By KATHY A. MEGYERI
This Mothers’ Day we pay tribute to some of the women whose efforts and achievements helped improve and enrich the lives of Floridians and other Americans. Not all bore children, but their societal contributions have left a positive impact on our environment, our educational and legal systems, in aviation, and on our state and country. Join us in celebrating their legacy.
An American journalist, author, women’s suffrage advocate and conservationist, Douglas was known for her steadfast protection of the Everglades when some considered it a worthless swamp that should be drained and developed for real estate and agriculture. In 1947, she penned The Everglades: River of Grass which forever changed Americans’ perception of the land with its first sentence, “There are no other Everglades in the world.” Five years after the book’s publication, the Everglades became a national park. When she was 79, Douglas founded the Friends of the Everglades to protest the construction of a jetport; she explained her activism by saying, “It’s a women’s business to be interested in the environment. It’s an extended form of housekeeping.” She was a Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient on her 105th birthday. Unfortunately, a high school named in her honor was the site of the 2018 Valentine’s Day mass shooting in Parkland.
Cochran was a journalist, the owner of a cosmetics company and a pioneer in the field of aviation. Born in Pensacola, she would become one of the foremost racing pilots of her generation, setting records for speed, distance and altitude. Cochran was the first woman to break the sound barrier, to fly a bomber across the Atlantic, and to make a blind instrument landing. She designed the first oxygen mask and was the first pilot to fly 20,000 feet to test it. She helped to form the wartime Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC) and Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) and was the first civilian woman to win a Distinguished Service Medal. She was inducted into the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame in 1992. She is arguably the greatest female pilot in aviation history as she held more records than any other pilot, male or female. She likely would have received more recognition if not for the unfortunate passing of Amelia Earhart.
One of Florida’s most powerful and influential First Ladies, Jennings led a variety of civic and philanthropic organizations. She was the daughter of a state senator and wife of our 18th governor, William Sherman Jennings, who presided from 1901 to 1905. Her political knowledge, connections, social skills and smarts were exceptional and helped propel her husband’s career. At the time, women were not considered suitable candidates for political office. An activist for many causes, Jennings crusaded tirelessly for environmental conservation, child welfare, the state library, prison and educational reform, historic preservation and highway beautification. In 1921 she co-founded the Florida State League of Women Voters. She was also called the “Mother of Florida Forestry” for helping to promote the legislative act for the creation of the Florida State Board of Forestry.
Bethune was an American educator, stateswoman, philanthropist, humanitarian and civil rights activist. In 1904, she established the Daytona Educational and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls. It would eventually become a college and later, Bethune Cookman University. Considered the nation’s expert on black education, Bethune served as an adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt in his “black cabinet.” She also founded a boys’ club, a high school, a library, a hospital and a nursing school. She pushed for the integration of the Red Cross and the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps.
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