Woman of History

Mary McLeod Bethune, shown as a principal in 1910, was an educator, stateswoman, philanthropist, humanitarian and civil rights activist.

Congress declared March as National Women's History Month in 1987 and the accomplishments of women have been celebrated since then.

Presidential proclamations since 1995 have honored contributions women have made to the United States and recognize the specific achievements women have made over the course of American history in a variety of fields. It is also an opportunity to appreciate the problems women have faced and the important role they play in society.

Volusia County joins cities and counties around the nation in embracing the contributions of women and celebrating their accomplishments.

For example, with this year marking the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment granting American women the right to vote, it was the perfect time for writer and historical dramatist Dianne Jacoby to bring to life women’s suffragette through the character of Ophelia in a one-woman drama.

Dr. Peggy MacDonald, an adjunct history professor at Stetson University, also was scheduled to discuss some of the women who have shaped Florida. However, both presentations were canceled due to the Covid-19 crisis.

Still, Dr. MacDonald said in an interview, “One of the women I focus on is Marjorie Harris Carr, who was the subject of my doctoral dissertation at the University of Florida. She was a zoologist in the early 20th century, when women were not welcome in the field. She channeled her education and passion into a variety of local environmental campaigns, including working to protect and free the Ocklawaha River, preserving Lake Alice on the University of Florida campus, and turning Paynes Prairie into a state park that was restored to look as much as possible like it did when the naturalist William Bartram visited in 1774.”

Other women who were going to be included in her talk also made historic firsts, such as Dr. Esther Hill Hawks, a physician who ran the first racially integrated free school in Florida; Harriet Beecher Stowe, famous for writing “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and kick-starting Florida’s tourism industry with her 1873 book, “Palmetto Leaves;” Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, a pioneering educator and civil rights leader; Betty Mae Tiger Jumper, the first and only female Florida Seminole tribal chair; and May Mann Jennings, a suffragist and conservationist who helped establish Royal Palm State Park, which formed the nucleus of Everglades National Park.

“In American history, Florida tends to be overlooked,” Dr. MacDonald said. “We were the first colony in the present-day United States and played an important role in U.S. history from the inception of slavery in Spanish Florida to the fight for civil rights during Reconstruction and the 20th century.”

Women's role in Florida history has been obscured even more, she said. “Women's History Month is an opportunity to shine a light on women, such as May Mann Jennings, who was once known as the most powerful woman in Florida. The goal is to pique people's interest so they can continue to research women's history at the local, state, national and international levels. Women should be incorporated into mainstream history, from K-12 through college and in public history.”

The Center for Women and Men at Daytona State College will scheduled to host the 18th annual Women’s History Luncheon March 25, but it was canceled.

Another canceled program was at the DeLand Regional Library, which was to highlight the life of Janet Marnane.

Ms. Marnane was slated to share her personal history of her career in the Navy and beyond.

After completing Naval Flight Officer training in 1983, Ms. Marnane served in an assortment of sea and shore-based assignments and flew a variety of tactical aircraft. After completing a master’s degree at the Naval War College, she was invited to join the faculty there. Her last duty station brought her to Daytona Beach, where she became the first executive officer of the newly formed Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps. She lives in Daytona Beach.

“When you are in a profession that isn’t overwhelmingly populated by women, sometimes it can be a little tough,” she said. “There is (pressure) to not be that one that ends up in the paper as ‘she never should have been there.’ Every woman who does this isn’t ‘the’ trailblazer. Every one does a little bit to make it a little easier or accepted for the women who follow to do the same sort of things or to do greater things.” She stated acceptance and attitudes largely depend on if you did the job and earned the respect, then it was largely a non-issue. And that everyone makes mistakes.”

She added” I don’t want special treatment, I don’t want to be there if I don’t deserve to be there, but I don’t want to be held back by some arbitrary rule that has no bearing on what I can contribute.”

Dr. MacDonald also noted, “This year, a nine-foot marble statue of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune is scheduled to be installed in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda, where it will replace a statue of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith. Dr. Bethune was one of the most powerful women in the nation in her time, and it shows how important Florida history really is that a statue of a Volusia County woman will become the first state-commissioned statue of an African American woman to be added to the National Statuary Hall.”

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