Marjory Stoneman Douglas was an American journalist, author, women’s suffrage advocate, as well as an environmentalist. She was known for her staunch defense of the Florida Everglades against the efforts of businesses to claim the land for development purposes. Born in Minnesota, she moved to Miami at a young age. She became a freelance writer and produced over a hundred short stories to be published in popular magazines. She earned fame for her book ‘The Everglades: River of Grass’, published in 1947. Since Everglades was viewed as a worthless swamp, the book helped redefine it as a treasured river. She was not only an environmentalist, but she fought for women’s right to vote as well. She also sought to destroy the inequalities between races. Shortly before her death, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She lived till the age of 108, and until her death, she worked for the restoration of Everglades. She is still revered as one of the most important figures of the environmental movement in America.
Childhood & Early Life
Marjory Stoneman was born on 7th April 1890, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her father’s name was Frank Bryant Stoneman and her mother’s name was Florence Lillian Trefethen.
She began to read from an early age, her first book being ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’.
Her parents separated when she was only six. She moved to her mother’s family house, where she lived with her maternal grandparents, mother and aunt. She didn’t get along with the family and her mother, which led her to suffer from night terrors. Her mother was also committed to an asylum several times.
As she grew up, she started writing stories. At the age of sixteen, she contributed to the most popular children’s magazine of the day ‘St. Nicholas Magazine’. For her story ‘An Early Morning Paddle’, she was awarded a prize by the ‘Boston Herald’ in 1907.
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Sometime after Marjory finished her education, she arrived in Miami, in south Florida, where less than 5,000 people lived at that time. Her father, Frank Stoneman, started publishing a newspaper called ‘The Miami Herald’. He gained attention for opposing the governor of that time, Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, for trying to drain the Everglades.
Marjory Douglas joined the newspaper’s staff in 1915. She initially wrote about tea parties and society events. The flow of news was very slow at that time, so she also made up some of her stories, which she admitted later. Her father eventually left her the responsibility of the editorial page.
For some time, she also served in the American Red Cross, and was stationed in Paris. After returning to Florida, she became an assistant editor at ‘The Miami Herald’. For her daily column, ‘The Galley’, she earned much popularity.
She used to begin her columns with a poem. She also wrote about responsible planning when Miami reached a population of 1, 00,000 people in a decade. She wrote on other issues like women’s suffrage and civil rights as well.
Marjory eventually quit the newspaper in 1923, and started working as a freelance writer. Throughout her career, she wrote around 109 fiction articles and stories.
Most of her stories were about women who encountered social or natural injustice. In the O. Henry Award competition in 1928, her story ‘Peculiar Treasure of a King’, was a second-place finalist.
After working as a reporter and editor for years, she was asked to write a book series on America’s rivers, including the Miami River. Marjory, however, pointed out that it wouldn’t be a compelling read, and instead proposed writing about the Everglades. The book was published in 1947; it was titled ‘The Everglades: River of Grass’.
As there was no organized environmental movement and very little ecological awareness till the late 1960s, her struggle to protect the Everglades was met with numerous challenges.
Several building projects were attempted, against which Marjory Douglas stood strongly. In the 1960s, a jetport was also proposed. She formed the ‘Friends of the Everglades’, and spent time touring the area and giving speeches, as well as signing new members. In a few years, the group had over 3,000 members from 38 different states. The jetport project was eventually stopped.
Marjory Douglas was involved in various other causes. She served as a charter member of the first American Civil Liberties Union. She also lent her support to the Equal Rights Amendment and also the Florida Rural Legal Services to protect migrant farm workers.
She co-founded the Friends of the Miami-Dade Public Libraries, along with her friend Helen Muir, and served as its first president.
Family & Personal Life
Marjory met Kenneth Douglas in 1914. She found him to be courteous and friendly. They got married after three months. However, he turned out to be a con artist, and had lied to her about being a newspaper editor. He was also married to another woman at the same time. Apparently, he planned to scam her father out of his money. The marriage was eventually annulled.
Marjory Douglas lived for 108 years and passed away on 14th May 1998, in Coconut Grove, Miami, Florida, US.