“Mother of the Everglades” – Marjory Stoneman Douglas has her name etched on museums, parks, street signs, and more throughout the US, for her huge contribution to the conservation movement in the United States… most specifically felt by the Florida Everglades River of Grass.
Marjory was born on April 7, 1890, in Minneapolis Minnesota, but was raised in Taunton Massachusetts after her parents divorced. Here she graduated from Wellesley College in 1912 with an AB degree, majoring in English composition. In 1915 after her mother’s passing and an unhappy marriage, she moved to Miami to work with her father who was then the editor of The Miami Herald. As an assistant editor, Marjory often wrote editorials urging protection and development of Florida’s unique, southernmost region, despite the quick commercial development. This was her home for the next 83 years.
After leaving the paper, Stoneman Douglas’s focus remained on her literary career, writing short stories – 40 of which were published in well-known magazines between 1923 and 1938, and never losing her passion, or will to fight for the River of Grass.
In 1947, the year Everglades National Park was established, Marjory Stoneman Douglas published The Everglades: River of Grass. A best-seller, and perfect description of one of the most vastly beautiful, extraordinary, and fragile regions of this earth. Marjory persuaded most to re-envision the idea of the Everglades being a useless swamp, instead a source of freshwater for not only the people of Florida but the wildlife.
In the 1950’s, The US Army Corps of Engineers built a complex of dams, canals, levees, and pump stations, to protect former marshland from seasonal flooding – which was now being used for agriculture and development. Stoneman Douglas fought sternly against this, as it disrupted the natural cycle of which the entire system of the Everglades depends on. They quickly became one of her worst enemies.
In 1969, Ms. Douglas formed the Friends of the Everglades and was active as head of the conservation organization. The organization grew to more than 6,000 by the year 2000 and is still a huge influence in all environmental issues affecting the Everglades.
Her intention in starting FOTE was to stop the construction of a jet port being built in the region of the Everglades which is now the Big Cypress National Preserve (established in 1974.) The construction of the JetPort came to a halt after the first strip was built. She was only a small old lady, half the size of her fellow speakers; most of the time wearing large dark sunglasses, and a big floppy hat. When she spoke amongst others, she didn’t hold back her force. Her aura quickly tamed any crowd and could remind anyone of their responsibility to nature.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas was asked on her 100th birthday if she had hope for the survival of the Everglades. She answered: ‘I am neither an optimist nor a pessimist. I say it’s got to be done.”
Still in the 1990s when she was blind and facing health issues, Ms. Douglas – “Friends of the Everglades” worked with other environmental groups to help pass a plan to establish a $90 MILLION fund to buy and protect endangered land in Dade County. In 1993, she was awarded the Medal of Freedom, by President Clinton.
In May 1998, at the age of 108 years old, Ms. Marjory Stoneman Douglas passed with dignity in her Coconut Grove home. Her ashes were spread in Everglades National Park – her River of Grass.