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An Everglades Providence

Marjory Stoneman Douglas and the American Environmental Century

Jack E. Davis

Publication Year: 2009

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.

Published by: University of Georgia Press

Series: Environmental History and the American South

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-x


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pp. xi-xii

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pp. xiii-xviii

...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 signifi cance as a core standard for national park preservation...

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Author’s Note and Acknowledgments

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pp. xix-xxvi

...I had not long been exploring the possibility of writing the biography of a busy, fascinating woman who lived during busy, fascinating times—and indeed, for a long time—when I learned something surprising. Marjory Stoneman Douglas, a writer by profession, did not leave behind a comprehensive diary, journal, or great cache of letters...


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1 Journey’s End

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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...

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2 River of Life

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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...

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3 Lineage

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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...

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4 Mr. Smith’s “Reconnoissance”

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pp. 55-69

...The New York City police offi cer did not know the man who passed out in the cold street one January day in 1871. He carried no identifi cation, or someone had stolen it. As far as the offi cer was concerned, the man was just another street drunk...

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5 Birth and Despair

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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...

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6 Suicide

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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...

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7 Growing Up

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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...

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8 Frank’s Journey

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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...

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9 The Sovereign

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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...

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10 Wellesley

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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...

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11 Reports

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pp. 138-152

...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...

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12 Marriage

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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...

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13 By Violence

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pp. 163-179

...aft er 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...

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14 Killing Mr. Bradley

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pp. 180-196

...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...


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15 A New Life

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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....

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16 Conservationists

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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...

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17 Rights

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pp. 228-240

...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...

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18 World War

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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...

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19 Land Booms

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pp. 257-272

...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 aff airs of a great real estate boom. She wrote about it in fi ction and nonfi ction with “unaffected scorn.” In her “A Bird Dog in Hand,” published in 1925, at the height of...

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20 The Galley Slave

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pp. 273-292

...After bidding Europe farewell, Douglas arrived back in Miami in January 1920. It was a diff erent 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...

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21 Hurricanes

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pp. 293-309

...Douglas liked intense weather, the whirring and buff eting 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...

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22 Stories

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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...

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23 The Proposal

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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 fi shing village that...

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24 The Book Idea

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pp. 344-362

...Th e 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...

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25 The Park Idea

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pp. 363-379

...Th e 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...

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26 Dedications

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pp. 380-400

...early June 1947. Aft er 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...


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27 An Unnecessary Drought

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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...

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28 Perishing and Publishing

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pp. 420-437

...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...

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29 Grassroots

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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. Th ey had always been in some way or the other. She remembered when they were sand and limestone...

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30 The Jetport

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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. Th e small community of activists somehow...

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31 The Conversion

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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...

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32 Regionalism and Environmentalism

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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...

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33 The Kissimmee

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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...

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34 Grande Dame

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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...

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35 Justice and Equality

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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. Th e clock symbolized how she conformed to a life without sight. In good...

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36 The Gathering Twilight

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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...

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Epilogue: “Without Me”

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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...


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pp. 607-732


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pp. 733-758

Further Reading

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p. 759-759

E-ISBN-13: 9780820346236
E-ISBN-10: 082033071X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820330716

Page Count: 764
Illustrations: 41 b&w photos
Publication Year: 2009

Series Title: Environmental History and the American South