Marjory Stoneman Douglas: Writer & Conservationist

Early Years

Marjory Stoneman Douglas (1890-1998), writer and conservationist, was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her parents were Florence Lillian Trefethen, a musician, and Frank Bryant Stoneman, future editor in-chief of the Miami Herald. Marjory's parents divorced when she was six and her father moved to Florida. Marjory would see him again at the age of 25 when she returned to the state after her mother's death and her own brief and failed marriage to Kenneth Douglas. In her autobiographical work, "Voice of the River", she reflected on her first trip to Florida at the age of four: "I never forgot the quality of the tropic light as if I had been looking for it all the years of gray Northern light; as I came back many years later I recognized it as something I had loved and missed and longed for all my life, one of the things that made me so happy about being in Florida." (Voice of the River, p.31)

While she is primarily known for her advocacy of the Florida Everglades, Marjory's early years were spent in Taunton, Massachusetts with her mother's family. The household consisted of her grandfather, her French grandmother Florence and her unmarried aunt Fanny. Marjory was especially close to her mother and described her as "particularly beautiful all her life". "Lillian," as Marjory's mother liked to be called, was subject to periodic "nervous breakdowns," and Marjory described how "mother gradually became more dependent on me. It was as if my mother had become my child". (Voice of the River, p.53). In spite of the estrangement which persisted between her parent's. families subsequent to the divorce, Marjory had fond memories of her childhood and especially the education she received in her town's public schools. Her grandfather who had to send his eldest daughter, Alice, away for high school was on the original board to create the Taunton high school. In "Voice of the River" Marjory recalled being an intensive reader and researcher: "In high school, I think I already had a writer's temperament. I became what you'd call a hunter in libraries, first in the Taunton Public Library and later in the great Boston library. It gave me a great feeling of joy, knowing that there was so much that I could put my hands on." (Voice of the River, p.67-68)

It was with great anticipation that Marjory began her studies at Wellesley College which she would later describe as a place where she could be an individual interested in writing, her friends, and the world around her. In the autumn of 1908 Marjory Stoneman left for college thanks to the determination and savings of her grandmother Florence and Aunt Fanny who had a special account with monies from her work as a music instructor and part-time bookkeeper. Marjory's early descriptions of Wellesley College already hint at the future writer conservationist:

"We had a large class in English 12, and the first thing we had to do was write a letter home. I wrote my letter home and the teacher, Miss Perry, said it wasn.t the kind of writing you'd write home. Miss Perry was completely wrong--letter writing is entirely free. My particular letter described the beauty of the campus. The fall at Wellesley, the oak leaves were brilliant scarlet and the scarlet was mirrored in the lake and the lake was blue and the sky was beautiful and I talked about it in the letter. Miss Perry had me read it aloud to the class as an example of the something you shouldn.t write, but I got a big round of applause from the class and at once was established as a writer. That reputation stayed with me the rest of my days at college." (Voice of the River, p. 70)

Marjory Stoneman continued to excel in writing and in her senior year was made editor of "Legenda," the college's annual. She was also elected Class Orator. She graduated from Wellesly College in 1912. Only Aunt Fanny was able to attend. Marjory, who majored in English, was not drawn to teaching and made no plans to pursue writing as an occupation. Thoughts of a future career soon faded away as she learned of her mother's cancer and quickly returned home. Lillian died that same year. Soon after, Marjory moved to Newark, New Jersey where she worked as a trainer in a department store. In Newark, Marjory married Kenneth Douglas, an editor for the Newark Evening News. The marriage, plagued by unemployment and debt, did not last and Marjory, under her father and his family's initiative, received an invitation to come live with Frank Stoneman and his new wife Lillius Eleanor in Miami, Florida.