Women Leaders Exhibit Opens at Matheson History Museum

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Executive director of the Matheson History Museum Peggy Macdonald admires artifacts of Marjorie Harris Carr. The zoologist used the leather saddle on research trips to Honduras in the 1940s.
Executive director of the Matheson History Museum Peggy Macdonald admires artifacts of Marjorie Harris Carr. The zoologist used the leather saddle on research trips to Honduras in the 1940s. Ariella Phillips/ WUFT News

A black-and-white photograph from the turn of the century featuring Mary McLeod Bethune standing tall among her class of forty AfricanAmerican girls is Joanna Grey’s favorite artifact.

Bethune, a pioneering black educator who founded Bethune-Cookman College, now Bethune-Cookman University, in Daytona Beach, is one of six women featured in the Matheson History Museum’s new exhibit, “Saving the Sunshine State: Women Leaders in the 20th Century.”

The other five women include environmentalists Marjorie Harris Carr and Marjory Stoneman Douglas, writers Zora Neale Hurston and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, and women’s rights and education champion May Mann Jennings.

“Their writing brought to life a culture no one knew about,” Grey, who is marketing and education coordinator at the museum, said. “People think it’s [Florida] just mosquitoes and alligators, but it’s so much more.”

Artifacts and rare photos from Hurston,  Jennings, Douglas, Rawlings and  Carr are also featured.

Many of the women corresponded through letters, often complimenting each other on their writing and activism, said Rebecca Fitzsimmons, curator of the museum.

The exhibit includes personal pieces like the plates Rawlings once used to serve her famous turtle soup, as well as a copy of the original manuscript of “The Yearling,” which earned Rawlings a Pulitzer Prize in 1939, Fitzsimmons said.

Carr, whose environmental work in north central Florida is preserved in writings and personal photographs from her daughter, Mimi, earned a master’s degree in zoology from the University of Florida in 1942.

That’s significant because the school didn’t officially accept women until 1947, said Peggy Macdonald, executive director of the museum.,

Carr is an inspiration to all women for persevering during a time when women were not allowed to be scientists, she said.

Also, Carr’s decades-long quest to stop the construction of the Cross Florida Barge Canal is particularly important, said UF history professor Steven Noll.

Noll said her use of morals and science made her a formidable force. The most important impact the women featured in the exhibit had was radically flipping perceived conservative notions of women’s roles, he said.

The museum is open from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and Fridays by appointment. The exhibit opened yesterday and runs until Oct. 31.

 

About Ariella Phillips

Ariella is a reporter for WUFT News and can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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