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An Everglades Providence

An Everglades Providence: Marjory Stoneman Douglas and the American Environmental Century

Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 764
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  • Book Info
    An Everglades Providence
    Book Description:

    No one did more than Marjory Stoneman Douglas to transform the Everglades from the country's most maligned swamp into its most beloved wetland. By the late twentieth century, her name and her classic The Everglades: River of Grass had become synonymous with Everglades protection. The crusading resolve and boundless energy of this implacable elder won the hearts of an admiring public while confounding her opponents-growth merchants intent on having their way with the Everglades. Douglas's efforts ultimately earned her a place among a mere handful of individuals honored as a namesake of a national wilderness area. In the first comprehensive biography of Douglas, Jack E. Davis explores the 108-year life of this compelling woman. Douglas was more than an environmental activist. She was a suffragist, a lifetime feminist and supporter of the ERA, a champion of social justice, and an author of diverse literary talent. She came of age literally and professionally during the American environmental century, the century in which Americans mobilized an unprecedented popular movement to counter the equally unprecedented liberties they had taken in exploiting, polluting, and destroying the natural world. The Everglades were a living barometer of America's often tentative shift toward greater environmental responsibility. Reconstructing this larger picture, Davis recounts the shifts in Douglas's own life and her instrumental role in four important developments that contributed to Everglades protection: the making of a positive wetland image, the creation of a national park, the expanding influence of ecological science, and the rise of the modern environmental movement. In the grand but beleaguered Everglades, which Douglas came to understand is a vast natural system that supports human life, she saw nature's providence.

    eISBN: 978-0-8203-4623-6
    Subjects: History, Environmental Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-x)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. xi-xii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
    Paul S. Sutter

    Nineteen-forty-seven was a watershed year in the history of Florida’s Ever glades. On December 6, President Harry S. Truman dedicated Everglades National Park, the culmination of a decades-long campaign to protect a portion of this unique watery wilderness. Many people, then and since, have rightly seen this moment as emblematic of a turn toward ecological significance as a core standard for national park preservation. As importantly, few moments better symbolized the transformation of American attitudes about wetlands. Once vilified as a dangerous and pestilential swamp that needed to be drained and “improved,” the Everglades had come to be valued as...

  4. Author’s Note and Acknowledgments
    (pp. xix-xxv)

    • CHAPTER ONE Journey’s End
      (pp. 3-22)

      Everglades National Park Ranger Sandy Dayhoff squinted into the still-rising sun of late spring. Scanning the grand uniformity of the wet prairie, she made her way through shin-deep water, under which she felt the familiar pull of muck around her jungle boots and at the stab of her walking stick. Shuffling through the same a few feet ahead was park superintendent Richard Ring, who fixed his gaze down past a square sift-proof box he carried in his hands. Trailing behind was ranger Craig Thatcher. He had piloted the airboat that brought the three out to a place where the water...

    • CHAPTER TWO River of Life
      (pp. 23-38)

      It’s unclear when Douglas first learned about the Everglades. She conceivably knew of them when a child, living in the North. Much popular literature of the time told tales of the strange jungles and swamps of Florida, and as soon as she was old enough, Marjory read virtually everything that came into her hands. People talked, too, about faraway places they wanted to visit or where they wanted to resettle. Still, she apparently formed no early impression of the Everglades. She lived in Miami for five years before first seeing them. On one Sunday afternoon in 1920, she and friends...

    • CHAPTER THREE Lineage
      (pp. 39-54)

      When Douglas composed her autobiography in the late 1980s, she offered some unblushing confessions. She revealed that she had had sex only with her best-forgotten divorced husband, most recently in 1915. She held back from laughing during their first time together, never came to understand all the fuss made about sex, and never missed having it. Although she was glad for the experience, she was equally glad to get it out of the way. In nearly the same breath that she demeaned an inviolable American indulgence, she questioned the importance of a sacred but frail American institution: the family. Many...

    • CHAPTER FOUR Mr. Smith’s “Reconnoissance”
      (pp. 55-69)

      The New York City police officer did not know the man who passed out in the cold street one January day in 1871. He carried no identification, or someone had stolen it. As far as the officer was concerned, the man was just another street drunk, another reason for the pious temperance folks to continue their crusade against demon drink. The man was different from most drunks, though. He was well dressed and clean shaven, a man of apparent means. Still, the officer locked the man in a cell to sleep it off before seeing the judge. But the man...

    • CHAPTER FIVE Birth and Despair
      (pp. 70-80)

      Minneapolis was a bustling western city in the late nineteenth century, a conduit between the lands to the east and the west. Early in the century, the settlement had risen up on the ancestral territory of the Ojibway and Dakota Indians around the Falls of St. Anthony and the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers. Like the region’s axial city, Chicago, Minneapolis was a metropolis of nature. The Mississippi was the steady-running engine that connected the local economy with those in other regions. In the surrounding forests, lumberjacks—German, Irish, and Scandinavian immigrants—who in their dangerous work communicated...

    • CHAPTER SIX Suicide
      (pp. 81-89)

      When a wealthy Yankee gentleman in the 1880s announced that he was undertaking a million-dollar Everglades drainage scheme, idle groups that routinely gathered at barbershops and general stores probably responded with a dismissive cluck or two. Since the Yankee had been the beneficiary of inherited wealth, disdainful utterances may have also been audible in the finely appointed smoking parlors of some self-made men. Private opinions aside, public pronouncements overwhelmingly expressed confidence about the prospects for creating a fruitful Arcadia in the Everglades. The feasibility of draining them was congressional fact, surmised decades earlier from Buckingham Smith’s 1848 report. People had...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN Growing Up
      (pp. 90-103)

      When a teenager settled into a routine of life at her grandparents’ home in Taunton, Marjory spent occasional summer weekends with her high school friend Madeleine Beers at Lake Assawompsett. These weekends were a New England summer pastoral. Madeleine’s parents owned a place at Nelson’s Grove, a regionally familiar waterside colony of shaker-shingle seasonal cottages. Assawompsett was the largest body of freshwater in Massachusetts, contoured by silver birch, hemlock, and beech trees climbing sloping banks and connected to bogs and reed marshes littered with lichen-matted granite boulders and draining into the Taunton River. Though big, the lake could feel intimate...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT Frank’s Journey
      (pp. 104-114)

      In 1896, Frank Stoneman was on a train bound from Jacksonville to Orlando. He had taken a lonely passage from the Northeast a week or two earlier after he was certain that Lillian’s departure to Taunton with Marjory was permanent. With neither job nor family keeping him in Providence, he set out for new surroundings. Why he chose Florida is not altogether clear. Prone to developing pneumonia, he may have been following a doctor’s advice to seek a warmer climate, and having grown up on the frontier, his daughter explained, he had always felt the pull of an “unfinished place.”...

    • CHAPTER NINE The Sovereign
      (pp. 115-126)

      Even when its boiler was cold and dormant, the one-hundred-foot-long floating dredge was an imposing rig. The superstructure straddling the thirty-eight-foot beam was a small factory, pungent with the smell of grease and rotting Everglades detritus. When lit off, the boiler roused the dredge into a belching hulk of steel cables, pulleys, and I beams in repetitive motion. A mechanical sigh sounded with each in-and-out, turning move of the boom, controlled like a giant grasshopper leg on puppet strings by an operator pulling at levers. Assisted by an onboard crew of twelve, he could plunge the dredge’s bucket twenty-two feet...

    • CHAPTER TEN Wellesley
      (pp. 127-137)

      The paean for new horizons in Marjory’s “parting ode” at her high school graduation in 1908 concealed a personal ambivalence. Her excitement at starting college that fall was equaled by her misgivings about leaving her invalid mother. Marjory was Lillian’s one true love, and everyone worried about the dismal toll her daughter’s absence would take on Lillian. Lillian wanted Marjory to have a college education, though, as did her grandmother and aunt. Having consulted teachers, friends, and the family, Marjory was inclined to a liberal arts education at a women’s school that would push her to grow intellectually, artistically, and...

    • CHAPTER ELEVEN Reports
      (pp. 138-152)

      In her first novel, Road to the Sun, Douglas wrote of the proverbial abstract “they”: “‘The Empire of the Everglades’ they kept on saying, pointing and sweeping their arms so that all listening heads swept around with them. [Governor Napoleon Bonaparte] Broward had drained the Everglades at last, they said. . . . The crops they would raise would make them all rich. That’s what everybody said. The future looked wonderful.” In fiction and nonfiction forms, including in River of Grass, Douglas constantly debunked the myth of agrarian success under the Broward plan. A near-spellbinding allure, seducing trusting investors from...

    • CHAPTER TWELVE Marriage
      (pp. 153-162)

      Following her graduation and her mother’s death soon thereafter, Marjory stood at a lonely crossroads. Wellesley had given her a good education and had helped her develop the skills of a writer, but she was unsure of her potential to be a published professional author. Reflecting back years later, she wrote, “All Senior year I had been aware of a growing dismay. I had been writing steadily for four years and had produced nothing fit to be submitted to the Atlantic Monthly or to be remembered.” As her college career was coming to a close, representatives from private girls’ schools...

    • CHAPTER THIRTEEN By Violence
      (pp. 163-179)

      By the laws of nature, the Everglades, like any wholesome wilderness area, were a violent place, as Henry, the young protagonist in Douglas’s novel Alligator Crossing, recognizes soon after becoming acquainted with the region: “Everything that lived here—the alligator, the little fish and big fish, the turtles, the frogs, the dragonflies—lived on something else alive that was here, even the green plants in the clear brown water.” Killing was the essence of a healthy ecosystem and of life itself. Yet when humans entered, the salubrious contest for survival assumed a new and dramatically different dynamic that disrupted mutually...

    • CHAPTER FOURTEEN Killing Mr. Bradley
      (pp. 180-195)

      Douglas never met the ill-fated Guy Bradley. He was slain in 1905 near his Everglades home when she was still a schoolgirl in Taunton. But she eventually learned a lot about him. With his death, he became the lionized symbol of the slaughtered birds, his martyrdom desperately conceived by the National Association of Audubon Societies during the most despairing period in the enterprise of defending birds.

      Twenty-five years later, Douglas revivified his martyrdom with a fictional account of the demise of an Everglades warden. The catalyst for the story was her most intimate contact ever with the Everglades. At the...


      (pp. 199-211)

      In Jacksonville, Douglas changed trains from the New York and Florida Special and climbed aboard a sleeping car of the Florida East Coast Railway, owned by Henry Flagler. The lanky old man had died two years earlier, in 1913, at eighty-three, immortalized and tethered to history. He left a fortune to his forty-six-year-old third wife and a legacy of development and commerce to a state that embraced him as its baron of business enterprise. Riding on his train, Douglas would have been aware of Flagler’s influence. The train stopped wherever he had built one of his elegant resort hotels, where...

    • CHAPTER SIXTEEN Conservationists
      (pp. 212-227)

      Women wearing plume feathers draped about their necks or atop broad, showy hats in Miami at the turn of the twentieth century were wise to avoid an encounter with Mary Barr Munroe. Fellow conservationists called her their “most militant power.” To the tedious work of organizing, lobbying, and letter writing, she added tenacious street-level temerity. Out on sun-bright sidewalks, in hotel lobbies, and on church steps, she turned brilliant and intense eyes beneath a fashion-appropriate palmetto hat on unsuspecting women. Her approach was never threatening, and her voice was more didactic than hostile when she lectured women on the grisly...

      (pp. 228-240)

      Although her Miami Herald predecessor limited the society page to unoffending prosaic items of the commons, Douglas quickly proved more adventurous. When she began covering club meetings, she was pleasantly surprised to meet so many educated, worldly women. They came from different parts of the country, many had lived abroad, and some spoke foreign languages. She found herself reporting on an unexpected range of club activities that included health and sanitation improvement, prison reform, conservation, Belgian war relief, Prohibition, and suffrage. She came to know the various men’s organizations, too, such as the Masons, who were interested in business development...

      (pp. 241-256)

      Petty-officer first class Marjory Stoneman Douglas was miserable in her regimental duties. A midmorning riser by habit, she almost always arrived to work late and was reprimanded for it, although she still managed to receive decent monthly performance reports. She spent the day typing letters for surly naval officers, and when she corrected their grammar, which was often, they berated her for that, too. She had enlisted impulsively after the United States entered the terrible war in Europe in 1917. Her father had been predicting U.S. involvement for a long time, prompting some of his competitors to call his a...

      (pp. 257-272)

      Like Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby, Douglas returned home from Europe wanting the “world to be . . . at a sort of moral attention.” But Florida, especially Miami, was in the midst of the sordid affairs of a great real estate boom. She wrote about it in fiction and nonfiction with “unaffected scorn.”In her “A Bird Dog in Hand,” published in 1925, at the height of the boom, the protagonist, George Henry, sermonizes to his female companion, “Can’t you see that all this buying and selling of land is wrong? Can’t you see that it is ... making...

    • CHAPTER TWENTY The Galley Slave
      (pp. 273-292)

      After bidding Europe farewell, Douglas arrived back in Miami in January 1920. It was a different place from the city she had left fifteen months earlier, and she was a different woman. She was wiser in the ways of the world, had sharper instincts about people and the institutions and the events of their creation, and had stronger opinions about society and politics. She also soon began to find her writer’s voice and finally to sort out her personal relationships with men.

      She had recently ended her engagement to be married, not to Kenneth Rotharmel but to her Red Cross...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
    • CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE Hurricanes
      (pp. 293-309)

      Douglas liked intense weather, the whirring and buffeting of a New England snow squall, the reverberation and darkened heaviness of a subtropical thunderstorm. These poetic natural dramas had an aesthetic in their motion, sound, and color that could move the senses in much the same way as a great work of art. Douglas found a spiritual quality in great natural forces that withered the cosmic relevance of human action. They reminded one that nature remained in control. Writing a book about the history of hurricanes, then, as she did in 1958, appealed to her on multiple levels. Living in the...

      (pp. 310-326)

      In spring 1923, Douglas suffered something of an emotional breakdown. Over the years, she had experienced moments when consciousness evaporated into a trance of nothingness. Similar episodes haunted a character in one of her stories: “She would be talking to someone quite reasonably, her words coming clear and measured. . . .Then for a moment . . . the air across her face would stop, the motion of the waters alongside, the light on the wall, the hurrying hand of the clock, the blood in her body.” Perhaps the same psychological glitch that incapacitated her mother had been passed along....

      (pp. 327-343)

      Coming in from the Everglades light, Ernest Coe adjusted his gray eyes to the dim interior of the old store. His clothes were sweat stained and wrinkled from the fifty-mile drive out Tamiami Trail to Chokoloskee, an island fishing village that slumbered near the mouth of Turner River. Except for a dark tie and tan complexion, he was a walking swatch of alabaster. He wore linen pants, a white cotton shirt, and white canvas shoes, and his eyebrows and fuss of hair were as snowy as the nuptial plumage of egrets. Someone who knew a thing or two about plumes...

      (pp. 344-362)

      The doctors at first said eighty-three-year-old Frank Stoneman was too old to survive major surgery. Then, when complications related to a kidney stone worsened, they decided an operation was his only hope. His wife, Lillias, could not be with him on the morning of his surgery, February 1, 1941. She was ill and confined to bed at home under the care of her younger cousin, Mildred Shine. Marjory was at the hospital, and she and her father last spoke as the orderlies wheeled him away to the operating room. When the doctor later came out to share the worst, she...

      (pp. 363-379)

      The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was one of the most popular of Franklin Roosevelt’s many New Deal agencies. It was so in part because its projects produced something tangible, unlike those of the ditch-and-fill variety, and something beyond the wages of relief work. The CCC tidied up the American wilderness, making it more presentable and accessible to sightseers and vacationers. Another attractive quality was the disciplined battalions of clean-scrubbed, uniformed young men who personified all-American principles that were supposed to rescue the country from economic distress: hard work, cooperation, and loyalty to family. The CCC was also the progeny and...

    • CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX Dedications
      (pp. 380-399)

      Douglas finished reading the page proofs of River of Grass in early June 1947. After sending them off to Rinehart, she dashed next door to share the consummation with her friends, Franklin and Alice Harris. Franklin went to his piano and improvised a celebratory melody dedicated to her literary milestone. Her own dedication, in River of Grass, went to the memory of her father, “Who Gave Me Florida.” Frank Stoneman had actually given her much more. He had stepped in at a timely moment and offered her escape from a devitalizing marriage. Her chance at a new professional career was...


    • CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN An Unnecessary Drought
      (pp. 403-419)

      Wallace Stegner was the kind of writer Douglas admired. He produced well-researched, authoritative history in the style of a novelist, which he was, and nature frequently figured integrally into his work. He also deployed the voice of an activist, whenever he felt the environment was imperiled. In the 1950s, in response to the Bureau of Reclamation’s announced plans to construct two massive water reclamation dams on the Colorado River, with the reservoir of one reaching into the Dinosaur National Monument, he edited This Is Dinosaur. It was the first of the “battle books” produced to defend an environmental cause. Th...

    • CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT Perishing and Publishing
      (pp. 420-437)

      In the years following the publication of River of Grass, Douglas reached the age in which more people in her life began dying. One was her father’s second wife. Lillias Stoneman and Marjory had remained close after Frank’s death. Marjory would find a ride over to the Spring Garden house to have dinner with Lillias, read to her, and talk about the rustic Florida of Lillias’s ancestors. Lillias passed away on March 6, 1956, at age eighty-nine. She had lived long enough to see three of Marjory’s books in print and to be moved by the dedication to Frank in...

    • CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE Grassroots
      (pp. 438-455)

      In the 1960s, Douglas still refused to get behind the wheel of a car. The prospect that she would ever do so had passed, though not because she was in her seventies. Miami’s roads had become treacherous. They had always been in some way or the other. She remembered when they were sand and limestone, dusty uncertain byways that gave little traction to cars that rolled over easily. The roads were eventually paved, and more land was bulldozed for new, more stable cars. But now there were too many cars, impatient surging rivers of them. Back in the 1920s, she...

    • CHAPTER THIRTY The Jetport
      (pp. 456-471)

      It “looked as if just about all the important natural values in South Florida were under serious attack,” observed Joe Browder of the 1960s. For environmentalists, campaign followed and overlapped exhausting campaign, with no lag time to rest or regroup. The small community of activists somehow always managed to mount defenses and keep straight the copious ecological, political, and strategic details of numerous issues—unnecessary drought, Seadade, Islandia, Florida Power & Light (FP& L). Their task was made easier by the realization that all the campaigns were interrelated, like parts of an ecosystem. The opposition took that approach. From multiple...

    • CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE The Conversion
      (pp. 472-490)

      The story has become legendary, a part of the irreducible public persona that came to be the woman of the Everglades, told countless times in newspapers, magazines, speeches, and interviews. No one remembers the exact date of the event other than that it occurred sometime in 1969, but the other essential facts are clear. One evening around eleven o’clock, Marjory Stoneman Douglas was shopping at a Coconut Grove convenience mart, the Quick & Easy Food Store, when someone called her name. It was Joe Browder’s assistant and office manager, Judy Wilson. Amid the night-owl customers straggling in to buy cigarettes,...

    • CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO Regionalism and Environmentalism
      (pp. 491-512)

      “Your predecessors gave away Florida land like drunken sailors,” Douglas reminded Governor Reubin O’D. Askew. She knew he wouldn’t do the same, though. He was arguably Florida’s most liberal chief executive ever. A World War II combat veteran, a chaste nonsmoker and nondrinker, and a Bible-reading Presbyterian, Askew fit in well with folks back home in Pensacola. Panhandle whites were as socially and politically conservative as those across the border in Alabama and Georgia. Their elected state representatives, collectively known as pork choppers for their penchant for appropriating taxpayer-funded projects for themselves and supporters, had controlled state government since Reconstruction....

    • CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE The Kissimmee
      (pp. 513-528)

      In 1982, Douglas declared, “Conservation is now a dead word.” When she made that statement, she was speaking before the Sarasota Wellesley Club and college alumnae, all of whom were generally much younger than she. By this time in her life, macular degeneration had begun to cloud her eyesight, and she had traded in her harlequin-framed trifocals for large, owl-shaped frames with thick lenses. Wide-brimmed hats and faux pearls were still compulsory complements to her public image, though, and her voice was still stentorian, her diction perfect, and her posture finishing-school straight. Her thinking remained clear, too. Conservation alone— that...

      (pp. 529-548)

      For fellow concerned citizens, Douglas developed an efficient six-point strategy on “how you can protect the environment.” A few points were standard fare: “Join a local environmental society”; “Call a few neighbors and friends to form a group to study the legislation of city, country, state and federal laws”; and “Do what you would do best to help your group.” Others were classic Douglas: “Know your region. . . . Whether a native or a newcomer, you will be fascinated to learn about your unique region, its rivers, lakes, coasts, roads, cities; its climate, soil, plants and animals”; “Speak up....

    • CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE Justice and Equality
      (pp. 549-568)

      Every hour, an electronic clock spoke to Douglas at home. “The voice of the man I live with,” she sometimes joked to visitors who heard the time of day intoned. The clock symbolized how she conformed to a life without sight. In good light, she could make out cloudy shapes and contrasts, but the eight-power magnifying glass she once wired to her glasses to read numbers in the phone book was now useless. She no longer had the eyes for writing, either, not even in the big looping scrawl slanting upward across the page that had for a short time...

    • CHAPTER THIRTY-SIX The Gathering Twilight
      (pp. 569-590)

      Hundreds of well-wishers—friends, strangers, young, old—came out on April 7, 1990, a beautiful Saturday afternoon, to sing happy birthday to Marjory Stoneman Douglas. Her centennial celebration took the form of a public picnic held at the north end of Crandon Park. Its eight hundred acres had originally been a coconut plantation, and its owner, the Matheson family, friends of Douglas, had donated the land to the county on the condition that a causeway be built from the Miami mainland across the bay to Virginia Key and to Key Biscayne, where a park was to be located. The causeway...

    • EPILOGUE: “Without Me”
      (pp. 591-606)

      William “Toby” Muir’s wife, Celeste, called him to the phone one afternoon. “Jarjee” wanted to talk to him. Douglas was probably 106 at the time, and Muir surely had not expected a phone call from her. But there on the line was that familiar resonant voice. “Toby,” she asked, “do you still have your sailboat?” He did. “It has been a long time since I’ve been sailing. Would you take me sailing?” He would. “How long is your boat?” Twenty-three feet. “As I remember, it is a sloop, isn’t it?” Yes. “Now a sloop has only one mast, isn’t that...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 607-732)
  9. Index
    (pp. 733-758)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 759-759)