14 exceptional women with Jacksonville ties
For the last day of Women's History Month, we pay homage to the contributions of 14 exceptional women in history with Jacksonville ties.
Susan King Taylor
Susan King Taylor was the only African American nurse to publish a memoir of her civil war experiences, including her time in Jacksonville. Born into slavery, as a child she was allowed to live with her grandmother Dolly in Savannah. There, Dolly was successful illegally helping her grandchild learn how to read and write. Her illegal education process ended when her grandmother was arrested for singing freedom hymns on the eve of the Civil War. Soon her family fled to Union protection, where impressed with her ability to read and write, commanding officers assisted her in organizing a school for the former enslaved. She soon became the country’s first Black Army nurse while also teaching soldiers how to read and write during their off-duty hours despite never being paid for her work.
Traveling with the 33rd U. S. Colored Troops, she found herself in #Jacksonville when the regiment was given orders with the objective to occupy the city, conduct raids and become a magnet for escaped enslaved along the St. Johns River. Here, she recalled arriving on the steamer John Adams in March 1863, rebel men fleeing the city and leaving the women behind, and their regiment successfully driving Confederate General Finegan back during a skirmish to complete their mission. A Georgia Women of Achievement 2018 inductee, after the war she opened schools in Savannah and Midway before moving to #Boston, only returning to the south occasionally. Many of those she taught to read and write, became some of the first residents to settle Lavilla.
Henrietta Cuttino Dozier
“How did I happen to take up architecture - an unusual occupation for a woman? Well, even in my childhood I wanted to study architecture, and have drawn plans since I was seven. In fact, when I was just a little tot I used to draft patterns for doll dresses for my own and the neighbor children’s dolls. So it seemed the natural thing when I reached the age to decide what my life work was to be, to select architecture as a vocation.” - Henrietta Dozier WPA interview in 1939.
Born in Fernandina Beach in 1872 and growing up in Atlanta, Henrietta Cuttino Dozier is recognized as the first female architect in the state of Georgia and the city of Jacksonville. To overcome sexual discrimination, she was known to disguise her gender by using various gender-neutral names such as Cousin Harry, Harry and H.C. Dozier. Also a woman that despised modern architecture but loved genealogy and fishing, she practiced in Atlanta and Jacksonville until her death in 1947. 73 years later, many of her works still stand as validation to an ultimate trailblazer that helped paved the way for women in the field of Architecture.
Laura Adorkor Kofi
Laura Adorkor Kofi was originally born in Ghana, Africa around 1893.Her father allegedly was a King in the British West African coast. It is said that Kofi began hearing voices and visions, which was God calling on her to help Africans in America. Kofi soon began to believe that it was her mission to travel to America and deliver her message to the African people.
She arrived in the United States around 1918, quickly rising as a national field director for Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association. In 1927, while living a shotgun house (pictured) on Jacksonville’s Eastside, she established the African Universal Church and Commercial League, where she fused the importance of education and economy into her sermons. As Kofi became more and more popular, gaining thousands of followers and becoming a chair with the UNIA, other public speakers at the time became jealous. By the time her involvement with the UNIA ended, she had tens of thousands of followers, many of which would see her speak at the Masonic Temple on LaVilla’s Broad Street business district.
While on the pulpit in Miami, an assassin shot and killed Mother Kofi in March of 1928 at the age of 35. Although she died in March, Kofi was not buried until August 17, 1928. Huff Funeral Home on Davis Street was responsible for her funeral and her body and had to wait for burial instruction from Kofi’s family in Ghana. While waiting for direction, Huff’s displayed Kofi’s body, charging 25 cents a person to view and pay respects. Eventually, it was decided that Kofi’s body was to be interred at Old City Cemetery. Upon the actual day of the funeral, Kofi’s service had nearly 10,000 attendants who had showed up to pay their respects, with almost 7,000 following her funeral procession.
While Mother Kofi’s story is largely forgotten in Jacksonville, her impact on the African American community was significant enough that there is a small collection of research materials related to her life and works exists at the New York Public Library.
Zora Neale Hurston
Born in Alabama, Zora Neale Hurston grew up as a child in Eatonville, the first incorporated town in Florida founded by African-Americans. Now widely recognized for her prolific writing, as a trained folklorist, she wrote studies of southern African-American cultural practices recorded in Mules and Men and cultural practices around voodoo in Haiti and Jamaica in Tell My Horse. She published an autobiography in 1942. As a fiction writer, she published several novels such as Their Eyes Were Watching God and also wrote plays. During her lifetime, she traveled extensively and lived in a variety of locations.
While many cities from Eatonville and Fort Pierce to St. Augustine and New York City have promoted and honored their connections to this prolific writer, locally she’s not as widely known and celebrated as she should given her strong ties to the city. Initially relocating to #Jacksonville after the death of her mother, Zora grew, lived, worked, played and loved in Florida’s largest city. With this in mind, here are six sites in Jacksonville you probably did not know also happen to be associated with Zora Neale Hurston’s time in the city.
Carita Doggett Corse
Born in March 1891 to prominent Jacksonville attorney John Doggett and and Florida history writer Carrie Van Deman, Carita Doggett Corse was a historian and writer in charge of the Works Progress Administration’s (WPA’s) Florida Writers Project during the New Deal. Her employees included Alton Morris, Stetson Kennedy and Zora Neale Hurston.
Especially interested in the ethnic diversity of Florida, Corse advocated for African-American participation in the WPA’s Writers’ Project to focus on black history and culture, making Florida one of only three southern states to produce ex-enslaved person narratives. Also an early suffragette, Corse eventually became director of Florida’s chapter of the newly-created Planned Parenthood. Passing in 1978, she was posthumously inducted into the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame in 1997.
They say a well-behaved woman never makes history. Known for being a proprietress of “sporting houses” (aka brothels), Cora Crane was a unique and fascinating woman from Jacksonville’s past. Born on July 12, 1868 into an elite family, Cora Ethel Eaton Howarth resided in Boston, San Francisco and New York City before arriving in Jacksonville and running the Hotel de Dream in LaVilla.
Here, she met and fell in love with author Stephen Crane. A writer herself, Cora served as a war correspondent during the Greco-Turkish War in Greece when she traveled there with Stephen Crane. She is recognized as one of the early female war correspondents, writing under the pen name Imogene Carter. She was also a contributor to magazines such as Smart Set and Harper’s Weekly, including during the time she was running her brothels in Jacksonville. After Stephen Crane’s death, Cora returned to Jacksonville and opened additional brothels in LaVilla and Pablo (Jacksonville) Beach. Her primary brothel, The Court, anchored LaVilla’s red light district along Ward Street (now Houston Street).
Cora’s life as also prone to scandal and heartache. She was still married to another man at the time of her relationship with Stephen Crane, encountered financial trouble associated with her properties, and endured a murder trial when her fourth husband Hammond McNeill shot and killed another man who he presumed to be Cora’s lover. Ultimately, she died alone and underappreciated after suffering a stroke at the age of 45 in 1910. She had spent the last few years of her life primarily at Pablo Beach, often alone, not quite recovering from the murder scandal. After her death, her life and writing gained more attention as a story in its own right, and not just because of her affiliation with Stephen Crane. Today, her legacy lives on through the Cora Crane collection at Columbia University.