“Sandspur Tactics”: Lucy Blackman and the Women of Florida

Lucy Worthington Blackman, circa 1902-1915

As we observe Women’s History Month, the Archives is pleased to share this guest blog post by Dr. Leslie Poole, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies. Prof. Poole’s subject, Lucy Blackman, came to Winter Park in 1902, when her husband, William, was appointed president of Rollins. In addition to her work in the clubwomen movement, Mrs. Blackman was also an early member of the Florida Audubon Society, serving as its vice president for many years and publishing a book on its history in 1935.

Thank you, Dr. Poole, for sharing your research with us!

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For the past decade I have been researching the role of environmental women in Florida, which led to my Ph.D. and to my book, Saving Florida: Women’s Fight for the Environment in the Twentieth Century. Early in my research I learned about the terrific work of Lucy Worthington Blackman (1860-1942), who has been a muse of sorts as I have uncovered the largely untold stories of these activist women.

Blackman, it turns out, was heavily involved in early conservation efforts in the state—as well as other Progressive Era fights of the early 1900s that included education and social reform. And, like me, she was frustrated that Florida historians had largely left women out of state narratives.

She set out to right that wrong with her two-volume history The Women of Florida, published in 1940. “It is high time that this were done,” Blackman wrote, noting many local and state histories “deal in the main with men only; their authors seem to have been oblivious to the fact that in all these years there have been women in Florida…” The history, which she touted as the first of its kind in the South, offered accounts of women in Florida since its earliest times and provided biographies of middle- and upper-class white women active in different state organizations. It is notable that Blackman’s volumes did not include any women of color, reflecting the segregationist era of its publication.

The title page of Lucy Blackman’s book, The Women of Florida, published in 1940

Still, her observations about women’s actions to improve Florida have value. Long before women could vote, they were organizing in female-only clubs—notably the Florida Federation of Women’s Clubs (FFWC). They raised money, signed petitions, and lobbied state legislators to do their bidding. Blackman wrote that in Tallahassee women faced the “old Adam war-cry, ‘Woman’s place is in the home’” which “reverberated through the pines and over the rivers and lakes and ocean from Pensacola to Key West.” Women were “reviled” for getting involved in the movement, Blackman wrote, adding “Thanks be, there were enough women with spinal cords starched stiff, who raised their undaunted eyebrows and said, ‘Ah! indeed!’ to this masculine mandate – and then went forth and did as they saw fit.”  Blackman recalled the “annoying habit of the women of talking aback at the legislators after they had been told politely to go home and tend the babies – this pesky, unreasonable, feminine pertinacity.” By 1940, the FFWC no longer came to the legislature with a large package of proposals; the list was shorter “because, as a result of their sandspur tactics, the lawmakers finally succumbed and cleared the women’s calendar by passing the legislation so persistently demanded of them.”

Lucy Blackman (standing, center, wearing a light-colored necklace), President of the State Federation of Women’s Clubs, with fellow Board members in 1925 (from The Women of Florida)

Clubwomen across Florida and the nation made their voices heard and achieved many of their goals, despite their inability to vote. Through grassroots organizing they found and claimed power. Florida clubwomen in 1916 created, financed, and maintained the first state park—Royal Palm State Park. Three decades later it would become the nucleus of Everglades National Park, an internationally recognized gem. They also demanded better forestry practices, argued for protection of birds, pressed cities for tree ordinances, and fought the “uglification” of Florida that came through billboards, roaming cattle, and garbage in the streets.

As the century progressed, women turned their attention to the ills of air and water pollution and championed saving species on the brink of extinction. By the end of the 1900s, Florida women, reflecting changing roles in society, began to head conservation groups, lead environmental bureaucracies, and join the legislature—no longer an all-boys club.

These conservation-minded women are an inspiration and example in today’s world and I remind my students regularly of the lessons they offer: Never give up. Find power in numbers. Utilize your connections. Change public opinion. Use facts. Make yourself heard.

In today’s world that likely means using social media and platforms that these women never imagined. But I’m sure that, given the opportunity, Lucy Blackman would have employed Twitter, Instagram, online petitions, and any other means to save Florida’s natural beauty. Blackman and her “sisters” were pushing the boundaries then and we should do the same today.

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Prof. Poole’s book, Saving Florida: Women’s Fight for the Environment in the Twentieth Century, is available at the Olin Library and the Winter Park Public Library. Copies may also be purchased at http://www.lesliekemppoole.com/ .

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