Marjory Stoneman Douglas: Speaking Up For The Everglades And So Much More

“Defender of the Everglades”

Marjory Stoneman Douglas (1890-1998) was known as the “Defender of the Everglades”. Her book, The Everglades: River of Grass, was published in 1947 and has become known as the definitive account of the beauty and mystery of the Everglades with more than 500,000 copies sold.

She was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota and graduated from Wellesley College in Massachusetts. In 1915, Mrs. Douglas became a journalist at the Miami Herald where her father, Frank Stoneman, was the first publisher. At this time, the city of Miami had a population of fewer than 20,000 people but the human impact on the Everglades was already an issue. Mr. Stoneman railed against attempts to drain the Everglades by agricultural interests. His daughter soon took up the fight to preserve the Everglades.

She would advocate for the Everglades to anyone who would listen.

Mrs. Douglas was not afraid to speak up. She would advocate for the Everglades to anyone who would listen. And it wasn’t just conservation that she was passionate about. She also championed woman’s suffrage and civil rights. She said:

“Speak up. Be a nuisance where it counts…. Do your part to inform and stimulate the public to join your action…. Be depressed, discouraged and disappointed at failure and the disheartening effects of ignorance, greed, corruption and bad politics –but never give up.”

She felt the need to speak up for the Everglades because of a remarkable variety of wetland habitats found in the region, including sawgrass marsh, mangrove forests and hardwood hammocks. All of these habitat types help to produce an abundance of wildlife including Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Wood Stork, Florida Panther, American Crocodile, American Alligator and so much more.

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Mrs. Douglas founded the Friends of the Everglades in 1970

In the 1950’s, Mrs. Douglas spoke up about the damages that the Army Corps of Engineers was doing to the Everglades. The Corps was constructing canals, dams and levees throughout the fragile watery ecosystem. This work would destroy wetlands for the benefit of agriculture and real estate development interests. Looking to build support to stop these types of projects, Mrs. Douglas founded the Friends of the Everglades in 1970 to get more people to speak up for Everglade conservation.

Her work has been recognized in many ways. The National Parks Conservation Association established an award named the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Award “to honor individuals who often must go to great lengths to advocate and fight for the protection of the National Park System”. President Bill Clinton awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest honor for a civilian.

In 1978, the National Park Service established the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Wilderness within the Everglades National Park. At more than 80,000 acres, it is the largest designated wilderness area east of the Rocky Mountains.

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Her death made news around the world. In Britain, The Independent led their obituary with:

“In the history of the American environmental movement, there have been few more remarkable figures than Marjory Stoneman Douglas, journalist and writer, woman’s activist before her time, but first and foremost the indefatigable champion of Florida’s fragile and irreplaceable Everglades.” Rupert Cornwell; May 24, 1998; The Independent

Her message continues to resonate for a myriad of causes today: the Everglades remain threatened; climate change is a global threat; wildlife continues to lose habitat; racism has been reenergized in American society, and women still face so many structural obstacles in.

Of course, the name Marjory Stoneman Douglas has taken on a new significance over past the month and a half. Since the tragic Valentine’s Day shooting, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida has been in the news. The events that happened in Building #12 at MSD High horrified a nation that has grown accustomed to gun violence.

But as the nation settled into the all too familiar pattern of our national leaders offering thoughts and prayers while trying to avoid the subject of gun violence, the students would not sit quietly –they spoke up! This past weekend, at marches all over the nation, people came out by the hundreds of thousands.

As these students marched, perhaps if you listened closely, you may have heard Marjory Stoneman Douglas herself extolling the young activists to “Speak up.”

Biophilia Foundation encourages you to speak up. Speak up for our beleaguered wildlife. Speak up for gun safety. Speak up for the issues that Marjory Stoneman Douglas spoke up for: the Everglades, equal rights and civil rights. Don’t get discouraged –just speak up!