Marjory Stoneman Douglaspioneering conservationist
Birthplace: Minneapolis, Minn.
Douglas was raised in New England and attended Wellesley College in Massachusetts. After working with the Red Cross in Europe during World War I, Douglas moved to Florida in 1915. She became a reporter for her father's newspaper, which would later be renamed the Miami Herald. Stoneman began her editorial career by writing light articles for the society pages, but soon changed to writing hard-hitting editorials on then-controversial subjects including women's rights, racial justice, and conservation. As a newspaper columnist she discovered the cause that would consume her for the remainder of her life: preservation of the Florida Everglades.
At a time when many people viewed the Everglades as nothing more that a mosquito-filled swamp, Stoneman wrote articles revealing its beauty and portraying the fascinating plants, birds, animals, fish, reptiles, waterways, and other natural wonders of these vast wetlands. She also joined various committees dedicated to ensuring the survival of the Everglades. In 1947, she published a best-selling book called Everglades: River of Grass. Douglas's influential work in natural history began changing people's minds about this unique natural paradise: “There are no other Everglades in the world,” she wrote in her book. “They are, they have always been, one of the unique regions of the earth; remote, never wholly known. Nothing anywhere else is like them.” Later that year, President Harry Truman designated the Everglades as a national park. Stoneman's many impassioned articles and eloquent descriptions of these wetlands played an important role in ensuring that one of the United States' great natural treasures was honored and placed under federal protection.
For the rest of her long life—she lived to be 108 years old—Stoneman continued to write and speak out about the Everglades. While her earlier works focused on an appreciation of the Everglades, her later work concentrated on saving them from pollution and development. Her unflagging commitment and zeal were legendary. In her autobiography she admitted,
I'll talk about the Everglades at the drop of a hat. Whoever wants me to talk, I'll come over and tell them about the necessity of preserving the Everglades. Sometimes, I tell them more than they wanted to know.
She fought against numerous ill-considered plans bent on damaging the ecosystem of the Everglades, including ones to drain the land and build shopping malls and suburbs. One of her biggest successes was defeating a plan in the 1960s to build an international airport in the middle of the Everglades. In 1970, she formed the Friends of the Everglades, which evolved into a 7,000-member organization. Douglas was more than 100 years old when she retired from active leadership of the group. In 1993, she was awarded the presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton, who dubbed her “Mother of the Everglades.”
The country's treatment of the Everglades, Douglas contended, reflects how we care for our environment in general: “ The Everglades is a test,” she once quipped, “if we pass it, we may get to keep the planet.”Died: 5/14/1998