Saturday, February 24, 2018

MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS | Wellesley Savior of the Everglades

Marjory Stoneman Douglas
We know that 17 were killed, of many more victims, from random murders by an angry student with an AR-15.

It happened at the Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Few people outside Florida know anything about Marjory Stoneman Douglas. More people should. Perhaps Stoneman Douglas the person is inspiring Stoneman Douglas the students.

Marjorie Stoneman was born in Minneapolis on April 7, 1890 and died in 1998, 108 years old. She was a great writer who cared deeply about votes for women and the environment. She is best known for saving from development what is now the Everglades National Park.

She was a top student at Wellesley College and was elected the Class Orator, not the last Wellesley student to be selected (alas, Stoneman was not able to be there) to speak at the Wellesley Commencement and go on to great things. I have great admiration for Wellesley, having seen how well they and the Baldwin School educated my wife Alice Tepper Marlin. (We celebrate our 47th wedding anniversary in September.)

It was a great moment when former Wellesley President Diana Chapman Walsh in her 1993 inaugural speech cited the work of Marjorie Stoneman Douglas and in the next paragraph cited the work of Alice Tepper Marlin!

Stoneman Douglas began her postgraduate days with a short marriage to an older man who, alas, turned out to be a con artist. She recovered by joining her father at the Miami Herald, working first as a society reporter, then an editorial writer, becoming increasingly engaged in her profession. Despite the pain he caused her, she retained the name of her ex-husband to the end of her life.

After working for the newspaper for some years, she started writing articles on the civil rights of women and others who were not allowed to vote, and on conservation issues. She won a wide readership and published hundreds of short stories. It was the era of The Masses and hard-hitting writing was in vogue. She was less a feminist than an activist. She said: "I'd like to hear less talk about men and women and more talk about citizens."

She helped preserve the Everglades against efforts to drain this swamp in favor of development, by writing in 1947 the book The Everglades: River of Grass, which had an impact similar to that of Rachel Carson's later book (Silent Spring, 1962) on the overuse of DDT. Stoneman Douglas was called "Grande Dame of the Everglades" and was pilloried by developers.

The book that saved
 the Everglades.

She prevailed over the developers, not for the last time. The same year her book on the subject was published, 1947, Everglades National Park was created. The National Park Service ever since has been her friend.

In the 1950s, however, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers became her enemy. The Corps was working with developers to drain swampland upriver from the Everglades. She argued persistently that the Everglades was at the end of a long-tailed system. The Park depended on a flow of water from Lake Okeechobee, and that in turn depended on the Kissimmee River's continuing to feed the lake.

To help expand her influence, in 1970 she formed the Friends of the Everglades. She lobbied for her viewpoint as head of the organization. How good was she? In his introduction to her 1987 autobiography, Voice of the River, John Rothchild shows how good. He describes her appearance in 1973 at a public meeting in mosquito-haunted Everglades City:
Mrs. Douglas was half the size of her fellow speakers and she wore huge dark glasses, which along with the huge floppy hat made her look like Scarlett O'Hara as played by Igor Stravinsky. . . . She reminded us all of our responsibility to nature . . .  Her voice had the sobering effect of a one-room schoolmarm's. The tone itself seemed to tame the rowdiest of the local stone crabbers, plus the developers, and the lawyers on both sides. I wonder if it didn't also intimidate the mosquitoes. . . . The request for a Corps of Engineers permit was eventually turned down. This was no surprise to those of us who'd heard her speak.
Stoneman Douglas won again, protecting what she had created, the Everglades National Park. Her book went into a revised edition in 1987, the same year that her biography appeared. Her many awards included the Presidential Medal of Freedom. When she died, the British newspaper The Independent summed up her life:
In the history of the American environmental movement, there have been few more remarkable figures.
Postscript: Stoneman Douglas reportedly donated her Medal of Freedom to her alma mater, Wellesley College.