Answer Man

Just who was Marjory Stoneman Douglas?

Q: The nation is still mourning the loss of the 17 people who were killed during the mass shooting on Valentine’s Day at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. But it also started me wondering: Just who was Marjory Stoneman Douglas?

Pat Kuhl, of O’Fallon

A: I’m sure you’ve many times heard the old saw that good things often come in small packages. Well, any environmentalist who knows anything about Florida history will tell you that they didn’t come much smaller or better than Marjory Stoneman Douglas.

At 5-foot-2 and a scant 100 pounds, Douglas was a wisp of a woman who, from her earliest years, became a powerhouse in fighting for the many causes she believed in. As a straight-A student at Wellesley College near Boston in the early 1900s, she joined the first suffrage club to fight for civil rights and a woman’s right to vote. She excelled in her elocution studies and was elected Class Orator, but was too busy to fulfill the duties.

Then, after a brief marriage to con artist (and bigamist) Kenneth Douglas, she began to find her voice in 1915, when the 25-year-old joined the staff of the Miami Herald, a paper her father, Frank Stoneman, founded in 1903. She started by writing about tea parties, weddings and society galas, but in no time at all when her father went on vacation, she was left in charge of the editorial page.

“At the Herald, Marjory honed her voice as a writer and first showed her fearlessness as an activist,” the Herald’s Rick Hirsch wrote in a 2014 retrospective. “As a reporter, she wrote with confidence, wit and edge — sometimes even sarcasm. She developed her interest in and passion for conservation, women’s issues and civil rights.”

Her consuming passion turned out to be saving the Everglades, a love passed down from her father. Years before his daughter came to Miami, Stoneman had vociferously opposed Gov. Napoleon Bonaparte Broward’s attempts to drain what was then still widely regarded as a worthless swamp. Stoneman so infuriated the Florida gov that Broward (for whom the county in which the high school is located is named) once refused to validate Stoneman’s election as a circuit judge.

Douglas soon continued his fight. Already in the 1920s, she joined the board of the Everglades Tropical National Park Committee, whose mission was to preserve the Everglades as a national park. In 1947, she wrote “The Everglades: River of Grass,” which further planted the idea in the public’s mind that the region should be regarded as a treasured jewel, not some infested bog. Many put the book on a level of Rachel Carson’s 1962 “Silent Spring” in terms of influence.

But her fight was far from over. By the 1960s, the Everglades still was in danger of being turned into subdivisions and strip malls. One particularly odious plan was to build an airport in the Big Cypress area of the region. So in 1969 at the age of 79, Douglas founded the Friends of the Everglades to protest such desecration of the natural wonder.

“It is a woman’s business to be interested in the environment,” she once said. “It’s an extended form of housekeeping.”

She immediately went on a whistle-stop tour of the state, giving hundreds of stinging denunciations of the airport project. And while developers called her a “damn butterfly chaser,” thousands joined Douglas’ group and others to oppose the plan. As a result, President Richard Nixon scrapped the idea. The woman who rarely showed up without her pearls, gloves and floppy straw hat along with her “switchblade” tongue had won.

For the next three decades, she would remain a relentless crusader for the preservation of South Florida. In 1986, the National Parks Conservation Association began offering the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Award to honor those who fight for national parks. Despite blindness and hearing problems, Douglas was visited by Queen Elizabeth in 1991. At 103, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Bill Clinton in 1993 and promptly donated it to Wellesley College. She has been inducted into the National Wildlife Federation Hall of Fame as well as the National Women’s Hall of Fame (although the feminist grumped that it should be called The Citizen’s Hall of Fame and include both sexes).

She died May 14, 1998, a month after her 108th birthday and doubtlessly shed many tears from above when she saw the tragedy unfold at the school named in her honor.

“In the history of the American environmental movement, there have been few more remarkable figures than Marjory Stoneman Douglas,” according to the obituary tribute in London’s The Independent.

Q: My flag pole needs a new rope. Does anyone do such work in this area?

J.T., of Belleville

A: Let me run this up your pole and see if they’ll salute: Try calling the Dale Sign Co. in St. Louis and ask if they can help you.

“Considering the various weather conditions that flag poles are exposed to, most last a number of years but almost all flag poles require service or repair at one point or another,” it says at the 40-year-old company’s website, dalesigns.com. “Contact Dale Sign Service if your flag pole requires repairs or servicing.”

Give them a call at (314) 966-2620.

Today’s trivia

The Everglades is reportedly the only place in the world where two animals coexist. Which two?

Answer to Sunday’s trivia: I’m sure you’re aware of how some people continue to pronounce “Missouri” as “Missou-ruh” because they think it sounds more intellectual. But the mispronunciations don’t stop there. When a group of citizens met in the 1850s to name their town in southeast Missouri, some wanted to call it Hardscabble, but a group of settlers from North Carolina fought to name it after their former state’s capital, Raleigh. They wound up spelling it Rolla.

Roger Schlueter: 618-239-2465, @RogerAnswer

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