Florida Governor Sidney J. Catts: the Polarizing Populist

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Governor Sidney J. Catts courtesy of Florida Memory

Sidney J. Catts served as the 22nd Governor of Florida from 1917 to 1921. While he only held office for one term, this colorful character certainly left his mark on Florida history. Originally a Democrat, he ended up running for governor on the Prohibition Party ticket after a close and contested primary. Beyond calls for prohibition, Catts mobilized rural voters by promoting an explicitly anti-Catholic platform. As we’ll explore today, these two aspects of his campaign were interrelated and reflect the imagined fears of a subset of Floridians during the early 20th century.

Born July 31, 1863 in Pleasant Hill, Alabama, Catts attended various colleges before graduating with a law degree from Cumberland University in Tennessee in 1882. He became both a Southern Baptist and a minister of the faith in 1886 despite having no theological or pastoral training. Known for having a divisive personality, Catts didn’t tend to last very long as pastor of any given church. As historian and Catts biographer Wayne Flynt puts it, “Sydney Catts was a visceral man who lived by the emotion of the moment, and many a temper tantrum would be followed by many a remorseful apology” (Flynt 2). Catts moved his family to DeFuniak Springs, Florida in 1911, where he worked as a pastor and insurance salesman.

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Pensacola journal-June 4, 1916

Catts initially entered the 1916 gubernatorial race as a Democrat. After a close primary, which Catts initially won, multiple recounts resulted in his opponent, William J. Knott, receiving the party nomination. Not deterred by this setback, Catts decided to run as a Prohibition Party candidate, which allowed him to criticize both the Democratic Party and what he perceived to be foreign influence in politics. His campaign took him to rural areas of Florida not usually visited by traditional politicians, and he is remembered for pioneering the use of the automobile to campaign in more remote parts of the state.

It appears the press in Florida had rather mixed opinions on Catts during the 1916 election. Discussing a study of the Florida press, Flynt states “before the June ballot, the press generally had dismissed Catts as a back country buffoon from the panhandle; but after the Supreme Court denied him the nomination, many papers defended him as the real party nominee” (Flynt 81-82). This column from the Palatka News and Advertiser highlights the opinions of several newspapers in the state. While another column from the Punta Gorda Herald reports that some of Catts’ more far-fetched assertions were making headlines in Havana, Cuba. This of course, refers to his belief that the Pope would take over the U.S and move Rome to San Antonio, Florida.

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The Punta Gorda herald-October 12, 1916

The platform that Catts ran on “struck one major theme: the Democratic machine, supported by partisan courts, had stolen the nomination from the people’s choice” (Flynt 77). He linked this position to larger conspiracies about government influence; the most notable being that the Pope in Rome was planning to take over America and would do so by mobilizing American Catholics to rebel against the government. This would be possible, he believed, because nuns and monks in convents and monasteries were stockpiling weapons. Despite there being no proof of such activities, Flynt comments that “Catts’s oratory manifested an almost psychotic anti-Catholicism” and that to “protect himself, he carried two revolvers which he displayed prominently on the podium to quite unruly crowds and awe his followers” (Flynt 80). Although Catholics only made up about 12% of the population of Florida in 1890, Catts was able to capitalize on anti-Catholic sentiment related to fears about immigration that existed in Florida (and the rest of the United States) during most of the late 19th and early 20th century (Gaustad et al. C.17). In that sense, according to historian David Page, Catts “was rather a shrewd observer of the swelling tide of anti-Catholic prejudice” which “he played upon” when “visiting the backwoods regions of Florida” (Page 113). He used the fear of Catholicism and disillusionment with the mainstream Democratic Party to mobilize his supporters. His words must have resonated with the voting populace, because on Election Day he won “thirty-eight counties, while losing only fourteen” (Flynt 90).

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Pensacola journal-January 3, 1917

Catts’ fear of Catholic influence carried over into his tenure as Governor. In his inaugural address, he promised to encourage the passage of a law that would open “all closed institutions to police inspection.” Catts believed that such a law would allow for the more careful monitoring of “convents, parochial schools and other institutions of like nature” in order to neutralize the threat of Catholic take over. The legislature responded positively to the governor’s request, and passed a bill establishing a board to monitor such institutions during the 1917 legislative session. Despite being codified into law, the bill wasn’t enforced and was ultimately repealed in 1935 (Page 116). Catts was also successful in getting the legislature to approve a prohibition amendment, which the people ratified in 1918. While less explicitly anti-Catholic, many Protestants like Catts believed prohibition would curb Catholic immigrant drinking culture and help them more quickly adopt dominate American (Protestant) culture.

While Catts was unabashedly anti-Catholic broadly, he nonetheless maintained relationships with some individual Catholics including his own daughter-in-law (Flynt 15). This inconsistency resulted in many Florida newspapers relishing at opportunities to point out when Catts appointed a Catholic to public office. A one-term governor, the state press largely ignored Catts during the 1920 U.S. Senate race (which he lost). Catts ran for governor of Florida again in both 1924 and 1928, but he wasn’t able to mobilize the same state-wide support he found in 1916. After failing to get his party’s nomination in 1928, Catts, never afraid to oppose his own party, spent considerable effort campaigning against Al Smith, the Democratic (and Catholic) presidential candidate (Flynt 326). Smith lost the election, and shortly thereafter Catts retired to DeFuniak Springs where he died on March 9, 1936.

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The Ocala evening star-July 3, 1917

A polarizing figure, Governor Sidney J. Catts represents the populism, anti-Catholicism, and nativism which flourished in the early 20th century. His novel approach to campaigning allowed him to reach a rural population who rallied behind his call for prohibition. Unquestionably motivated by his Baptist faith, Catts made headlines before, during, and after his tenure as governor.

Citations and Additional Resources

Flynt, Wayne. Cracker Messiah: Governor Sidney J. Catts of Florida. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1977.

Graham, Thomas. “The First Developers.” In The History of Florida, ed. Michael Gannon, 276-295. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2013.

Gaustad, Edwin Scott, and Phillip L. Barrow. New Historical Atlas of Religion in America 3rd Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Josh. “Bone Dry: The Road to Prohibition in Florida.” The Florida Memory Blog. Accessed February 6, 2017. http://www.floridamemory.com/blog/2014/07/16/bone-dry-the-road-to-prohibition-in-florida/.

Page, David P. “Bishop Michael J. Curley and Anti-Catholic Nativism in Florida.” The Florida Historical Quarterly Vol. 45 No. 2 (Oct., 1966): 101-117.

Portrait of Florida’s 22nd Governor Sidney Johnston Catts. Between 1917 and 1921. Accessed February 8, 2017, https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/128339.

Rivers, Eugene Larry. “Florida’s African American Experience: The Twentieth Century and Beyond.” In The History of Florida, ed. Michael Gannon, 444-469. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2013.

 

The Ocoee Massacre-A Tragic Day in Florida History

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Description of the History of the Ocoee African Methodist Episcopal Church-Image from Florida Memory

In Emancipation Betrayed: The Hidden History of Black Organizing and White Violence in Florida from Reconstruction to the Bloody Election of 1920, Paul Ortiz concludes “American history has completely erased the martyrs of 1920” (Oritz 229). Who are these martyrs and why were they forgotten? In this post, we’ll explore the aftermath of what is now known as the Ocoee Massacre by viewing responses from white Florida newspapers found in the Chronicling America collection to remind people of the consequences of racism in the not-so-distant past.

November 2, 1920 marked two important cultural moments; the first Presidential election in which (white) women were able to vote nation-wide and the culmination of the “Florida movement” among African Americans in the state. This voter registration movement began “January 19, 1919-Emancipation Day-“ and sought to mobilize thousands of African American voters. They intended to resist the entrenched Democratic Party’s control of the state as well as challenge “the fundamental elements of racial oppression: poverty wages, debt peonage, failing schools, racial violence, and corrupt law enforcement” (Ortiz 172 & 205). In the months and weeks leading up to the election, white Floridians sought to intimidate African Americans by holding Ku Klux Klan rallies and parades. While The Ocala evening star referred to the Klan’s activities as “incendiary foolishness,” The Daytona daily news reported on Election Day that their “demonstration” proved that the Klan “is in touch with local affairs” and lambasted another local paper for their “efforts” to “belittle the organization.”

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The Daytona daily news-November 2, 1920

On Election Day, African Americans attempted to vote, but faced “a planned system of fraud” throughout the state (Ortiz 220). In Ocoee, voter suppression combined with the accusation that an African American man named Mose Norman returned to the polls with a gun after not being allowed to vote, culminated in a white riot that tore through Ocoee. This riot resulted in the deaths, including at least one lynching, of an unknown number of African Americans, the destruction of all African American homes and social institutions in Ocoee, and an attempt on the part of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) to force the U.S. Congress to hold the state of Florida accountable for voter suppression.

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The Daytona daily news-November 3, 1920

On the morning of November 3rd, the stories in both The Ocala evening star and The Daytona daily news frame the stories as the fault of the African American man who wanted to vote. In an article also run in the Times-Union, The Ocala evening star states “fifty carloads of men left Orlando to help preserve order.” The Klan-supporting Daytona paper states that after “two young white men” were shot from the house that Norman found shelter in, a shootout started which then required “the white people to set fire to 18 houses as a manner of protection.”  The next day, The Ocala evening star ran a front page Associated Press article which declared “storing ammunition and attacking the whites does not pay them (African Americans)” and on November 6th it re-ran a piece from the Orlando Reporter-Star which asserted the “doctrine of social equality has no place in the South” and suggests African Americans “Stop loafing, get to work, and keep out of mischief.” These stories all gloss over the fact that “a group of white men chased Norman from the polls” and then decided they should “pay Mose Norman a visit to bring him to his senses” (Ortiz 220-221).

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The Ocala evening star-November 3, 1920

In the months that followed, the events at Ocoee were infrequently discussed in our white Florida papers. Sporadic reports discussed the hearings in Washington D.C. requested by the NAACP in response to the massacre. Paul Oritz argues that the event “drove nearly five hundred African Americans out of Ocoee, and the town became Florida’s newest white homeland,” which may explain the lack of coverage of the issue (Ortiz 223). The dearth in coverage in Florida papers after the massacre demonstrates deeply entrenched racial issues, the effects of which can still be felt today, in early 20th century Florida.

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The Ocala evening star-December 17, 1920

Citations and Additional Resources

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

 

Henry Flagler and the Key West Railway Extension

Henry Flagler is a name that will be instantly familiar to Florida history enthusiasts, and his influence is still apparent throughout the state. One of Flagler’s many projects in Florida was the development of the railroad system which tied in to his interest in promoting and popularizing Florida as a tourist destination. One of his most ambitious projects, the construction of a railway to the Florida Keys, called “Flagler’s Folly” by his critics, is the subject we’ll look at today.

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Daytona daily news-January 14, 1905

Flagler’s involvement in railroad building in Florida stretches back to the 1880s. By the early 20th century, Flagler was of the opinion that a railway needed to reach the Florida Keys. The “excitement generated by” U.S. acquisition of and future “construction of the Panama Canal in 1902 made him anxious to develop a port” in the southernmost area of Florida (Stronge 52). Flagler knew reaching a port in Key West would be difficult given its remote location, and decided to remedy this by expanding his extant railroad line further south. While his expansion opened before the canal that inspired its construction, it nonetheless took seven years for the Florida East Coast Railway to complete the 120+ mile project. In that time, many, including the Florida press, questioned the decision to build in an area “destitute of soil” that required materials to be imported to build above the tideline.

Building this particular segment of railroad was not a straightforward venture for Flagler. In addition to being an engineering challenge, construction itself was plagued by a “chronic labor shortage in the state” as well as catastrophic weather events (Akin 215). Hiring a labor force largely from outside of Florida, Flagler‘s railroad faced accusations of peonage which went to trial in 1908 (a charge the Ocala evening star reported as false) and were eventually dismissed. The construction timeline and plans were also altered several times due to the damage sustained by hurricanes in 1906, 1909, and 1910. Delays became a newsworthy topic in papers that sporadically provided updates on the project. After the 1909 hurricane, a reprint of a Miami Metropolis story in the Pensacola journal announced a “setback of a year.” Despite this, the reporter editorialized “nothing short of total destruction of the line would deter Mr. Flagler from executing his plan.” While hurricane damage proved a setback, it also served as a learning opportunity. According to scholar Edward Akin, the destruction caused by the 1910 hurricane served as a “valuable lesson” for Flagler regarding which materials were capable of withstanding heavy winds and rain (Akin 221).

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Pensacola journal-October 31, 1909

The railway finally opened, with much fanfare, on January 22, 1912. Those in attendance included Flagler as well as “a large delegation of United States congressmen and senators” along with “military personal, foreign ambassadors, and Florida officials” (Akin 223). In a proclamation promoting the extension’s impending opening, Governor Gilchrist claimed the project to be “of nation-wide and of world-wide importance, being second in importance only to the construction of the Panama canal (sic).” Another article in the Pensacola journal reported that those referring to the project as “’Flagler’s folly’ now admit that it was a piece of far-sighted business sagacity.” Henry Flagler passed away May 20, 1913, and the construction of the “Over-Sea” road served as an example of his substantial impact on the state. Unfortunately, the Key West Extension is viewed as a business failure having “never earned the expected revenue before the Labor Day hurricane of 1935 destroyed it” (Akin 223). In some ways however, the memory of Flagler’s railroad lives on. The route and some of the original railroad structure, which opened in 1938, now comprise the Oversees Highway as part of U.S. Route 1.

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Pensacola journal-January 30, 1912

Citations and Additional Resources

Akin, Edward N. Flagler: Rockefeller Partner and Florida Baron. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1988.

Stronge, William B. The Sunshine Economy: An Economic History of Florida since the Civil War. Gainesville, Florida: University Press of Florida, 2008.

“The U.S. Finishes a $57,000,000 Overseas Highway to Key West.” LIFE, April 25, 1938. https://books.google.com/books?id=5koEAAAAMBAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false.

Daytona Daily News Teaser

You may have noticed a number of posts in the past month discussing content that’s been recently uploaded to Chronicling America. This is because we’re at the point in our digitization cycle where all the pages we’ve so diligently duplicated and coded become usable to the public. We hope you’re as excited as we are about all the great new content available.

Today we want to call attention to the most recent batch to be uploaded, The Daytona daily news. Parts of the run of this particular paper were in our collection previously, but this newest batch contains about 8,000 pages of content. Primarily from January 1911 to February 1922, the pages of this paper cover “the Daytona Speedway attracting fans, rousing stories of moon shining, and coverage of seaside activities in the Sunshine State” (Chronicling America). Below, we highlight some of the headlines and quirky features of The Daytona daily news.

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The Daytona daily news March 29, 1913

One of the more unique features of The Daytona daily news is that it was a seasonal newspaper. The paper ran only from the first of December or January thru the end of March during its run. The March 21, 1910 edition of the paper referred to it as “its summer hibernation.” For the interested reader, this means that the paper doesn’t ever cover the months June through September, and coverage for April and May as well as October through December is on a year-by-year basis. The reason for this seems largely associated with the winter car-racing season in Daytona, a topic we’ll cover more extensively in a later blog.

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The Daytona daily news-October 1, 1920
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The Daytona daily news-March 12, 1910

Like many papers of the time, The Daytona daily news featured a women’s page with fashion advice, beauty tips, advertisements, and stories for women.

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The Daytona daily news-March 6, 1916

The winter racing season brought in a large number of tourists, many who stayed in Daytona hotels and patronized the restaurants, stores, and theaters in the area. Because of this, the paper contains a considerable amount of advertising with that audience in mind. One local church even dubbed itself “the tourist church” on the reoccurring religious services page of the paper in 1921.

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The Daytona daily news-March 19, 1921
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The Daytona daily news-March 30, 1917
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The Daytona daily news-March 8, 1910

We hope you enjoy exploring The Daytona daily news!

Citations and Additional Sources

Dickens, Bethany. “Episode 27 Leather Cap & Goggles.” A History of Central Florida. podcast video, October 1, 2014. http://stars.library.ucf.edu/ahistoryofcentralfloridapodcast/27.

Ghosts of Elections Past: Remembering the Presidential Election of 1920

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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 bmurphree@ufl.edu 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2011645485/ (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).

Chronicling America Tutorial

Ever wondered how to use Chronicling America?

We’ve posted a quick tutorial on YouTube that covers the what the Florida & Puerto Rico Digital Newspaper Project is, our partners, and how to perform searches using the advanced search option. This is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of ChronAm’s functionality, but we hope this walk-through inspires you to dig into the past.

The Buckman Act and the Consolidation of Florida Universities

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Political Cartoon about the Buckman Act from the Jacksonville Sun December 30,1905

Few things shaped the long history of the University of Florida like the signing of the Buckman Act on June 5, 1905. The legislation, authored by Congressman Henry H. Buckman, consolidated the numerous (white) public colleges and seminaries in the state into the University of Florida and Florida Female College (now Florida State University) as well as maintained the State Normal and Industrial College for Colored Students (now Florida A&M) and the Institute for Blind, Deaf, and Dumb. Because the bill fundamentally restructured higher education within the state and impacted many communities which housed smaller institutions, the Buckman Act is covered extensively in our papers. Samuel Proctor and Wright Langley, authors of Gator History: A Pictorial History of the University of Florida are correct in pointing out that “most newspapers favored consolidation, although there was opposition in communities like Bartow that seemed likely to lose their institutions” (Proctor and Langley 24). This post will look at the manner in which the Buckman Act was discussed during the 1905 legislative session. Notably, we’ll look at the Weekly True Democrat from Tallahassee, which supported the bill and also reported opinions printed in other papers in the state, and the Gainesville Daily Sun which, while initially against the act, warmed up to it considerably once Gainesville’s name began to be mentioned as the possible location of the University of Florida.

The history of higher education in Florida can be traced back to January 22, 1851 when “the Legislature passed a bill authorizing establishment of two seminaries, one in east Florida and the other in west Florida” (Proctor and Langley 18). In the wake of the organization of these two institutions, other small state schools opened throughout the remainder of the 19th century. By the early 20th century, there were eight total public colleges and institutes. At the beginning of the 1905 legislative session, some officials were of the opinion that the proliferation of these unregulated institutions was placing an unreasonable financial burden on the state. These institutions competed for students, which, in turn, allowed them to ask for more financial support from the state. The result of this competition led to “interschool rivalry” and the fear among many was that “Florida had more schools than it could afford to maintain, and without change, none would be able to achieve preeminence” (Proctor and Langley 23). This attitude is reflected in the May 19th issue of the Weekly True Democrat from Tallahassee. While the editors are “doubtful” that the bill can be enacted, they nonetheless state that its very existence is “an indication that the taxpayers of the State have become weary of witnessing successive Legislatures fritter away their hard-earned money in wasteful efforts to build up local schools for the sole benefit of ambitious local communities.”

The goal of Buckman’s bill was threefold: it intended to condense the number of state funded institutions of higher learning, place the consolidated institutions under the authority of the governor-appointed of the Board of Control, and create gender segregated schools for white students. The bill gained popularity and ultimately replaced the “Regent’s Bill” proposed by Senator Stockton and Congressman Wall which supported oversight without school closures and said nothing about gender segregation. While there is simply not enough space to discuss the gendered aspect of the Buckman Act, an article by Shira Birnbaum on the topic notes that “most of these state-financed public institutions-like their private and locally supported counterparts-had been made coeducational before the turn of the century” (Birnbaum 225).

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Gainesville Daily Sun April 18, 1905

So what do papers from the time have to say about the Buckman bill? In short, quite a bit. The legislation was one of the more publicly discussed bills of the 1905 legislative session. A search for the term in Florida Chronicling America papers for only the year 1905 yields an impressive number of articles from across the state, often occupying prime front-page space.

The Weekly True Democrat from Tallahassee is one of our papers that frequently reported on the university issue while the bill was being considered, during the contestation of the law at the state Supreme Court, and throughout the implementation process. There are two potential reasons for the coverage. First, the Tallahassee paper features a considerable amount of political news simply because Tallahassee is the state capital and seat of state governance. Additionally, as the host of both Florida State College and the State Normal and Industrial College for Colored Students, citizens of Tallahassee would be affected should either college close. Fears aside, the Weekly True Democrat unabashedly supported the bill. Early in the session, the Weekly True Democrat addressed this issue saying as “much as we deprecate the arbitrary abolishment of some of the institutions thus affected by this bill, and especially our own State College, we feel…that the time has come to cut of the wasting of the people’s money…and if the enactment of the Buckman bill is the only means of accomplishing this purpose, we are in favor of it.”

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Weekly True Democrat May 19, 1905

Perhaps more useful to individuals interested in learning more about public opinion and the Buckman bill is the fact that the Weekly True Democrat regularly included columns containing snippets from other newspapers in the state about certain hot cultural topics. From these columns, we can see the tension that existed surrounding the issue in the language used by supporters and detractors of the bill. For example, the Perry Topics is reported by the Democrat as saying “This is the best bill that could have been passed. The measly little schools were draining the State, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars annually and doing less good than a third grade school in the rural districts.” The Live Oak Democrat echoed similar sentiment saying “the people, we doubt not, would be better satisfied with two or three high-class educational institutions adequately supported by the State than half a dozen or more always ‘on the bum’ through no fault of their own…” On the other side of the issue was the DeFuniak Breeze which was reported as saying “Should the Governor sign it, it may be taken almost as an assured fact that the matter will go into the courts and end no one knows where.” DuFuniak, Florida, it should be noted, was the location of the White Normal School that would be eliminated if the Buckman bill passed. While the majority of the reports in the Weekly True Democrat from other papers are supportive of consolidation, editorial approval for the bill was not universal across the state.

Like DeFuniak, Gainesville (the current home of the University of Florida) was concerned that the passage of the Buckman bill would lead to the closure of East Florida Seminary, which had been located in the city since 1866 and vocally opposed the legislation (Proctor and Langley 19). The Gainesville Daily Sun covered the Buckman bill regularly, including running a story about a committee who ventured to Tallahassee “in the interest of securing if possible the defeat of the famous Buckman bill.” On May 28th, after the bill passed the Senate, the Daily Sun reported that “Senator McCreary made a noble fight against great odds to save East Florida Seminary, but the forces against him and education were too strong.” Clearly, the Gainesville Daily Sun viewed the Buckman Act as something of immense social and cultural importance and framed the issue using the type of rhetoric we often see in reports on issues related to the so-called culture wars today.

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Gainesville Daily Sun May 28, 1905

As what appeared to be the inevitable passage of the bill loomed, antagonism towards it in the Daily Sun waned due in large part to support around the state to choose Gainesville as the location of the University of Florida, the premier educational institution in this newly organized structure. According to Proctor and Langley, “many Floridians favored Lake City since the University was already established there with several new and modern buildings.” Knowing they faced an uphill battle, “Gainesville launched a major public relations campaign to win statewide support” (Proctor and Langley 25). Knowing that the serving as the home of the university would ultimately be beneficial to the city, the Daily Sun enthusiastically began to support placing the University of Florida in Gainesville.

For obvious reasons, the Daily Sun only ran articles supporting the idea that Gainesville was the best suited location for the university. One such article ran on June 3, 1905 and extensively quotes a June 2nd Tampa Tribune piece about the suitability of Gainesville. This contextualized reprint states “Gainesville is unquestionably the best location in the State for the University, which is the most important proposition. The city is located centrally, both geographically and with respect to population and has everything desirable for the maintenance of the University. It has the school spirit, good water, a healthful climate, good buildings, and is a town without a saloon or a disorderly house, with a standard of morality that makes it an ideal college town.” Nearly a month later on June 29th, the Gainesville Daily Sun re-ran an editorial by Maitland resident S.B. Hill that had been first published in Jacksonville’s Times-Union. This editorial is completely complimentary to Gainesville, framing the city as the people’s choice for the flagship school. In Hill’s opinion, not only is Gainesville a better choice, but the school formerly run in Lake City was rife with “discord, enmity, and factionalism” which, prior to its closure by the Buckman Act, had “interfered with the management of the school.” This led Hill to conclude “we cannot afford to trust the University in a place where local politics, with all its blighting influences, has dared to lay its profanating [sic] hands upon the sacred interests of the State school entrusted to fostering care of the community.”

Gainesville Gets University
Gainesville Daily Sun July 7, 1905

Ultimately, the Board of Control chose Gainesville as the location of the University of Florida on July 6, 1905 in a close 6-4 vote. The same evening, a unanimous vote resulted in the selection of Tallahassee as the location for the Florida Female College. After the successful public relations campaign, the city of Gainesville celebrated their victory. The front page of the Gainesville Daily Sun for the next several days recounts the triumphant vote and reports the city’s response to the news, including an impromptu 51 car parade which met Mayor W.R. Thomas upon his return to the city. This parade included “carriages, buggies and wagons, as well as the bicycles” which “were decorated in the Seminary colors, orange and black, and buttonieres [sic] and lapel streamers were prominent on the persons of all who participated in the parade, as well as ninety-five percent of the people of the city, regardless of age, sex or color.” The front page of the July 10th edition of the paper features a large announcement titled “Our Grateful Thanks” In which the paper, “on behalf of the good people of the city of Gainesville,” expresses its “deep gratitude to the press of the State for the free and generous manner in which it stood by our city in this effort to maintain supremacy as an educational center.” In reflecting on the choice of Gainesville as the home of UF, the paper uses religious language, saying that “a sacred trust has fallen to our city” and that “in whatever position we may be called upon to act, we will ever hold next to Him on high, our duty to these institutions where the minds of our youth are to be molded for the perpetuity of our State and the Nation.” Despite the public celebration, the Gainesville Sun, it seems, viewed the decision of the Board of Control in a more nuanced way, meshing celebration with solemnity and a sense of moral responsibility.

Our Greatful Thanks Gainesville Sun
Gainesville Daily Sun July 10, 1905

Although the Buckman Act established the University of Florida in Gainesville, not everyone, particularly residents of Lake City, was happy with the decision. During the 1906 move of equipment and furnishings from Lake City to Gainesville, a fracas-both physical and legal- ensued, which is also discussed in our papers. That however, is a story for another day. The Buckman Act, enacted June 5, 1905, resulted in the restructuring of higher education in Florida. Discussion of this publicly debated legislative act and stories about the schools that emerged from this reorganization can be found throughout our historical Florida newspapers.

Citations and Additional Sources

Birnbaum, Shira. “Making Southern Belles in Progressive Era Florida: Gender in the Formal and Hidden Curriculum of the Florida Female College.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 16 (2/3 1996): 218-46.

Proctor, Samuel, and Wright Langley. Gator History: A Pictorial History of the University of Florida. Gainesville, FL: South Star Publishing Company, 1986.

University of Florida Foundation. “Henry H. Buckman Hall.” Accessed June 2, 2016. http://uff.ufl.edu/Facilities/facilities.asp?id=67.