Saving Florida by Leslie Kemp Poole: A Book Report

Saving Florida: Women’s Fight for the Environment in the Twentieth Century by Leslie Kemp Poole (2015)

About the Author

Leslie Kemp Poole is an Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. A writer and historian, she achieved a PhD in History from the University of Florida. Prior to academia, she was a reporter for several newspapers and is also a freelance writer. Her interests are in the role of women in the environmental movement (the subject of this book).

Methods

Saving Florida is published by the University Press of Florida. As such, the book is very academic in nature, including endnotes, a bibliography and index at the back of the book. That said, the book is written for a popular audience; the text is accessible to readers with little background and the language is engaging. Poole includes plenty of quotes in her text, not solely from academics, but also quotes contemporary to her subject. She situates the events in the book with brief consideration of national events, such as pertinent national policy decisions and the activities of national organizations like the General Federation of Women’s Clubs.

Poole writes this book using resources gathered from historical societies, women’s and garden clubs, museum and college archives, newspapers, interviews and “formal oral histories.” The focus of the book is on women and the environmental movement, as such, much discussion of the role of men is limited and lacks strong discussion of the African American community, whose goals were oriented at improving quality of life rather than protecting the environment. These missing viewpoints are acknowledged by Poole in the introduction, as well as those of the state’s Seminole and Miccosukee Indian perspectives. The missing points of view reflect not just a lack of current literature on the subject, but also the deficiency with which state and local entities interacted and discoursed with those populations during the 20th century.

Synopsis

Poole centers her discussion around numerous female leaders within their communities. Oftentimes these women have political power before starting their environmental campaigns. For example, Katherine Bell Tippetts was a “well-educated widow of a foreign correspondent” who took control of her husband’s hotel and real estate when he passed and May Mann Jennings, married to a former governor of Florida and daughter to a businessman who was very involved in Florida’s politics. In the later half of the 20th century, leading activists like Diane Dunmire Barile, who earned a master’s in ecology, had an academic background in science. The fight for environment protections started out heavily in grassroots movements that necessitated large-scale organizing and petitioning of governments. This evolved, after many federal and state laws were enacted, into fundraising for legal battles; around this time the larger organizations dwindled as single-issue, locally oriented. This shift occurred as women were gaining political power on local scales across the nation and an understanding of ecology was forming.

At the turn of the 20th century, women had a well-defined role in “municipal housecleaning.” Women, at the time, “considered the home and garden their domain,” and engaged in women’s clubs, expanding their role to wider community issues. Poole argues that this instilled an idea that women were the moral voice of the community, and their responsibility extended beyond their home. They increasingly saw the environment as part of their domain, as they saw it as their duty to ensure they lived in a clean environment. They were initially driven to maintain the beauty of the nature that compelled them to reside in the state, and later in the century, when pollution was rampant, the frame evolved into women needing to clean up men’s mess.

Saving Florida is divided into three parts. Part I, “Working through women’s groups,” deals with the start of the conservative movement in Florida and the nation, covering the early 20th century. This section is valuable within social movement theory for Poole’s coverage of the tactics used by women’s clubs to force policy decisions at a time when women were disenfranchised and largely not taken seriously by men in power. This section highlights the strength of grassroots activism and framing. Framing comes into play as different messages are needed to convince women and men for the cause due to the gendered roles of society at the time.

Part II, “Operating in Female-Male Groups,” covers the middle to late 20th century, when the science of ecology is developing and women are defining new roles within the political sphere. A rise in the prevalence of science and lobbying is immediately evident. Poole goes into more detail on a number of big projects during this section than the previous. During this time, federal regulations are passed to combat pollution. Rather than using strength of numbers, as they had done in the early 20th century, women were in public office and positioned to have a voice in traditionally male-dominated circles.

Part III, “Women Take the Lead,” is largely a closing section, wrapping up with chapters on environmental justice and important women leaders not previously mentioned. The coverage within these chapters include more national context than the in the previous sections, and are included moreso for completeness. Poole uses these chapters to discuss the role of African American women and Florida’s Indian population during the time period.

Part I: “Working Through Women’s Groups”

Poole starts the book talking about Audubon societies. Named after the ornithologist James Audubon, Audubon societies sought protection of birds. Women’s fashion of the late 19th to early 20th century included hats displaying feathers or bird parts. Because of this, birds were hunted aggressively across the nation as it was very profitable. Clara Dommerich, a wintering resident of Florida helped to establish the Florida Audubon Society (FAS) based on Audubon societies in other states. While protecting the birds was certainly on the mind of some members, many Florida residents moved there due to the beauty and nature of Florida, so loss of the songbirds directly impacted that aesthetic value. According to Poole. “women carried much of the organizational workload” within FAS. FAS distributed reports and leaflets throughout the state and had many success including establishing the first federal bird reservation in the United States through appealing to President Theodore Roosevelt (the Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge).

One example Poole gives of the methods used by Audubon societies involves Katherine Bell Tippets. Tippets, with the help of other women, presented to the state legislature a seventy-foot long petition of signatures to convince an all-male legislature to pass a measure protecting the robin. Additionally, the members of societies like FAS or the Florida Federation of Women’s Clubs (FFWC) worked closely with newspapers to publish articles and statements. In this way, they could educate the public or rebuke their opponents unfounded claims. Poole writes, “by contributing articles to local newspapers and women’s club publications, Tippetts kept her message at the forefront.” Other tactics involved sending letters and telegrams to congressional leaders — which would be very convincing with the large number of members within these women’s clubs. Another involved “invoking Lysistrata” whereby women threatened to withhold, in this example, pie, from those in the legislature until their demands were met.

There were many efforts at this time to designate certain plots of lands as state parks, and to preserve the state’s forests, that were disappearing due to unregulated logging. Even after winning policy and being granted funds, the women’s clubs often had to continue to fight in order to ensure that all of the funds were given to them. When presenting their argument, the women general gave two arguments: One focusing on the aesthetic value of nature, appealing to maternal senses, and another exhorting economic benefits in hopes to appeal to the male psyche.

This section concludes with a chapter on city beautification efforts. This chapter is one of the few points in the book where Poole acknowledges the African American community. She gives nod to Eartha M. M. White, for working hard to secure a playground in an era “burdened by Jim Crow laws.” An important reminder that much of the progress was won in white communities, and rarely extended to the disenfranchised African Americans.

Part II: “Operating in Female-Male Groups”

Poole makes it very clear in within this section that ecology is not well understood throughout Florida (or the United States) at this point in history. Having land set aside as a state park did not ensure that it was maintained as a natural environment with native plants. Drainage of swamps was considered acceptable; benefits of forest fires were unthinkable. This is an important realization, as what was a good conservation effort in the 1920s could be considered unacceptable nowadays and establishes the importance of the science of ecology. This section sees the rise of science in convincing legislatures to impose regulations and shifting public opinion, notably with the release of Silent Spring in 1966. Women are gaining political equity and further disrupting the dominant male hegemony.

Pollution is a major issue that arises in this section and threatened Florida’s aesthetic appeal, water supplies and health of residents. With Florida’s population booming only after the second world war, Floridians weren’t caught off guard as much as the big cities in the northeast and midwest were. Despite that, the phosphate industry was strong within the state and could devote a lot of money to lobbying, situating itself as a big opponent of the environmental movement. The phosphate industry resulted in eutrophication in many lakes and rivers, disrupting the natural balance within those ecosystems. Outside the phosphate industry, sewage dumping was very common. From Poole’s framework, women were key in changing public opinion, as the male-dominant government considered pollution as a side effect of progress. Much of the debate was conservation versus industry.

Marjorie Harris Carr was a persistent activist who sought to stop the construction of a canal through North Florida. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was constructing the Cross Florida Barge Canal. Carr used scientific knowledge, economic and legal research, expert testimony, a grassroots letter writing campaign and public education to warn the public of the dangers of this project, which was well underway by the time the public was concerned. Unconvinced, state officials voted to continue the project, and a furious Carr “turned her kitchen into  the campaign’s command center, complete with a whirring Xerox machine.” She sought support from news media and scientists. She portrayed herself as a housewife to catch politicians and engineers unaware and garner public sympathy and publicity. The media promoted an image of the mother versus a military bureaucracy, elevating the campaign to national attention. Carr became more aggressive, and with the political climate surrounding the Vietnam War, problems in the Everglades and other ongoing protests, eventually stopped the building of the canal after over $70 million had been invested in its construction.

The above is only one example provided in this section of a powerful display of women carving out a space within the public sphere. This section highlights the progress of women through the century, as opportunities for education grows.

Part III: “Women Take the Lead”

This is the shortest section of the two.The first chapter addresses the inequalities faced by African Americans and the local Indian population. The aboriginal Floridians vanished in the early eighteenth century as a result of imperialism. The tribes residing in Florida at the time were Seminole and Miccosukee Indians who migrated from Alabama and Georgia. Their populations within the state were small, however, as many of the Indians were relocated to Oklahoma along the Trail of Tears. Those left lived in the surrounding areas of the Everglades. A few women rallied for support of the Indians; although, the support was often what was deemed appropriate from the white perspective, as the natives were never consulted. The lands they were granted were often not suitable for their lifestyle, or they were transplanted without consideration of their preferences. There were some women, such as Harriet Mary Bedell who directly interacted with the Miccosukee people to support them and preserve their culture, including a trip to Washington, D.C., “to prevent Japanese imitations from being sold in America.” Rightfully distrustful of the state government’s interests, the Miccosukee Indians hired legal help to fight the State of Florida on tightening pollution requirements.

Poole’s also discusses African Americans, and their propensity to live near hazardous waste (Florida Superfund) sites compared to whites. Her discussion on the issue and related transgressions are unsatisfying, however. Including the discussion in the next chapter on the Civil Rights movement, this issue isn’t addressed as thoroughly as in similar examples in Parts I and II. Nevertheless, she accurately captures the systematic pollution of African American communities with a couple of detailed examples.

Lastly, Poole talks about activists in the farmworker community. The farmworker community, she explains, is often forgotten by the public seeking local interests or overlooked in government policy. Poole paints this activist community as relatively young, citing work as recent as 2011.

Her last chapter, titled “Women Leaders,” takes another look at the progression of women in the public sphere from a broader perspective than that explored within the rest of the book. “We are the beneficiaries of [early female activists’] gritty determination,” Poole concludes. Saving Florida is certainly worth the read for understanding the efficacy of grassroots organizing and the role women played at shaping society in the 20th century. This report is certainly not exhaustive of the topics discussed.

Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, Clay Shirky

                  Shirky’s book discusses how social tools support group organization and communication in an entirely new way, one that was previously impossible. He does so by including anecdotes from users of social media sites like WordPress and Blogspot, and how they used these social media tools to achieve a purpose- basically, his book looks to exemplify the tool part of social media tools, even though we as a society seem to take this for granted, now.

                   Shirky starts by talking about some different concepts, and I’ll touch on a few of them that stood out to me most. First, is post-managerial organization, which states that when any organization takes on a task, the difficulty of getting everyone to coordinate increases with the size of the group. He focuses on managing the hierarchies that arise out of large groups, and sees top-down organization as the way to go for these kinds of organizations. Another concept he talks about is collaborative production, which I understand to be cooperation 2.0, meaning no one person gets to take the credit for the product, and the project requires the participation of many. He uses Flickr as an example of a tool that reduces the amount of cooperation needed, because it pools together photos in one big album- no need to communicate or get together to do so.

                  In his third chapter, Shirkey discusses how everyone is a media outlet, just from their smartphones and laptops. He talks about mass amateurization, and the difference between being a professional at anything, and someone who can sit in his basement and put together a blog- he uses a running example of someone who has her phone stolen, and then puts together a blog to get it back. This blog is replacing the person hitting the streets, posting “lost phone” flyers, and efforts of that kind, and also gives the search a much wider wingspan. That being said, Shirkey notes that the general public is aware that mass amateurization does not equal mass trustworthiness, which is where the distinction between professional responsibility and the ability to tweet from your phone come head to head. A different pro he gives for mass amateurization is that the tools involved are better- we can post to a WordPress from our phone, without a printing press, and if we want to change the interface of our blog, we can just click to do so, not buy a new press, metaphorically. Faster is better, according to Shirky.

                  After applauding how great it is that we can share our breakfast with the click of a button, Shirkey talks about the necessity of social filters. Read example.

                  He differentiates between what’s posted in public, and what’s intended for the public- like the post I read, over time, the internet has grown out of sites like Livejournal and Xanga where people post things for their friends, without concern that there’s a wider audience who has access to all that user content. Amateur work is self-reinforcing, and Shirkey emphasizes that this leads to a massive influx of user content (from every teenage girl that wants to post a selfie, just to gain a few likes and compliments on her new highlights), and it becomes up to us as social media users to filter what matters- to us. If you’re that teenage girl’s boyfriend, then it probably does matter to you how her hair looks, but if you’re a student at miles away at MIT, it probably doesn’t.

                  In the following chapter, Shirky talks about rapid and simple group formation, another interesting contrast. Again, this is to show how social media helps people organize in a way that would otherwise be too big of an undertaking. Interest groups of a few students or people who agree on how an issue should be handled can transfer their efforts to a much wider audience through the use of websites and blogs, and can gain followers on other continents, on different time zones- otherwise, such a unification would be very difficult, almost impossible. Basically, simple group formation is being replaced by rapid group formation, because we have the tools to do it. Again, he emphasizes that we take rapid group formation for granted, because once we’ve gotten used to tools like email and blogs, it’s hard to remember how people came together without them- and also hard to appreciate how much harder it was back then. He concludes with an optimistic note, that the more groups and organizations need to form, the more tools will be created, because innovation is supported by need.

                  Chapter 8 was particularly fascinating to me, because Shirky talks about the power social tools have to serve social dilemmas. He touches on the concept of social capital, which comes up in a lot of political science texts, so I was interested to see how Shirkey would put it in a media context. I’m a big fan of Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone, and Shirkey discusses one of the points Putnam makes, that social capital is on the decline in the US because it is increasingly difficult to get people together so that they can create it. After all, the concept of the neighborhood block party is just about as outdated as the flip phone, and so it seems only reasonable that social capital should be an outdated idea, too. Scott Heiferman responds to Putnam’s dilemma, by using communication tools as a good substitute for the methods of organization that people seem to no longer have time for- like travel. He discusses concepts like picture messaging (which reminded me of today’s Snapchat), and the perks of being able to update others on your activities with a second’s notice. Heiferman basically takes the decline in social capital as a challenge, and then updates the response by using media as a way to build social capital in a way faster than ever before. While these tools are too new for Shirkey to discuss, today’s Instagram, Snapchat, and Vine are all means to that end, in my view.

                   Yet another interesting point Shirky makes in regards to user-generated content, is that self-filtering is an empowering motion; people decide what is relevant to them, and therefore regulate what content makes it onto their morning breakfast newsfeed scroll, or RSS feeds. Shirky places a lot of weight in deferring to the users’ judgment, because it determines what content fails and what content succeeds; here, this binomial distribution focuses, basically, on page views. He also states that the internet has the capacity to create a global talent view to draw from at any time- do you need to post a video of a singing cat to your friend’s Facebook wall for her birthday? Someone has a YouTube account devoted to this. And so on. The same can be said for things like Apple forums, or Linux support sites- people are willing to share their expertise on support forums on the internet, and this is another form of the global talent pool uniting people for a positive cause.