Birds of a Feather Died Together: The Fight to Protect Florida’s Birds

Guy Bradley
Portrait of Monroe County Game Warden Guy M. Bradley Courtesy of Florida Memory

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.

In the weeks surrounding Earth Day, it is important to note that the work of protecting the environment has often been difficult, depressing, and even deadly. These aspects of environmental history came together in turn of the century Florida with the killing of Guy Bradley, a game warden who had fought to protect Florida birds from the ravages of plume bird hunters. Called “America’s First Martyr to Environmentalism,” Bradley was one of a handful of people who were willing to put their lives on the line to protect endangered species (McIver, xi). His actions were part of a nascent bird conservation movement headed by the newly formed Audubon Society and President Theodore Roosevelt, whose lifelong love of nature, especially of birds, drove him to create the nation’s first bird reserves as well as a multitude of national forests, game preserves, national parks, and national monuments. Florida newspapers covered Bradley’s death and many other episodes in this early environmental struggle.

Pattern Hats from Paris
From The Pensacola Journal-January 6, 1906

Killing birds for their decorative feathers was an age old practice, but it did not become an industry until the latter half of the nineteenth century, when the extraordinary growth of the American economy during the Gilded Age combined with a fashion craze among wealthier women for hats adorned with colorful bird plumes created a profitable market for the plumes of egrets and herons. By the late nineteenth century the last sanctuaries of these beautiful birds were the coastal wetlands and the Everglades of South Florida. Plume hunters scoured these areas for the birds’ rookeries, where the nesting birds presented an easy target for skilled marksmen. A plume hunter could receive as much as ten dollars per plume. In 1886, the American Ornithologists’ Union estimated that as many as five million birds were being killed each year for the supply of the millinery industry.

Easter Hats
From The Pensacola Journal-March 20, 1921

Although 1886 saw the first organized attempt to educate the public about the devastation of the plume bird population, it was not until 1900 that Congress passed the Lacey Act, a law that prohibited birds taken in violation of state laws from being transported across state lines. The Lacy Act was largely the result of the efforts of women who learned of the terrible toll the plume trade was having on the nation’s birds. Harriet Lawrence Hemenway and Minna Hall led this effort and organized the first state Audubon Society in Massachusetts in 1896. Four year later, the Florida Audubon Society was created and lobbied the state legislature to to pass Florida’s first bird protection act in 1901. The law provided for the protection of plumed birds by outlawing the killing of such birds or the sale of their plumage, imposing a fine of five dollars per bird on anyone in violation of the act and up to ten days imprisonment. Unfortunately, the law did not provide any resources for enforcement. It was up to private philanthropists to come up with the funds to pay for at least one warden to police the coast of South Florida for plume hunters. The job was given to Guy M. Bradley, a former plume hunter who had been by hired by the Audubon campaign to save the plumed birds. In 1902, Bradley took up the post of warden for Monroe County.

Lacey Act
From The new enterprise-December 10, 1903

Florida bird conservation received national attention in March 1903, when President Roosevelt backed legislation establishing Pelican Island in the Indian River Lagoon as the first federal bird reservation. Roosevelt needed little urging to take this step as he was appalled that so many birds were being killed just so their plumes could adorn the hats of fashionable women. After his friend Frank M. Chapman, ornithologist and curator of the American Museum of Natural History, laid out a detailed plan for the establishment of the reserve on the island, Roosevelt signed off on the project and agreed to appoint Paul Kroegel, an Indian River farmer and longtime bird enthusiast, as the first national wildlife refuge warden for Pelican Island.

Uncle Sam's Florida Aviary
From The Chipley banner-August 6, 1903

Meanwhile, Bradley began his work as game warden in Monroe County, where he focused his efforts on protecting the nests of the great white heron. Plume hunters had made the white heron their favorite target as the heron’s feathers were among the most prized feathers of the plume hat business. The Audubon Society supplied Bradley with a boat, which he used to police the islands off Cape Sable. His efforts soon paid off. Due to his vigilance, the number of plume birds taken in the area dropped dramatically; however, the resulting drop in supply only raised the price of the feathers as the millinery industry tried to meet the still widespread demand. Plume hunters had already shot at Bradley, who put his life on the line every day he was on duty. On July 8, 1905, he paid the ultimate price when a group of plume hunters known as the “Smith Gang” resisted Bradley, who approached them as they were shooting double-breasted cormorants. The gang refused Bradley’s order to stop the hunt. An argument ensued and Walter Smith, the leader of the gang, shot and killed Bradley.

Bradley Shot LA Herald
From the Los Angles Herald-September 17, 1905

A grand jury refused to indict Smith, who had powerful allies in the county, where plume hunting was a popular and lucrative business. Bradley’s murder and the mysterious disappearance of DeSoto County warden Columbus McLeod in 1908, encouraged the National Audubon Society to increase its efforts to end the plume trade. In 1911, New York became the first state to pass a tough plumage bill. This law was followed by federal efforts to restrict the trade. Although the business continued in Florida until World War II, stricter state enforcement ended plum hunting in the 1950s.

Citations and Additional Sources

Brinkley, Douglas. The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America (New York: Harper, 2009).

McIver, Stuart B. Death in the Everglades: The Murder of Guy Bradley, America’s First Martyr to Environmentalism (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2003).

Portrait of Monroe County Game Warden Guy M. Bradley. Between 1902 and 1905. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory Website. Accessed April 17, 2017. https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/13858.

The Styles of Florida Newspaper Women

Celia Robinson-2
Photo of Pensacola Journal Society Editor Celia Myrover Robinson courtesy of UFW University Archives

Documenting and celebrating the role of women in history is often easier said than done, and the theoretical positions and methodological approaches to doing so make up entire subfields within the academic universe. When I began to write this series for our blog, I was reminded of the stark reality of historical newspapers: the majority of the authors are men, and even if women did contribute, there is a good chance that little is known about their lives outside of the columns and articles they left behind. To be fair, more may be known about women authors in larger cities, but my research on the four main credited editors of the Pensacola Journal’s women’s section*, between September 1905 and December 1914 yielded little in the way of information about these women outside of their contributions to the paper. Despite this roadblock, let’s take this time in March to look in this section of the Pensacola Journal during the tenures of E. Nellie Beck, Aurelie Marean Bernard, Bonnie Burnham, and Celia Myrover Robinson. If you missed our first post in this series, you can find our overview of women’s newspaper sections here.

E. Nellie Beck, editor of “Society, People, and Events” between at least January 1, 1905 and August 26, 1906 curated a fairly stereotypical women’s section during her tenure at the paper. Primarily filled with local events and announcements, a regular fashion feature, and advertisements, Beck’s columns have a methodical, predictable feel. While they do contain notices about death and sicknesses, the overall tone of Beck’s writing is simultaneously upbeat and humdrum. The comings and goings of individuals in the Pensacola area are diligently reported, but there’s no real discussion topics that strike the modern reader as controversial. E. Nellie Beck ended her editorial run in August of 1906. After leaving her post as editor, Beck continued to occasionally contribute to the Pensacola Journal in a noticeably different capacity. It seems Beck moved to Denver, Colorado (for reasons unknown), and periodically penned articles about life and culture in Colorado for her former readership. She died in 1928, and is buried next to her mother in Denver.

Women's Section Battle of Flowers
Travel Description by Beck Pensacola Journal April 20, 1906

The next editor of the “People and Events” section was Aurelie Marean Bernard, who helmed the column from September 23, 1906, when she was announced as the new manager of the department until October 9, 1908 when the last column featuring her name ran. In many ways, Bernard ran a very similar column to her predecessor. There is, however, one notable difference in Bernard’s columns that subsequent editors kept; the inclusion of poetry at the beginning of the column. Anyone who has an interest in literature or women’s lives in the early 20th century will find the content of these poems fascinating. Like the women’s section they are found in, the topics of these poems reflect the social concerns of women and address topics like love, beauty and aging, suitable marriages, and wealth, as well as more jovial subjects like the appreciation of nature. The poems themselves come from a variety of sources including other newspapers. Because so many poems are credited with the location they were originally found, it is difficult to determine the authors of many. However, a considerable number of the poems during Bernard’s editorial leadership feature women poets. While some may certainly be pseudonyms, there is at least the idea that these sections were curated by women and for women beyond just the editors themselves.

Perhaps the most prolific editor of the women’s section of the Pensacola Journal was Bonnie Burnham. Moving to the Pensacola area in 1907, Burnham had already served on the staff of the Sun in Whiting Indiana. The very section she would soon edit reports her vacation to the area in April 1907, describing “Miss Bonnie Burnham” as “a bright young newspaper woman from Chicago.” Burnham seems to have taken over as editor in January 1909 and maintained that position until September 1912. However, unlike her predecessors, Burnham also contributed articles outside of “People and Events.” Prior to, during, and after her tenure as editor of the women’s page, bylines featuring her name can be found regularly throughout the Pensacola Journal where she reported on a variety of topics. The last mention of Burnham in the Pensacola Journal can be in the “People and Events” section on April 7, 1914. Her successor, Celia Myrover Robinson, reports Burnahm’s marriage to Jack Randall and features a picture of the bride.  After her marriage, all mentions of the productive newspaper contributor cease.

Burnham’s articles in the main body of the paper are in some ways an extension of the women’s page, but are clearly intended for a broader (male) audience. These pieces generally cover morality in male/female interaction, the vacation culture of the area, and other concerns that were typically relegated to women writers. However, she also authored pieces on more serious political topics. For example, an article from June 9, 1908 covers, in great detail, a bill to be proposed to the next state legislature that would provide funding for a state road creation and maintenance system. Another, from September 13, 1908 covers a “thrilling story” of a “Pensacolian who was in the African Slave Trade” between 1857 and 1858. Historically, this isn’t surprising. In her book on women journalists, historian Alice Fahs states that “with a range of other types of assignments available-from book reviews to woman’s page articles to ‘all round’ reporting-newspaper work offered a welcome alternative to such occupations as teaching.” (7) In Burnham’s case, it seems that her assignments also included more general editing, and later in her career, she served as co-editor of the Pensacola Journal’s Covington County and Escambia County editions.

Burnham Roads
Burnham’s Report on Road Legislation Pensacola Journal June 9,1908

Given that Bonnie Burnham was an articulate newspaper woman, it may be somewhat surprising to discover she authored at least one piece for the paper against women’s suffrage. In the piece, which was “written by request” for the March 31st 1912 edition of the paper, Burnham states that she doesn’t “believe that it is a practical idea.” She argues that she doesn’t believe the “woman-mind” was constructed “to take care of the home and the nation’s affairs at the same time.” It appears Burnham agreed with a very dualistic system of social responsibility, one in which women managed the household while men handled the outside world. This, she concludes, makes women “of more use to the world than the greatest politician.” The overall tone of the article is defensive. Judging by the scathing response found in the paper on April 7, 1912 by Nellie M. Jerauld, Burnham likely knew she would face criticism from the community for her position on the matter.

Burnham Suffrage
Burnham on Suffrage Pensacola Journal March 10,1912

The last editor of “Society, People, and Events” we currently have in our archives is Celia Myrover Robinson who took over after Burnham stepped down, but had filled in during Burnham’s extended bouts of sickness. The most noticeable departure from Burnham’s time as editor is that Robinson was an ardent suffragist, and she used the section she edited to promote suffrage meetings and other activities. Robinson served as the chairman of the press committee for the Pensacola Equal Suffrage League and certainly used her position at the paper to promote their activities. Beyond simply including mention of these meetings in her column, they frequently received top billing above all other news. On Labor Day 1914, the League edited a special “Equal Suffrage Edition” within the larger paper to report on suffrage activities locally, nationally, and internationally. The section itself is 12 pages long and, in addition to providing information on the topic, this “Suffrage Edition” also features advertisements from companies who enthusiastically supported the suffragist cause. Since Robinson edited the section past our current end point of this run, we are left to wonder if she organized similar issues the years leading up to the ratification of the 19th amendment in 1920.

Robinson Suffrage 1
Suffrage League Advertisement by Robinson Pensacola Journal March 20,1914
Equal Suffrage Edition
Equal Suffrage Edition by Robinson Pensacola Journal September 7, 1914

Looking at the development of the Pensacola Journal women’s page, we as modern readers can trace the transition from it being solely a style and society column to a section that also contains moral and political commentary. Focusing on the tenures of the editors of the Pensacola Journal women’s page allows us to see their individual interests and biases. Text searchable digital databases like Chronicling America, while limited in scope given the largess of the American newspaper industry, allow historians to restore women’s lives in our cultural history because women can literally be searched for within these documents.

*This section goes by a variety of names including “Society,” “People and Events,” “Over the Coffee Cups,” and “Society-People-Events.”

Bibliography/Further Reading

Celia Myrover Robinson-Pensacola, Fla. Archived March 14, 1914. UWF University Archives and West Florida History Center, Pensacola Florida. Accessed March 25, 2016. http://archives.uwf.edu/Archon/?p=digitallibrary/digitalcontent&id=264.

Fahs, Allice. Out on Assignment: Newspaper Women and the Making of Modern Public Space. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: The University of North Carolina Press, 2011.

The Women’s Page: More than Meets the Eye

“In Women’s Realm,” “Society,” “People and Events,” “Over the Coffee Cups”- these are just a few of the names that denote women-centric columns in the English language newspapers within the FPRDNP. But to the contemporary user of historic newspaper archives, what does this mean and why should we care? The first of a two part series celebrating Women’s History Month, this blog post will explore the meaning and content of what historian Alice Fahs refers to as “The Woman’s Page.” To do so, I will use the Pensacola Journal exclusively due to the consistent presence of a woman edited society section in the title spanning from at least January 1905 to at the earliest December 1914, when our archives for this particular paper end.

What is a women’s column and what is its place in newspaper history? As journalism scholar Jan Whitt puts it, they “are a product of the late nineteenth century and were designed to draw a large audience for advertisers interested in marketing to women.” (38). There are multiple types of women’s pages, including separate papers for women known by the same name and single pages within broader-interest papers. While the editors of the Pensacola Journal offered both by 1909, we will concern ourselves with the columns contained within the general paper. Historian Alice Fahs claims in her book Out on Assignment: Newspaper Women and the Making of Modern Public Space that these pages have largely been overlooked by newspaper historians. This is a mistake because these “stories offer compelling insight into a lost world of women’s writings that placed women at the heart of a new public life.” (13)

Looking at the women’s section in the Pensacola Journal broadly, the reader can find a vivid portrait of the social calendar in the city. Beyond simply reporting important life events such as births, deaths, and funerals, the column also includes reports of illness, birthday parties, out of town visitors, and club meetings. Unlike the quick local news sections of the paper, the social events found on the “People and Events” page typically contain a paragraph or more description of the headline. For example, the April 3rd 1909 “Society” column devotes four paragraphs to Miss Victorine Kroenberger “a beautiful young Pensacola girl” who left home to “enter the Convent of the Holy Cross at Notre Dame” in order to become a nun. In this respect, the column provides more context for local events than the rest of the paper.

Birthday Party
Pensacola Journal December 12, 1906

Not just a source for local news, the “Society” page in the Pensacola Journal also offers insight into national cultural concerns for women. This section of the paper houses the syndicated column “Heart and Home Problems,” written by Mrs. Elizabeth Thompson, that also can be found in the Topeka State Journal (KS), Rock Island Argus (Ill.), and the Oklahoma City Times (OK) just to name a few. Beginning in 1912 and continuing through at least December 1914, these columns by Mrs. Elizabeth Thompson provide practical advice to letter writers regarding a wide variety of issues like courtship, hygiene, and their education.   In many ways, her column is a precursor to those like “Dear Abby” or “Miss Manners” found in contemporary newspapers and their online counterparts.While the modern reader may expect a column like this to contain fairly traditional advice regarding gender roles, they sometimes deviated from the norm. For example, in the column below from August 1912, Mrs. Thompson says that “many splendid men have helped their wives with the housework, thinking it more dignified for a man to help his wife than it would be for him to let her become a worn-out drudge” in response to a fourteen year old’s query about being responsible for all house work because her mother is deceased.

Heart and Home Problems-Subvert.jpg
Pensacola Journal-August 2, 1905

Women’s pages also address topics related to the body both inside and out. Fashion and beauty are addressed in these columns in the form of editorials, news reports, and advertisements. For example, the Pensacola Journal contains a sub-column known as “The Journal’s Daily Fashion Feature” in many issues. This feature includes drawings and descriptions of cutting edge women’s clothing styles from around the United States and Europe. From this feature, it becomes obvious that Pensacola women in the early 20th century wanted to stay abreast of fashion trends. Beyond wanting to simply know about fashion, they valued the skills of individuals who were able to reproduce the current styles locally. For example, an article from October 7, 1906 highlights Mrs. Nordstrom’s millinery due to the fact that the store has “one of the best St. Louis milliners.” Why was it so important to report on the talent of employee Miss Nobles? Because “St. Louis is where millinery styles are made.” These women’s sections inform readers of trends and also let them know where they can procure the goods discussed.

Journal Daily Fashion
Pensacola Journal-November 25, 1906

When it comes to internal issues, women’s papers feature advertisements for products related to problems typically relegated to women such as the care of the sick and cooking. All manner of new and cutting edge products are promoted that promise improvements in health and digestion. For example, an ad by Cotolene claims women should use it to replace lard because it “makes food that any stomach can digest…and is the most healthful and economical cooking fat on the market.” With the tagline “sunshine in the kitchen,” ads for this particular cotton seed oil are a frequent sight on the “Society” page. While women are targets for ads related to feeding their families in these columns, it is clear they are also responsible for their overall health as well. An ad for “California Syrup of Figs” from October 22, 1913 begins with the phrase “Look at the tongue, mother!” before claiming that the mother would soon have “a well, playful child again” after using the product to eliminate constipation and yellow bile. Beyond the health of their families, advertisements also promise cures to obviously misunderstood maladies grouped together as “womanly troubles.” The tonic known as Carudi, for example, promises to “relieve or prevent headache, backache, side ache, dragging sensations, nervousness, irritability, irregularity, and general female weakness and misery.” Like the Cotolene ad, Carudi advertisements span the run of the section. Regardless of if they bought these products or not, women who read “Over the Coffee Cups” and its other iterations were exposed to advertising with considerable cultural subtext.

While much more can and should be said about historic women’s newspaper columns, the fact of the matter is there are easily upwards of 500 pages within just this digitized portion of the Pensacola Journal that are edited by women and deal with people and societal events. This overview barely scratches the surface of the available information in just this one title. However, I hope that after reading this blog post it is abundantly clear that even in the early 20th century, women weren’t simply passive consumers of the news. They were a demographic that is explicitly courted by the inclusion of sections like “People and Events,” “Society,” and “Over the Coffee Cups.”

Works Cited and Additional Information

Fahs, Allice. Out on Assignment: Newspaper Women and the Making of Modern Public Space. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: The University of North Carolina Press, 2011.

Jaffe, Sarah “From Women’s Page to Style Section.” Columbia Journalism Review, February 19, 2013. http://www.cjr.org/behind_the_news/womens_page_to_style_section.php.

Whitt, Jan. Women in American Journalism: A New History. Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 2008.