Marjory Stoneman Douglas
DJ Name: Marjor Key
It’s been a while since we posted a brand-spankin’-new Historic Shuffle, but please excuse us because we’ve been swamped. You know what else is swamped? The Everglades. And one lady who we have to thank for keeping the Everglades a swampy, alligator-filled, blue-and-green beauty is one Marjory Stoneman Douglas. You might recognize her name as the namesake for the high school in Parkland, Florida, that experienced a mass shooting in 2018, but Marjory’s life story should be remembered separately from that tragedy. But as students from that school were thrown into the spotlight as advocates for gun control, in a way they’re following in Marjory’s footsteps as she too was an outspoken leader, treading a path for environmental advocacy and women’s suffrage.
Before we get into the weeds of Marjory’s backstory, queue up this playlist that she created over her 108 (!!) years of life. You already know she was a Jack Johnson stan:
Marjory Stoneman was born on April 7, 1890, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the only child of Florence Lillian Trefethen, a concert violinist, and Frank Bryant Stoneman. Even as a little girl, it was clear that Marjory loved nature. She and her dad read a lot together, and in one story, in which a tree dies to provide a character wood to build a canoe, Marjory sobbed in remorse for the poor ol’ tree. Reading also provided young Marj with a distraction from her shaky childhood. Her dad failed to get several entrepreneurial start-ups off the ground, causing her mom to grow weary of the instability and separate from him, moving herself and Marjory to live in her family home in Massachusetts. Mama Florence’s family was not particularly kind on Marjory’s papa’s memory, and the move didn’t help Florence’s mental health much. On a few occasions, she was admitted to a mental health facility, and Marjory was prone to night terrors throughout her early years.
But she found solace in reading and writing (and definitely not arithmetic, ew) and at 16 she was published in the most sought-after children’s pub of the day, the St. Nicholas Magazine (which was also the first to publish writings by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Rachel Carson and William Faulkner). A year later, the Boston Herald gave her a prize for her story called “An Early Morning Paddle,” which is a story about a boy who watches a sunrise from a canoe. We read the book, and we both immediately quit our jobs so that we too could watch the sunrise from a canoe and listen to the crawdads sing every day because that sounds idyllic as heck.
Despite her mom’s deteriorating mental health, Marjory’s family encouraged her to go off to college to pursue her education, and so headed off to Wellesley College (a women’s college that big names such as Madeleine Albright, Hillary Clinton and Emmy’s cousin Eva attended). Marjory was a big ol’ nerd and got straight A’s throughout school, and was even elected Class Orator but had to turn the position down because she was too busy with her other extracurriculars. See? NERD. One of said extracurriculars was joining the first suffrage club with six of her other classmates. She graduated from Wellesley in 1912 with a BA in English and a badass in women’s rights, but shortly afterward her mother passed away after a fight with cancer.
Alone and floating through her post-college years in jobs that didn’t quite suit her – who can relate!! – Marjory was soon entranced by a gentleman named Kenneth Douglas. Kenny boy checked all the boxes – he was a newspaper editor, an older man and well-mannered – and they wed after only three months of courtship. It was almost as if it was too good to be true, and, lo and behold, it sure was.
If Ken was a newspaper editor, then Historic Shuffle is syllabus fodder for Ivy League schools. Alas, Ken was no more than a conman, and he had a whole other wife to boot! This pre-tinder swindler spent six months in the clinker for passing a bad check, and Marj remained faithful throughout. None of his so-called enemies scared her. Once he was out, he turned his attention to Papa Frank Stoneman to try to scheme him out of money – an interesting ploy, since Marjory hadn’t seen her old man since she was a kiddo. The scheme worked, but not for Kenneth. Frank and Marjory, reconnected after all those years apart, rekindled their father-daughter relationship and he convinced her to end her marriage and join him and his new wife, Lillius, (who was none other than the great-great-granddaughter of Thomas Jefferson) in Florida.
So Marjory packed her bags and floored it to Florida in 1915 and became BFFs with her new step-mom, calling her her “first and best friend” in Florida. Back then, Florida was not exactly the boomin’, Florida-man-high-flyin’, happiest-place-on-earth that we know and love today. Miami was just a glorified railroad terminal after all. Clubs and yacht parties? Never heard of ‘em. Marj’s pops hired her at The Miami Herald to write the society column. This new gal in town reported on piping hot tea and the hottest events happening weekly. Circuses, plays and tea parties oh my! Because she was new, Marj had to hustle extra hard to learn the ropes of the vice city which led her to oftentimes stretch the truth a little here and there. In response, her competition and long-time Miami resident at The Miami Metropolis put her on blast. Thus Marj never again said that Miami Miranda wore a red dress when it was really blue and checked her facts better.
During World War I, Marj joined the ranks of the Red Cross and was stationed in Paris. She started an Instagram account called MarjoryInParis and it took off and now there’s a Netflix show entering its seventh season about her life there. Just kidding, but also maybe not?? #croissantcutie Anyway, while there, Marjory got to see first hand the celebrations that erupted in the city when the armistice was signed in 1918. She also spent time working with refugees, which gave her insight sixty years later when refugees started to enter Miami in large numbers.
After World War I, Marjory started a new role as the assistant editor of The Miami Herald. She had a daily column, called The Galley, that amassed quite a following. She was no Dear Abby, but people all over Miami flipped to the page every morning to read her column, which always began with a poem. The column was always topical, focusing on urban planning when Miami experienced a population boom, or women’s suffrage, civil rights and better sanitation. She also opposed Prohibition, saying “let mama have her margarita, please and thanks,” as well as foreign trade tariffs.
Marj retired her column after a few years and pursued the freelance life. She wrote over 40 articles for the Saturday Evening Post, published a few books, and even dabbled in play writing. Many of her works were instantly recognizable because of common themes and characters, often young, quirky female leads who were out to fight the good fight and save the Everglades. Hmm, sound like someone you now know? Florida transplant Marj had a knack for regional focus and spent a “marjority” of her time writing about what was goin’ on in the sunshine state.
Her best selling book, The Everglades: River of Grass was published in 1947 and it sold out within its first month on the shelves of Barnes and Noble. Marj slogged through a five year research project to complete this masterpiece and thus was bestowed the title “Mother of the Everglades.” Her book rallied people near and far to protect and restore the so-called river of grass because as the population in Florida increased so too did pollution of its natural landscape. 1947 just so happened to also be the year that the 1.5 milli acre Everglades National Park opened (shoutout to the natty park system), which Marj had been working with the Everglades Tropical National Park Committee to create since the early 1920s.
Many Floridians didn’t think the wetlands of the Everglades were valuable to maintain for anything other than draining and to convert into land for farms and homes. Thanks to The Everglades: River of Grass, though, Marj shed light on the unique wildlife that lived amongst the marsh like crocs (not the shoe), gators, and even cute manatees. Within her description of the ‘glades as a home to many of the natural world, Marj made sure to throw in details on how their home was being damaged due to construction and that the ecosystem must be maintained. Because…the manatees, duh! Her call to action inspired many.
But advocacy for the ‘glades didn’t stop there, if anything it only just began because believe it or not by the 1960s these marshlands were in danger of disappearing due to poor mismanagement of the neature. In response, Marjory founded a cool kids club called “Friends of the Everglades” in which members banded together to protest construction efforts and the population of endangered owls which eventually led to the box office hit, “Hoot”…well, maybe. Though no owls were hootin’ in the Everglades, gators and herons were out here losing their home and Marj wasn’t having it. When people like construction companies threw shade at the Friends of the Everglades, Marj threw it back at them with: “It’s a woman’s business to be interested in the environment. It’s an extended form of housekeeping.” Though we take creative liberties here at Historic Shuffle, that indeed is a direct quote according to, well, Wikipedia.
The work to protect the ‘glades wasn’t done just in South Florida. Marj toured the sunshine state and increased the membership of Friends of the Everglades to 3,000 people. They received their membership card and crocodile keychain in the main. And in an expected development, developers didn’t take a liking to Marj but she continued her activism anyways and prevented many projects from being built on the river of grass. A jetport (yes, airport for jets) project was on the table for a bit and because of Marj and co.,this project was scrapped by President Nixon to preserve the Everglades.
But developers developin’ were really the least of her worries because two other polluters were out there pollutin’ the Everglades. Sugarcane growers and the Army Corps of Engineers messed with water sources. You may think sugar is sweet, but those growers tainted water with chemicals and human waste while the Corps diverted the natural flow of water away from the Everglades and instead guided the water to meet the irrigation needs of the sugarcane farmers. All of this posed a significant threat to the land…and the manatees. Flo’ Rida Governor, Lawton Chiles, said, “Marjory was the first voice to really wake a lot of us up to what we were doing to our quality of life. She was not just a pioneer of the environmental movement, she was a prophet, calling out to us to save the environment for our children and our grandchildren.”
Marj made major strides for the conservation of the Everglades and her nature lovin’ work didn’t go unrecognized. In 1975 and 1976 the Florida Audubon Society and Florida Wildlife Federation named her the Conservationist of the Year. And the accolades didn’t stop there as a year later she received a Wellesley College Alumnae Achievement Award and Congress passed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Everglades Protection Act in 1991 which funded water treatment facilities in the Everglades. Naturally she criticized the facilities as not super effective yet a step in the right direction. Following her own act, Marjory was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She passed away a few years later on May 14, 1998 at the age of 108. Her ashes were scattered in no place other than the Everglades.
The Everglades still face conservation troubles to this day, but thanks to Marjory’s efforts throughout her 108 year life, they may not have even made it beyond the mid-20th century. Those swampy rivers of grass are gosh darn beautiful and you and everyone else knows it. In honor of Marj, recycle your bottles, visit National Parks, and take a walk in nature every once in a while. You never know when inspiration to save another marshland might strike. And when it does, look to Marjory Stoneman Douglas the Mother of the Everglades and nonstop defender of nature for inspiration.