Eleanor Roosevelt and Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune
Established in 1936, the National Youth Administration (NYA) was a federal agency created by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt under president Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration (WPA) to provide programs to promote relief and employment for young people and women. The NYA program for African-Americans was headed by Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, who was also an appointed national adviser to president Franklin D. Roosevelt and called the “The First Lady of The Struggle” due to her commitment to gain better lives for African Americans. Built in 1940 by the NYA, Mixontown’s Forest Park Center lasting local #Jacksonville result of these two great women in America’s history collaborating together for African-American youth.
Marian Anderson (1897-1993) was one of the most celebrated musicians of the 20th century. During the civil rights era, she became a significant figure in the fight for minority artists to overcome racial prejudice, singing to 75,000 on the steps of Lincoln Memorial in 1939 and becoming the first black person to perform at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City in 1955.
In February 1952, Marian Anderson made civil rights history in Jacksonville. In town for a performance, Anderson refused to sing in front of a segregated seating arrangement at the Duval County Armory. As a result, Jim Crow took a night off with the famed contralto singer putting on a show for an interracial crowd of 2,200, making it the first concert in modern Florida history performed in front of an integrated audience. Anderson would go on to sing at the March on Washington in 1963 and be the recipient of several awards including the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963, the Congressional Gold Medal in 1977, and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1991.
Born to a family of sharecroppers in Atlanta, Texas on January 26, 1892, Bessie Coleman became the first woman of African-American and the first of Native American descent to hold a pilot license. Barred from flight-school opportunities in the United States due to being a woman, she defied the odds by saving up money to go travel to France in 1920 to earn her pilot license. With her license in hand, she returned to the US in 1921, becoming an immediate media sensation. Over the next five years, “Queen Bess” made a living as an air show pilot with plans to start a school for African-American fliers.
Unfortunately, while in Jacksonville to visit local schools to encourage children to explore aviation on April 30, 1926, Queen Bess’ dreams were cut short. While performing a test flight at Paxon Field, she was accidentally thrown from the plane, falling 2,000 feet to her death. Despite living only 34 years, Coleman was immortalized as an inspiration to early pilots, women, African-American and Native American communities. A member of the National Women’s Hall of Fame and the National Aviation Hall of Fame, in 2012 a bronze plaque with her likeness was installed at Paxon School for Advanced Studies which is located on the site of where her fatal flight took off.
Grace Wilbur Trout
Empire Point’s Marabanong mansion. Built in 1876 by Thomas Basnett, the name is a New Zealand Maori Native word for “Paradise.” Basnett’s wife, Eliza Wilbur, was an internationally known scientist from New York. She was the first woman to lecture science students at Harvard University. While living at the Marabanong, she invented a large astronomical telescope, which was occasionally used by neighborhood boys to spy on houses across the river in Fairfield.
In 1914, the house was sold to Eliza’s cousin, Grace Wilbur Trout. Trout was a nationally prominent figure in the Women’s Suffrage Movement. Trout strong-armed the Governor of Illinois into granting universal suffrage for women in that state and paved the way for the passage of the 19th amendment, giving all women the right to vote.
In Jacksonville, Trout became the first president of the Planning and Advisory Board and president of the Jacksonville Garden Club.
Louise Rebecca Pinnell and Bernice Gaines Dorn
Get to know women’s history in Jacksonville! Did you know Florida’s first female attorneys have a Jacksonville connection? After an unsuccessful attempt by Grace Mann Bell, Louise Rebecca Pinnell was successfully admitted to the Bar in 1898, and is considered Florida’s first female lawyer. Specializing in railroad litigation, Pinnell worked with well-known attorney Major Alexander St. Clair-Abrams and the Florida East Coast Railway. Blanche Armwood was the first African-American woman in Florida to attend law school at Howard University, but unfortunately passed away before she could be admitted to the Florida Bar. Bernice Gaines Dorn is the first African-American female admitted to the Florida Bar, in 1958. She graduated from Stanton High School in 1951 and attended FAMU for both her undergraduate degree and law school. After graduation, she briefly practiced in Jacksonville before returning to Tallahassee and then moving north. Things have changed since 1958. Things have changed since the days of Bell, Pinnell, Armwood and Dorn. In 2016, for the first time, women were the majority of students entering law school at just over fifty percent.
In 1900, a Jaxson named Patrick Chappelle established a traveling black performance troupe called the Rabbit’s Foot Company. In 1905, Gertrude Pritchett, the bride of William “Pa” Rainey, a performer of Chappelle’s Rabbit’s Foot Company, joined the troupe and adopted the stage persona of “Ma” Rainey. Characterized by her powerful moan and songs about her bisexuality, by 1911 Ma Rainey was being billed as a “coon shouter” and on the receiving end of three to four encores a night at the Globe Theater (now Clara White Mission building) on Ashley Street. As the popularity of blues increased, she gained fame well beyond the South. Inducted into the Blues Foundation’s Hall of Fame in 1983 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990, this musician who honed her craft in Jacksonville remains known as the Mother of the Blues, Songbird of the South, Gold-Neck Woman of the Blues and the Paramount Wildcat.
Article created by a compilation of social media updates and Jaxson Magazine articles by Adrienne Burke, AICP, Esq. and Ennis Davis, AICP. Adrienne is a principal planner for Miami-Dade County, an attorney, Florida Public Archaeology Network board member and a former trustee for the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation.