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Thursday, May 10, 2018

Alexander Hamilton Women's History Month : Local History and Her Story

Article by Patricia Plantamura

Mary Anne Hamilton (left) with fans at Hamil*Fest

Fans of Alexander Hamilton, the Founding Father turned pop star, got to meet one of his actual family members at SPC-Gibbs Campus during at a recent event called Hamil*Fest. Yes, American history, and fittingly during Women's History Month “her story” lives among us in Mary Anne Hamilton, the widow of the great-great-grandson of Alexander Hamilton. The Seminole resident was a featured guest in February at this festival for fans of the man and the hit musical.

A retired real estate agent and mother of five, Mary Anne now finds herself in the role of goodwill ambassador who spreads Alexander’s story. As the world is discovering, thanks to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway play, Hamilton’s achievements have been considerably downplayed by most historians.

People of all ages are excited to hear Mary Anne speak, “ said Hamil*Fest organizer Greg Plantamura, “We’re very grateful that St. Pete College hosted our event as part of the local community.”

Mary Anne shared that she travelled to Alexander’s birthplace on Nevis most recently in January for the celebration of Alexander’s 261st birthday. Of her seven visits to Nevis, her first was on a yacht with her husband in 1966, at the invitation of Queen Elizabeth. 

Hamil*Fest organizer Greg Plantamura (left) with
Mary Anne Hamilton and Rand Scholet,
Founder of the Alexander Hamilton Awareness Society
Her late husband of 13 years, Laurens Morgan Hamilton, was named after John Laurens, Hamilton’s best friend, and also his grandfather, the famed financier and banker J.P. Morgan.

Alexander Hamilton migrated from the Island of Nevis to the British colonies in 1772 as an orphan and was labeled by society as “illegitimate”. If not for the immigrant Hamilton, the formation and groundwork laid for the U.S. Constitution, and our financial and judicial systems would not have taken present form.

Distinct contributions of immigrants, benefits of proficiencies in foreign languages, and often unacknowledged accomplishments of women were actually indispensable at the outset of our Country, even as today. U.S. history reflects the contributions of women such as Hamilton’s mother Rachel Faucette. Mary Anne explained that his mother spoke French to him at home in Nevis and “that is why he was so good dealing with Lafayette and the French Army during the Revolution”.

Also at Hamil*Fest, Mariana Oller, Chair of the Alexander Hamilton Awareness Society (a.k.a. “AHA”) attested to how critical France’s support was of the colonists in efforts against King George, which resulted in independence of the colonies from England. Oller noted the translation of military strategy and orders into French, which were used by French troops in military action. The value and necessity of Hamilton being multilingual are apparent from our Country’s very inception which was dependent literally upon command of more than one language.

(L to R) Dave Downey, Greg Plantamura, Mary Anne Hamilton,
and Rand Scholet were among the presenters at Hamil*Fest
George Washington himself recognized Hamilton as his right-hand man in words presented from original documents by panelist Oller. She read Washington’s written words from 1798: “Alexander Hamilton was my principle and most confidential aide.”  

Another speaker, Rand Scholet of Clearwater, President of AHA shared that before beginning his own in-depth research he questioned the importance of Hamilton’s contributions. Scholet noted that American history often gave more attention to the efforts of Thomas Jefferson. Through use of his background in computer analysis Scholet demonstrated the massive and enduring importance of Hamilton’s contributions in a fact-based comparison to six other Founding Fathers. Scholet expounded “In 1789, Hamilton took a nation deeply in debt from the Revolutionary War and developed financial strategies that created a bustling national economy such that our nation’s first budget surplus was realized by 1793, and our nation has never looked back.”

Hamil*Fest included a presentation by Michelle Luckett of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary District 7. Another speaker, Dave Downey, told of the Coast Guard Cutter named after Hamilton which was torpedoed by a German U-Boat in 1942. Downey detailed the story of the rescue of more than 200 American Coast Guardsmen by Icelandic civilian boats. In 2009 this Cutter was located by sonar and a conjoint international team submerged to place a memorial plaque on said ship.

There have been six Coast Guard Cutters named for Hamilton, one of which in 1978 took Mary Anne’s husband’s ashes out to sea. “My husband was at its christening in New Orleans … and when he died he wanted his ashes scattered in the Caribbean Sea so that they could float back to Nevis.” The Cutter happened to be in Jacksonville the next month so her husband’s wish was fulfilled.

There are a variety of reasons to respect Hamilton’s legacy and humanity. Scholet noted Hamilton’s role in educating indigenous people as Founding Trustee of Hamilton College for the Oneida Indians. He established the African Free School in NYC, and co-founded the New York State society for the manumission (freeing) of slaves. 

It is important to recognize the contributions of our forefathers and foremothers and particularly noteworthy to appreciate those among us who can relate those contributions to us first-hand. Plantamura enthusiastically shared, “In the words from the musical’s conclusion, Hamilton himself would be proud to know that Mary Anne keeps his flame and tells his story.”
Mary Anne Hamilton's family has a proud heritage.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Who Is Marjory Stoneman Douglas?

Hello friends,

From constant mention of Marjory Stoneman Douglas' name in regards to the shooting at Parkland School, I suggested to NOW's Erika Levy (through radio hosts of From A Woman's Point of View on community radio WMNF) that Levy also feature MSD as part of Tampa NOW's action during Women's History Month 2018. Levy responded that the effort of the event was to highlight women "still making history".  Doing so accentuates our continued responsibility and power in ongoing action today.

Readers of Levy's article below will be inspired by MSD. NOW's goal—to recognize and inspire people toward contemporary leadership, surely includes leaders at MSD School and the community of Parkland at large.

Together we continue toward present day history (and her-story) making!


by Erika Levy
March 1, 2018

For many, the name "Marjory Stoneman Douglas" only recently became part of the public consciousness due to the violent and tragic events that occurred in Parkland, Florida on February 14, 2018. For the past two weeks, our collective attention has (rightfully) been focused on the outpouring of support for students and their families.

Despite the emotional turmoil this event has caused, the teenage survivors of the school shooting in Parkland are undeniably emerging as the next leaders in the gun control debate by creating a moment of youth activism not seen in decades. Where do these young people get their resolve? Certainly from their parents . . . and teachers . . . and friends . . . but maybe, just maybe, the ideals of courage, sincerity, and activism are part of the grit of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School its self. After all, would a rose by any other name smell as sweet?

(Note: The following information has been aggragated from Douglas's Wikipedia page, obituary, and other sources.)

Marjory Stoneman Douglas was an American journalist, author, women's suffrage advocate, and conservationist known for her staunch defense of the Florida Everglades against efforts to drain it and reclaim land for development.

Moving to Miami as a young woman to work for The Miami Herald, she became a freelance writer, producing over a hundred short stories that were published in popular magazines. 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. Its impact has been compared to that of Rachel Carson's influential book Silent Spring (1962). Her books, stories, and journalism career brought her influence in Miami, enabling her to advance her causes.

After taking a degree in English at Wellesley College, that career began in 1914 when her father set up the Herald. Marjory worked as a reporter and then society editor on the paper, and then served in Europe in the American Red Cross in the later stages of the First World War. At this time she contracted a brief, unhappy marriage that ended in 1917.

At war's end she returned to the paper, becoming assistant editor, writing a daily literary column "The Galley". But in 1923 she left the Miami Herald for good to become a freelance writer. She wrote short stories with much distinction, followed in 1951 by her first novel Road to the Sun, set in the Florida of 1845, the year the state joined the Union, and later by a history of Florida and a biography of the environmentalist W.H. Hudson.

But her true cause would be the saving of the Everglades - that vast tract of sub-tropical and tropical wetlands across southern Florida, commonly assumed to be a swamp, but in fact a vast, slow river up to 50 miles wide, ranging in depth between a few inches and a few feet and teeming with some of the richest and the rarest wildlife on the planet. 

Her paean to it was The Everglades: River of Grass, published in 1947, the year that President Truman declared 1.5 million acres of the area a protected national park. The book is a wonderful mixture of guide, history and scientific treatise which became a bestseller, based on four years of research and countless trips of exploration across the wilderness of marsh and sawgrass, To this day it is regarded as the most authoritative work on the subject. The acclaim at the time was instant: the New York Herald Tribune called it "a fabulous book of a fabulous Florida".

It was written in longhand, in the study she had built in 1928 across the street from where her father lived in the Miami district of Coconut Grove. Later she extended it into a cottage, and lived there until the day she died.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas was small in stature but boundless in energy. Her eccentric ways did nothing to detract from her celebrity. She eschewed such trappings of modern life as the telephone and the car. Her white gloves and floppy hat made her instantly recognisable.

But even her valiant efforts could not stop the slow degradation of the Everglades, threatened by the damming and diversion of the rivers which fed it, by pollution and urban sprawl, and by the "reclamation" of huge tracts of wetland for citrus orchards and sugar cane.

No ecosystem, least of all one as complex and delicate as the Everglades, could withstand the explosive growth of 20th-century Florida. When the Stoneman family arrived, Miami was a frontier city of 5,000 inhabitants, and most of Florida a humid, disease-ridden emptiness. Today the state is the fourth most populous in the US.

Today the Everglades, with its riot of flora and fauna including alligators, the Florida panther of which perhaps 30 remain, the extraordinary plant-eating sea mammal the manatee, as well as 400 species of birds and 1000 species of flowering plants, still awe the visitor. The park's mangrove forests are the largest in the western hemisphere.

But despite being a World Heritage Site, the wetlands are shrinking by the day. Four million acres survive, but that is only a quarter of what there once was. The population of wading birds - including herons, egrets and the rare wood stork - has dropped by 93 per cent since the 1930s.

No one was quicker to understand the danger than Marjory Stoneman Douglas, and none did more to highlight it. In 1969 she created the Friends of the Everglades organisation, to continue her fight. In 1993, at the age of 103, she received the Medal of Freedom, America's highest honour, from President Clinton.

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."

In the case of the Parkland students and Douglas herself, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. As we celebrate Women's History Month, let us keep in mind the activism and grit of Marjory Stoneman Douglas. Let us also continue to encourage and pave the way for our new activists rising through the ranks, leaving their footprints on our hearts, minds, and history.

In support of Parkland students and families, you can donate to the Stoneman Douglas Victim's Fund here.

In support of the Florida Everglades and Marjory Stoneman Douglas's passion, you can donate to the Everglades Fund here.