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Suffrage in Florida

Beginnings in Florida

In 1893, Tampa’s Ella Chamberlain started Florida’s first suffrage organization, the Florida Woman Suffrage Association (FWSA), but after she left the state in 1897, the FWSA fell apart.

The state’s suffrage movement stalled until 1912, when a group of Jacksonville women established the Florida Equal Franchise League (FEFL), a local group. The next year, the Florida Equal Suffrage Association (FESA), a state organization, formed in Orlando. The suffrage department of the Florida Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs worked with its local clubs.

Florida’s suffrage movement remained small compared to that of the Northeast. Still, Florida suffragists engaged in a variety of activities to promote votes for women. Local leagues hosted teas and banquets, presented musical programs, distributed literature, and participated in parades and fairs to raise awareness for the suffrage cause. They sent resolutions to the state’s U.S. congressmen and lobbied state legislators. The legislature did hold hearings on a state suffrage amendment, but would not support it.


Florida Suffragists

  Reverend Dr. Mary Safford, ca. late 1800s

Dr. Safford preached for many years as a Unitarian minister in Iowa before settling in Florida in 1911. Active in Iowa’s suffrage movement, she helped organize the Florida Equal Suffrage Association and served as its first president. In 1914, she helped organize the Men’s Equal Suffrage League, an organization that supported votes for women. (Image: Wikipedia Creative Commons) 

  May Mann Jennings, ca. 1910s

May Mann Jennings, wife of former Governor William Sherman Jennings, was one of the most influential women in Florida. She led the Florida Federation of Women’s Clubs (FFWC) and was a strong supporter of suffrage. While some women’s club members also participated in local suffrage leagues, others were reluctant to get involved in the controversial cause. Jennings persuaded the FFWC to endorse suffrage and worked with other Florida suffragists in promoting votes for women.  (Image: State Archives of Florida) 

  Mary McLeod Bethune, ca. 1915

Throughout her lifetime, famed educator and civil rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune urged African American women and men to make their voices heard through the ballot box. She spoke often on universal suffrage, organized Daytona Beach’s Black voters, and worked to get officials elected who would be responsive to the needs of Black people. The Ku Klux Klan marched onto the campus of her school and tried to intimidate her to stop her efforts, but it failed. (Image: State Archives of Florida) 

  Eartha M. M. White, ca.1941

Eartha White participated in local politics before women had even gained the vote. She co-founded the Colored Citizens’ Protective League to encourage Jacksonville’s Black community to engage in political activity and ensure that Black men qualified to vote. After women’s suffrage passed, she worked to persuade the city’s Black women to register to vote.  (Image: State Archives of Florida) 

  Helen Hunt West, ca. 1910s

A reporter and editor for Jacksonville’s Florida Times-Union newspaper, Helen Hunt West became active in the National Woman’s Party (NWP). When the NWP started a Florida branch in 1917 to work for suffrage, she was elected state secretary and then served as state chair. West was the first woman in Duval County to register to vote after suffrage passed. She later sat on the NWP executive board, became a vice chairman for the organization, and advocated for an equal rights amendment. A self-taught lawyer, she often spoke on the inequalities found in the law concerning women. (Image: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division) 

 Image:  Temperance parade - Eustis, Florida, ca. 1919, State Archives of Florida