Have you ever wondered if all those historic figures with three names- Harriet Beecher Stowe, John Wilkes Booth, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings- always introduced themselves, or thought of themselves, with all three monikers? One book from the Library of Florida History collection offers a little insight into one such figure:
The Everglades: River of Grass’s author Marjory Stoneman Douglas was clearly mindful of the importance of branding, and neatness, as she signed this numbered first printing copy of her 1947 work.
Douglas (April 7, 1890 – May 14, 1998) was a seasoned journalist (The Miami Herald from 1914 to 1923), playwright (in the 1930’s) and freelance writer (109 fiction articles and stories from 1920 to 1990) when in 1942 she was approached by publisher Robert Tristram Coffin (speaking of people with three names) to contribute to his “Rivers of America Series.”
She took five years to research and write the book, starting with what has been called the most famous passage ever written about the Everglades:
That first line is powerful, but then at the top of the next page:
“...a river of grass” an image that so beautifully and completely captures the visual experience of the everglades. It not only immediately conjures memories for anyone who has ever traveled on the Everglades, but it also allows anyone who has not to begin to grasp the essential nature of the place. It has become the nickname for the Everglades.
The book, which came out at the same time as the formation of the Everglades National Park, was an immediate popular success. It traces the geologic formation of the glades, the lifestyles of its native occupants, its importance to the South Florida ecosystem and the impact of development.
That impact was devastating. Perhaps this book did, as some say, oversimplify the ecology and hydrology of the system, but it also was on the cutting edge of our knowledge of our relationship with the natural world in the 1940s. It was not written by a stranger; Douglas had been involved with the Everglades since the 1920s. She knew what she wanted to say:
In the words of Florida Governor Lawton Chiles, “she was a prophet calling out to us to save the environment for our children and our grandchildren.”