A school shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida resulted in the death of 17 people. The tragedy resulted in the usual condemnations from politicians, parents and authorities – and shock from students – from yet another school shooting in America.
The sad tragedy is not the subject of this article.
But the namesake of this high school was a remarkable woman with a remarkable legacy.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas (1890 – 1998) was an American environmentalist known for her staunch defense of the Everglades in southern Florida against efforts to drain it and reclaim land for development.
The Wellesley College graduate moved to Miami to work for The Miami Herald where she became a freelance writer.
Her most influential work was the book The Everglades: River of Grass (1947), which redefined the popular conception of the Everglades as a treasured river instead of a worthless swamp.
The Everglades was not her only focus and interest. Douglas was outspoken and politically conscious of the women’s suffrage and civil rights movements. She was called upon to take a central role in the protection of the Everglades when she was 79 years old. For the remaining 29 years of her life she worked relentlessly for the natural preservation and restoration of the nature of South Florida.
Her tireless efforts earned her several variations of the nickname “Grande Dame of the Everglades” as well as the hostility of agricultural and business interests looking to benefit from land development in Florida. Numerous awards were given to her, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom and she was inducted into several halls of fame.
Douglas lived to 108, working until nearly the end of her life for Everglades restoration. Upon her death, an obituary in The Independent in London stated, “In the history of the American environmental movement, there have been few more remarkable figures than Marjory Stoneman Douglas.”
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection named its headquarters in Tallahassee after her in 1980, but she told a friend she would have rather seen the Everglades restored than her name on a building. During her polite acceptance speech, she criticized Ronald Reagan and the then-Secretary of the Interior James Watt for their lackluster approach to environmental conservation.
The National Parks Conservation Association established the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Award in 1986, that honor(s) individuals who often must go to great lengths to advocate and fight for the protection of the National Park System.
Despite blindness and diminished hearing, Douglas continued to be active into her second century, and was honored with a visit from Queen Elizabeth II, to whom Douglas gave a signed copy of The Everglades: River of Grass in 1991. Instead of gifts and celebrations, Douglas asked that trees be planted on her birthday, resulting in over 100,000 planted trees across the state and a bald cypress on the lawn of the governor’s mansion. The South Florida Water Management District began removing exotic plants that had taken hold in the Everglades when Douglas turned 102.
In 1993, President Bill Clinton awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor given to a civilian in the United States. The citation for the medal read, “Marjory Stoneman Douglas personifies passionate commitment. Her crusade to preserve and restore the Everglades has enhanced our Nation’s respect for our precious environment, reminding all of us of nature’s delicate balance. Grateful Americans honor the ‘Grandmother of the Glades’ by following her splendid example in safeguarding America’s beauty and splendor for generations to come.”
Douglas was inducted into the National Wildlife Federation Hall of Fame in 1999, and the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2000.