Caroline P. Rossetter, at the tender age of 23, listened at the keyhole as a debate took place behind closed doors at the Standard Oil Company office in Louisville, Kentucky. Upon her father’s death, Carrie Rossetter requested that she be allowed to take over his Standard Oil Agency in Brevard County, Florida. That request sparked a heated discussion.
The year was 1921, and women had received the right to vote in the United States just months before. The idea of a woman being able to run a business was preposterous to some.
James W. Rossetter had moved his family to Eau Gallie, Florida in 1902, when Carrie was just four years old. He distributed Standard Oil products by boat up the Banana River to Cape Canaveral. Carrie had been working in her father’s office from the time she was fourteen. When James Rossetter died in 1921, Carrie desperately wanted to keep control of her father’s business.
Finally, Carrie heard a decisive voice rise over the din, saying “Let the little lady have it! She won’t last a year and we’ll give it to a man!” With that, Caroline P. Rossetter became the first female Standard Oil Agent.
The loudly stated prediction was at least partially accurate. Rossetter didn’t last a year as a Standard Oil Agent. She lasted 62 years, becoming one of the company’s most successful representatives until her retirement at the age of 85.
In an interview from 1980, Rossetter said, “At the age of 82, I believe I have set the record for the longest term as a commissioned agent in the Chevron family. I remember how surprised company representatives were when I began my career. It was unheard of for a woman to go into the oil business, on her own, in 1921.”
Carrie Rossetter’s many business accomplishments included building some of the first gasoline stations in Brevard County, and acting as the sole distributor of oil to the Banana River Naval Air Station’s civilian air force during World War II.
Rossetter said that oil company representatives weren’t the only ones who were amazed by her. “My mother was a Southern magnolia. She couldn’t believe that I could be in business and still be a lady. My career has proven that a woman can be every bit as successful as a man in business, and I am still a Southern lady.”
Carrie Rossetter received a letter from the White House, dated August 29, 1983. The note said, “Dear Miss Rossetter: Congratulations on your retirement. Yours has been a career marked by dedication and achievement. You should take great pride in your many years of accomplishment. Nancy joins me in wishing you continued happiness and enjoyment in the years ahead. Sincerely, Ronald Reagan.”
An active member of the community, Carrie Rossetter contributed to educational institutions including the Florida Institute of Technology. She served as a founding member and patron of the Brevard Art Museum and as a director of the Brevard Art Center and Museum. Rossetter was one of the first and longest running members of the Eau Gallie Yacht Club, and a lifetime member of the Brevard Crippled Children’s Association.
Before her death in 1999, at the age of 101, Caroline P. Rossetter, along with her sister Ella, established a trust to secure the preservation of their family home as an historical monument.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Rossetter House Museum and Gardens complex is located on Highland Avenue in Eau Gallie, Florida. It consists of the 1908 James W. Rossetter House, the 1901 William P. Roesch House, and the Houston Family Cemetery.
Since 2004, the Florida Historical Society has managed the Historic Rossetter House Museum and Gardens under the direction of the Rossetter House Foundation, Inc. Through historic tours and special events, Brevard County history is celebrated and preserved for both residents and visitors.
The Rossetter House Museum and Gardens will be included in the 2014 Eau Gallie Historic District Home Tour on Saturday, February 15, from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm, sponsored by the South Brevard Historical Society. The tour is part of the Annual Eau Gallie Founder’s Day and Fish Fry.
Dr. Ben Brotemarkle is producer and host of “Florida Frontiers: The Weekly Radio Magazine of the Florida Historical Society,” broadcast locally on 90.7 WMFE Thursday evenings at 6:30 and Sunday afternoons at 4:00, and on 89.5 WFIT Sunday mornings at 7:00.