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Marjory Stoneman Douglas

Marjory Stoneman Douglas (1890---1998) lived to be 108 years old. On February 14th, 2018 --- Valentine's Day --- a mass shooting occurred that killed 17, wounded 17 more, and devastated a nation, all at a high school named for the famed environmentalist and preserver of the Everglades, Marjory Stoneman Douglas. Forever her name, as the best of what humans can be, will be connected with that event, the worst that humans can be. 

Born in Minneapolis, she grew up in Massachusetts with her mother, after her parents divorced. Douglas early on came to love reading and writing. The Boston Herald published one of her stories when she was 17 [1]. Douglas went on to write ten books, the most famous of which, The Everglades: River of Grass, has seen numerous reprints. Only Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring has surpassed its fame of environmental literature written by women. 

She suffered a failed marriage to a crook, an unsuccessful enlistment in the military, three nervous breakdowns, but Marjorie always managed to emerge. After her divorce, she worked for her father’s newspaper (later the Miami Herald). After the short military experience, she joined the Red Cross in Paris. Douglas’ life witnessed the extraordinary explosive expansion of the Floridian population. 

Her home in Coconut Grove is known for its distinguished architecture. Douglas was a neighbor of Margaret Lefranc’s, and they became very dear friends after they met in 1957. As Douglas never drove, Lefranc would drive her around. It is extraordinary to know that Douglas never had a car, air conditioning or a dishwasher, something most would now find unimaginable. 

As early as her time at Wellesley College, she became devoted to a cause, to suffragism (now feminism). In Paris at the time of World War I and Armistice, she took up the cause of the poor and displaced. Permanently settling in Florida and working on the newspaper with her father, she continued her advocacy of women, the down trodden, the dispossessed.

Turning subsequently to fiction, eventually she published over 100 articles, many in the Saturday Evening Post, after she left the newspaper in 1923. By the 1940s her interest turned toward the environment, specifically the river system and the Everglades. Battling powerful developers, farmers, and ranchers, she did not hesitate to stand up and to speak eloquently and fearlessly on behalf of the ecosystem of this unusual area. 

Lefranc would drive with Douglas, known for her attire of pearls, hats and gloves, to meeting after meeting to rally people to the cause of the Everglades. Lefranc did a charcoal drawing on canvas of Douglas prior to completing her portrait. For Christmas in 1990, Douglas joined Lefranc and McKenzie for dinner, only to request solely ice cream, a request she duplicated on her 105th birthday. The Miami Herald published an article on April 5th, 1995 of the event. Douglas had many visitors for this birthday, including the painter Larue “Sunny” Storm and photographer Klara Farkas, the head of the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers --- an entity with which she had previously disagreed on methods of conservation. Margaret Lefranc came and the two enjoyed a long conversation in French, a language in which both enjoyed fluency. A telegram came from Florida Governor Lawton Chiles, and a phone call from the President of Wellesley College [2].

Perhaps her most important award, came from President Bill Clinton in 1993, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, for a lifetime of not just caring but actually working avidly and tirelessly for others and the environment. Though a number of things were named in her honor and memory, she wished the energy had been turned to getting more done. 

Florida 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 grandchildren.” [3]


[2] Katz, Lois.  A Lifetime of Imaging: The Art of Margaret Lefranc. Miami: Nouveau Ventures Unlimited, Inc., in association with the Margaret Lefranc Art Foundation, 2007. p. 222

[3] Https:// from Margaria Fichter in the Miami Herald on May 14, 1998, “Pioneering environmentalist Marjory Stoneman Douglas dies at 108”. 

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