journal discusses how Law is an example of “the modern woman” who, along with her peers, thrived in the public sphere rather than the home. Another article from 1916 mentions that Law was turning “little girls” into suffragists through her accomplishments. The article quotes one school girl as saying “’I noticed your picture on our bulletin board, where men usually show their faces. Now I am glad I am a girl, because girls can do just as wonderful things as men’” while a boy said “’it gives me great pleasure to see that a woman could beat a man at that stunt.’” However, even more than she disliked news coverage focusing on her gender, she resented that her gender kept her from becoming a combat pilot in World War I.

Ruth Law Off to Study War Planes
The Pensacola Journal-January 24, 1917

The escalation of WWI in Europe derailed Law and Ralph Pulitzer’s plans for her to purchase an “aeroplane superior in speed and carrying capacity than existing American types” to bring back to the U.S. (Lebow 217). Despite finding herself unable to purchase a European plane due to war shortages, Law nonetheless enjoyed studying the advances in aviation and expected “to return with new ideas for adoption in this country.” When the United States entered WWI Law wasn’t allowed to “fly in combat”, but she was “authorized to wear a military uniform” to help in fundraising and recruitment efforts (DeMace). Law would “bomb” cities with leaflets promoting the purchase of Liberty Bonds while wearing this uniform. Despite doing her part to help the U.S., in 1918 The Ocala evening star reported her being “peeved because the war department won’t let her go to France.” The paper argued that she should be allowed to fight because “if she was killed, as she probably would be, the principal effect would be to make our soldiers and our people more disposed to fight.”

Ruth Law's Bombs Get Liberty Loan Bonds-Better
The Pensacola journal-June 12, 1917

After WWI, Law resumed her pre-war aviation career, sometimes offering commentary on the record-breaking attempts of others. The risky stunts in her repertoire, seen below in this article from the February 11, 1921 issue of The Pensacola journal, probably factored into her husband’s decision to announce her retirement without her knowledge in 1922. Despite her seeming lack of input in this decision, she nonetheless retired, prompting the Palatka daily news to quip that she “quit flying and settled down-instead of crashing as they usually do.” Ruth Law passed away at age 79 in 1970 but is forever remembered for her contributions to aviation and Florida history.

Law husband
The Pensacola journal-February 11, 1921

Citations and Additional Sources:

DeMace, Kayleigh. “Ruth Law Oliver: An American Aviatrix.” The Flight Blog. November 30, 2016. http://theflightblog.com/ruth-law-american-aviatrix/.

Josh. “Daytona Beach and the Earliest Days of Aviation in Florida.” The Florida Memory Blog. December 3, 2014. https://www.floridamemory.com/blog/2014/12/03/daytona-beach-and-the-earliest-days-of-aviation-in-florida/.

Lazarus, William C. Wings in the Sun: The Annals of Aviation in Florida. Orlando, Florida: Tyn Cobb’s Florida Press, 1951.

Lebow, Eileen F. Before Amelia: Women Pilots in the Early Days of Aviation. Washington D.C.: Potomac Books, Inc., 2002.

McCarthy, Kevin M. Aviation in Florida. Sarasota, Florida: Pineapple Press, Inc., 2003.

McGraw, Eliza. “The Ace Aviatrix Learned to Fly Even Though Orville Wright Refused to Teach Her.” Smithsonian.com Blog. March 22, 2017. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/ace-aviatrix-learned-fly-even-though-orville-wright-refused-teach-her-180962606/.  

Punnett, Dick and Yvonne. Thrills, Chills, and Spills: A Photographic History of Early Aviation on the World’s Most Bizarre Airport-The Beach at Daytona Beach, Florida 1906-1922. New Smyrna Beach, Florida: Luthers, 1900

New Content: The Lakeland Evening Telegram

New Building
The Lakeland evening telegram-April 15, 1914

Notice anything new? Our new Florida paper for this digitization cycle, The Lakeland evening telegram, is now up in Chronicling America. We’re pleased to announce that the content from the paper’s debut on November 1, 1911 through the December 31, 1917 issue has been ingested and uploaded for public use. What kind of news will you find in the Lakeland evening telegram? Read on to find out!

The Lakeland evening telegram was published by Michael F. Hetherington as Polk County’s first daily newspaper. It began in 1911 with the motto “published in the best part of the best town in the best state.” The motto truly sets the tone of the paper, and one of its most noticeable features is their unrelenting editorial enthusiasm for Lakeland. More so than other papers in our collection, The Lakeland evening telegram ran articles written locally and by other papers around the state praising the city that housed it. Knowing this, it may not be surprising to learn that when a second motto was added to the paper in 1914, it doubled down on the pro-Lakeland message, proclaiming “boost-remember that Satan stayed in Heaven until he began to knock his home town.”

Boosters Devil
The Lakeland evening telegram-August 1, 1914

This support for Lakeland stems from the fact that Hetherington genuinely loved the city. Editor of the first daily in Miami, the Miami Metropolis (now called the Miami News), Hetherington went to Lakeland on an assignment and was so taken with it he sold his Miami paper and moved to Lakeland. While The Lakeland evening telegram was not the first or only paper in Lakeland (Hetherington moved there in 1905 after having purchased the Lakeland News), it was one of five papers in Florida (and the only inland paper) receiving service from the Associated Press. The paper was so successful that in 1913 they announced that they would be constructing their own building because “the institution has been sadly hampered by cramped and unsuitable quarters.” In keeping with the tone of the paper, they point out that “the management believes that more can be accomplished for the good of Lakeland” once the new building was completed. When the building opened in 1914, it was covered extensively. This coverage included photographs of the interior and exterior of the new building, as well as a flattering story on Mrs. M.F. Hetherington, Michael’s wife, whose contributions to the success of the paper were “no less important than that of her husband.” In addition to being outspoken Lakeland boosters, The Lakeland evening telegram was also a fervent supporter of their own publication, frequently running self-congratulatory stories from other papers.

The Hetheringtons
The Lakeland evening telegram-April 15, 1914

Given The Lakeland evening telegram’s tendency towards self-promotion, it may not be surprising that one of the features that sets this publication apart from other papers is the fact that it publicly celebrated its birthday annually. In these birthday columns, the paper presents a hagiographic account of their continued success in spite of the fact that creating the paper was “against the better judgment of our best friends, and, we confess, not without some misgivings on our own part.” While talking about their triumphs, they also emphasize how the paper has helped boost Lakeland’s profile nationally, as well as helped support local businesses. These quirky columns are a must read for anyone interested in this particular paper.

Our First Birthday
The Lakeland evening telegram-November 1, 1912

In addition to being fervent supporters of Lakeland, The Lakeland evening telegram includes topics you’d expect to find in a Florida paper during the time period such as international and national news related to World War I, the Women’s Rights Movement, and presidential elections. Reports of local events including agricultural news with emphasis on the citrus industry, local school events, and other happenings like personal travels, church notes, and fashion tips also fill the pages of this periodical.

What happened to The Lakeland evening telegram? In 1922, The Lakeland evening telegram merged with the Lakeland Morning Star to become the Lakeland Star-Telegram. Samuel Farabee, who started the Lakeland Evening Ledger in 1924, bought the Star-Telegram in 1926 and merged them, forming the Lakeland Evening Ledger and Star-Telegram. Another title change came in 1941, when the paper was sold to Cowles Communications Inc. and called itself the Lakeland Ledger. The paper changed title and ownership one last time; it was renamed the Ledger in 1967 and was purchased by its current owner, the New York Times, in 1971. While some of these dates are outside of our current digitization date range, we’ll be uploading more issues of the The Lakeland evening telegram, through the end of 1920, in the near future.

Citations and Additional Sources:

Hetherington, M F. History of Polk County, Florida: Narrative and biographical. Chuluota, Fla: Mickler House, 1971.

Seeing Lakeland: A guide and handbook to the city and its suburbs. Federal Writers’ Project of the Work Projects Administration for the State of Florida, 1936.

Lufsey, R E., and Kelsey Blanton. History of Lakeland. Federal Writers’ Project of the Work Projects Administration for the State of Florida, 1936.