Happy International Women’s Day, LAL. Today is a universal day for celebrating women + their achievements. The day has been observed since the early 1990s, and each year adopts a theme. This year’s theme: #BalanceforBetter (i.e. a more gender-balanced world is a better world).
As someone with parents who immigrated from Russia (Jessica here ✌️), this holiday is extra special because every woman there, from young to elderly, receives flowers and congratulations from strangers left and right.
So in honor of IWD, we’re highlighting some notable Florida women from the past (thanks to Florida Memory) who made an impact on a national + local scale.
🌲 May Mann Jennings
First Lady May Mann Jennings was the President of the Florida Federation of Women’s Clubs. She contributed to the creation of the Florida Park Service, Florida Forestry Service + the Everglades National Park (which includes former Royal Palm State Park, a private park she helped create in 1916 to preserve one of the last natural stands of Royal Palms).
🤝 Carrie Oldham
In 1980, Carrie R. Oldham became Lakeland’s first African-American female mayor. She was also a school educator, administrator, and a district official.
💵 Lois Quinn Searle
In 1964, Lois Quinn Searl was the first woman to be elected to the Lakeland City Commission. In 1965, she became the first woman mayor in Florida of a city over 50,000 in population. Searl served on the city commission for six years. She strived to make the city’s finances more transparent, winning the Jaycee’s Good Government Award as a result.
🥇 Jacqueline Cochran
Born near Panama City, Jacqueline Cochran was a reporter, owner of a cosmetics firm + a test pilot.
She was the first woman to break the sound barrier, fly a bomber across the Atlantic, and win a Distinguished Service Medal as the first civilian woman. By her death in 1980, she held more speed, altitude + distance records than any other pilot. She was also elected to the Aviation Hall of Fame and Florida Women’s Hall of Fame.
📚 Harriet Beecher Stowe
Harriet Beecher Stowe is the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. After the Civil War, she focused on educating freed slaves. Stowe also wrote Palmetto Leaves in 1873, which helped encourage early tourism to Florida.
🇺🇸 Beth Johnson
Beth Johnson was elected to the Florida House of Representatives as a Democrat in 1957, serving as a representative until 1962. She was subsequently elected as the first woman State Senator in Florida, where she served until 1967. Her chief legislative goals were the establishment of the University of Central Florida and development of planning + zoning systems. In 1986, she was inducted into the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame.
🔍 Marjorie Carr
As a biologist and Florida environmental activist, Marjorie Carr was the first female wildlife technician for the Federal government. She founded the Florida Defenders of the Environment and led the effort to stop the construction of the Cross Florida Barge Canal and restore the Ocklawaha River.
✈️ Ruth Elder
Ruth Elder was an actress, staring in Moran of the Marines (1928) and The Winged Horseman (1929), and also know as “Miss America of Aviation,” carrying private pilot certificate P675. In an attempt to become the first woman transatlantic airplane rider, in 1927 Elder took off with pilot George Halderman, both Lakeland residents at the time, on the airplane American Girl. Due to aircraft engine problems, they were forced to ditch in ocean, yet still set an over-water endurance flight record of 2,623 miles.
📃 Dorothy Dodd
Dorothy Dodd became Florida’s first State Archivist while working at the Florida State Library in Tallahassee, later becoming State Librarian. Much of the Florida State Archives collections were first gathered and preserved through her efforts.
🚀 JoAnn Hardin Morgan
JoAnn Hardin Morgan was the first woman placed in a senior managerial position at the Kennedy Space Center. She began working for NASA immediately after graduating from Titusville High. Morgan rose to Chief Instrumentation controller for the Apollo, Soyez + Skylab launches. In 1995, she was inducted into the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame.
✏️ Sarah McKay
Named a Great Floridian in 2010, Sarah McKay is a longtime benefactor of Florida Southern College. Their archives center is named for McKay and her late husband. The Florida House on Capitol Hill also bestowed its first Champion of Education Award upon McKay for promoting civics lessons in schools. The McKay Civics Initiative, created in collaboration with the Florida House and the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, has presented lessons to about 3,200 Polk County seventh-graders.
🗳️ Ivy J.C. Stranahan
Fort Lauderdale pioneer Ivy J.C. Stranahan promoted women + Native American rights. While serving as the president of the state suffrage league in 1917, she lobbied in legislature for the right of women to vote. In 1996, Stranahan was inducted into the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame.
“Here’s to strong women. May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them.”