Women’s History Month might be drawing to a close, but we celebrate women all year around here at Culture Crusaders. While much of Miami’s history is not readily known to many of its locals and tourists, you might also be surprised to find that women have played a huge role in shaping The Magic City into what it is today. We’re here to cue you in on a handful of the many powerful women essential in developing Miami’s story:
We must, of course, start at the beginning. Named “The Mother of Miami,” Julia Tuttle is credited with leading the movement to officially incorporate Miami. In the 1890s, she moved to South Florida and purchased over 640 acres of land along the Miami river and lobbied Henry Flagler to bring his railroad down south. Because of the increase in trade and tourism that inevitably followed, it was her words that inspired the need for local government and representation, which then secured the votes to bring Miami to life.
While Julia Tuttle’s land reigned over much of the Miami River’s northern quadrants, Mary Brickell’s land oversaw much of the south and even Fort Lauderdale. The Brickell’s trading post at the mouth of the river brought much financial opportunity to the ares–which would eventually hold her name when she took control of the family’s real estate empire. Though Mary Brickell’s wealth was large, she spent much of her time focusing on philanthropic endeavors, helping citizens in need from all backgrounds, particularly focusing on Miami’s growing disadvantaged communities.
Back when Overtown was still known as “Colored Town” the segregated neighborhood had little to no voice in helping it develop into more livable conditions. Annie Coleman was a driving force in strengthening the area’s infrastructure by advocating for paved roads and key cultural amenities like libraries and parks. She created the Overtown Women’s Club, aided in desegregating South Florida beaches, and founded one of Miami’s first interracial committees that oversaw everlasting change for Miami’s Black communities.
Arva Moore Parks McCabe was one of Florida and Miami’s leading historians, authors, and preservationists. She ran the Coral Gables Museum and served as president of HistoryMiami, chaired Coral Gables’ Historic Preservation Board, and the Florida Humanities Council. Much of the city’s history and the key characters of its past are now known thanks to her seminal works including Miami: The Magic City and Images of America: Coconut Grove. Because of her tireless work in preserving Miami’s history, she was inducted into the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame.
Mary Athalie Range was the first woman to head a state agency in Florida. As Secretary of the Department of Community Affairs and a civil rights activist, she fought for the better quality of schools and education in Liberty City, led efforts to improve garbage removal in poor, predominantly Black neighborhoods, initiated the integration of Miami’s police force, which resulted in hiring of Miami’s first Black motorcycle officer.
Easily one of the most recognizable names on the list, it’s hard to live in South Florida and not know the key role that marjory Stoneman Douglas played in environmental advocacy–particularly surrounding The Everglades. She was a powerful writer, conservationist, women’s rights advocate, and began her career as a journalist for The Miami Herald. After publishing her pivotal work, The Everglades: River of Grass, she is credited for single-handedly shifting the world’s perspective on the Everglades as an essential ecosystem. She received numerous awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and was inducted into several halls of fame.
For Miami’s Cuban-American community, there are few figures more influential than Polita Grau. Maria Leopoldina Grau-Alsina was a First Lady of Cuba, a Cuban political prisoner, and is credited for being the “godmother” of Operation Peter Pan, a program to help nearly 14,000 children leave Cuba under the Castro regime. She was later involved in helping nearly 28,000 Cubans receive visas upon entering the U.S. and spent many years of her life exiled in Miami advocating for Cuban rights in South Florida.
We can’t wrap up the list without addressing the current state of Women’s influence in Miami. Many difficult things might have occurred this past year, but one great thing is that Daniella Levine Cava was elected the very first female mayor of Miami-Dade County after serving 4 years as a Miami-Dade County Commissioner.
Cover photo of Marjory Stoneman Douglas via The Miami Herald.