In today’s episode of This Day in Miami History, we discuss Roxcy O’Neal Bolton, arguably South Florida’s most important feminist. On this day in 1970, Roxcy took her South Florida fight to a national stage.

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Women’s Park – Miami-Dade County (

Florida Memory • Roxcy Bolton: A Force for Equality

Civic activist, feminist, trailblazer Roxcy Bolton dies at 90 | Miami Herald

NOW’s Fourth National Conference « National Organization for Women (

Wolfson Archives | MDC Archives | Miami Dade College


[00;00;00;17 – 00;00;28;12] Matthew Bunch: I’m currently sitting in the Women’s Park, a Miami-Dade County public park located just west of 107th Avenue on Flagler Street. I’m on a dark green bench overlooking the lake. There are ducks and squirrels across the lake. There’s a playground where small children are playing and a pavilion for parties and other events. People are jogging. There’s a mother and her small child working through . . . It looks like homework.

[00;00;28;15 – 00;01;03;07] Matthew Bunch: Here on this sunny afternoon, this park looks like any other park you would expect to find in Miami-Dade County or really anywhere in America. But what separates this part from the rest is not what’s in front of me, although it’s lovely. What separates it is what’s behind me. A building. That building right now is being used for primary election balloting, which is appropriate considering this is the Women’s Park. This building behind me is dedicated to a woman named Roxcy O’Neal Bolton.

[00;01;03;10 – 00;01;32;22] Matthew Bunch: The Roxcy O’Neal Bolton Women’s History Gallery is a repository for the women’s rights movement and the feminist movement in Miami-Dade County and across the country. The Women’s Park is a park unlike any other in America. The first park dedicated to the past, present and future of the women’s rights movement. And in this singular park, there is a singular woman, only one mother of the park, Roxcy O’Neal Bolton.

[00;01;32;24 – 00;01;52;00] Matthew Bunch: And that’s how we’re going to focus on today, This Day in Miami History: March 20th, 1970, the day that Roxcy O’Neal Bolton became a vice president in the National Organization for Women, and took her already existing feminist fight from South Florida to the nation.

[00;01;52;02 – 00;02;11;20] King Elizabeth: ♪ “Miami Sunrise” by King Elizabeth ♪

[00;02;11;20 – 00;02;47;17] Matthew Bunch: Roxcy Pearl O’Neal was born on June 3rd, 1926, in Duck Hill, Mississippi. At first blush, you might not suspect that a daughter of the South and a card-carrying member of the Daughters of the Confederacy would eventually have such an impact on such a progressive cause. But from a young age, she knew she wanted to be politically involved. At age eight, she told the Miami Herald that she wanted to be a member of Congress, but it was at age 10 that Roxcy experienced one of the formative moments of her life that would eventually set her on a path of civil rights.

[00;02;47;19 – 00;03;16;22] Matthew Bunch: On April 13th, 1937, Duck Hill, Mississippi, was home to the lynching of two men Roosevelt Townes and Robert McDaniels. Now, a lynching in Mississippi was unfortunately not an uncommon occurrence in the South in the late 1800s and early 1900s. But what made this particular event notable was two things: One, the brutality of events. Both men were tortured before they were killed.

[00;03;16;25 – 00;03;42;19] Matthew Bunch: Both being attacked with blow torches in order to be compelled to confess to the murder that they were being legally accused of. McDaniels was shot to death and Townes was burned alive. The second thing that makes this lynching notable is it’s one of the first lynchings that the American people actually saw pictures of in widespread national publications, including Time and Life magazine.

[00;03;42;21 – 00;04;12;14] Matthew Bunch: McDaniels and Townes would serve as symbols to try to get legislation passed to make lynching a federal crime that would ultimately fail and wouldn’t ultimately succeed until the 2020s. But the moment clearly had an impact on young Roxcy O’Neal. Her desire to influence politics, which originally came from a want to fix broken bridges and roads, now had a particular moral motivation behind it.

[00;04;12;16 – 00;04;38;02] Matthew Bunch: But it would still be decades before Roxcy took those next steps and became an active participant in the movement. She graduated from high school, got married and had a son. But that first marriage fell apart. In a 1950 court proceeding, Roxcy accused her then husband, William C. Hart, of failing to return home three days after his ship arrived back in port in Portland, Maine.

[00;04;38;04 – 00;05;08;27] Matthew Bunch: He was a member of the Coast Guard. She also said that Hart drank considerably and sometimes became so mad that he “shook her like a child.” Eventually, she was granted custody of their son, David, and Hart was forced to pay Roxcy $50 a month.

Roxcy was a divorcee in 1950s America. That could have been a problem. But she soon sprung into action, motivated by Eleanor Roosevelt.

[00;05;08;29 – 00;05;45;03] Matthew Bunch: Roosevelt delivered a speech at the 1956 Democratic Convention, which Roxcy was attending. She met Eleanor Roosevelt, and the speech motivated her to jump into local political action. She helped to form the Coral Gables Democratic Club in December of 1956, and would soon reach leadership positions there and beyond. She became an officer of the Young Democrats of Miami-Dade County in 1958 and joined a delegation from Dade County attending the 1958 campaign Conference for Democratic Women in Washington, D.C..

[00;05;45;05 – 00;06;13;04] Matthew Bunch: And then, Roxcy’s influence in Miami goes quiet for a while. Her name fails to appear in the Miami Herald or the Miami News between 1959 and 1965. And that’s because Roxcy got married. Her second marriage was to David Bolton, who served as a war crimes prosecutor in the Pacific Theater during World War II. He remained in the Navy, and Roxcy and her husband and their soon-to-be children traveled around the world.

[00;06;13;06 – 00;06;39;19] Matthew Bunch: She spent some time in Japan earning the certificate of graduation from the Enshu School of Ikebana, which is a form of flower arrangement, in November of 1962. They also spent time in another naval port town, Charleston, South Carolina. But when Bolton retired from the Navy in 1964, it was back to Miami, and Roxcy very soon jumped back into the action.

[00;06;39;21 – 00;06;48;27] Matthew Bunch: But this time the focus would be less on electoral politics and more on societal pressure geared towards the feminist movement.

[00;06;48;29 – 00;07;09;27] Roxcy O’Neal Bolton: Specifically, we point out here today that women are committed in this community to bring about equal rights for women in this country, and they are willing to come and express themselves by breaking a cup, symbolic of breaking away from tradition. We are fed up with all the old traditions of what women can do. We want equal rights. We want the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment now.

[00;07;09;29 – 00;07;41;08] Matthew Bunch: Roxcy presented as a feminine Southern girl with that drawl of hers, but she was a combatant, a belligerent, eager to take the fight anywhere that she saw unfair or discriminatory practices towards women. The most common targets in South Florida in our community were local government and businesses. She did this through involvement in a relatively new organization at the time, the National Organization for Women.

[00;07;41;11 – 00;08;12;26] Matthew Bunch: Bolton had written N.O.W. president and author of “The Feminine Mystique,” Betty Friedan prior to the 1968 presidential election. Friedan was coming to Florida for the Republican National Convention in 1968, and Bolton was eager to talk to Friedan about starting a South Florida chapter of NOW. It was that chapter, the Dade County National Organization for Women, that would be so aggressive in fighting back against gender discrimination.

[00;08;12;29 – 00;08;39;12] Matthew Bunch: Early on in her role leading Dade County’s National Organization for Women, she went after local department stores, particularly those downtown like Burdines and Jordan Marsh. Those stores had restaurants, grills in the store designed to cater to a male audience that were looking for restaurants in the middle of downtown when many didn’t exist at the time to serve that kind of clientele.

[00;08;39;14 – 00;09;02;09] Matthew Bunch: These restaurants were men only, and Roxcy Bolton wasn’t having it. She led members of N.O.W. into the stores, into the restaurants, directly storming the proverbial gates and challenging the general managers of the store to change their policy. Throughout the late 1960s, they did so despite the managers’ original hesitation.

[00;09;02;11 – 00;09;25;16] Roxcy O’Neal Bolton: I remember Mr. Ruben at Jordan Marsh saying to me, “Mrs. Bolton, how could you do this to Jordan Marsh? I don’t want this in the Miami Herald.” And I said, “Well, why are you so opposed to women eating with men?” But he was swallowing here. You know, when somebody’s got a problem, they start swallowing. And I said, “Well, Mr. Ruben, men and women sleep together. Why can’t they eat together?”

[00;09;25;18 – 00;09;51;25] Matthew Bunch: William Ruben was later quoted in the October 15th, 1969 issue of The Miami Herald saying about the plan to, quote, “Desexregate” the store’s, “Captain’s Table,” the restaurant that, quote, “There’s no disagreement with their purpose. Their argument was on a very sound basis that most of the customers in the store are women, and they are in a rush too. The store is working out ways to serve the needs of all people.”

[00;09;51;28 – 00;10;11;29] Matthew Bunch: Roxcy also helped to end gender discrimination at the Tiger Bay Club, an influential political organization in South Florida that would bring speakers and ideas to the community’s leaders. Roxcy got an opportunity to speak there about the importance of the women’s rights movement in the 1960s.

[00;10;12;01 – 00;10;26;25] Roxcy O’Neal Bolton: Because in the earliest years that children form images of their worth, their future roles, the conscious and unconscious expectations placed upon them, boys are usually brought up to express themselves, girls in a submissive role to please.

[00;10;26;27 – 00;10;53;23] Matthew Bunch: But as the Tiger Bay Club was a center for ideas, she was not the only speaker on the evening about the topic and the other thoughts shared illustrate the uphill climb that Roxcy faced when attempting to convince a significant portion of the population to join her side on the women’s rights movement. First, from that same event, here’s Pat Murphy, a member of the Greater Miami Chamber of. Commerce.

[00;10;53;26 – 00;11;11;00] Pat Murphy: That the women in their desire to be competitive or equal with men, which is their right to be, are ignoring the nobility of womanhood, the nobility of pleasing a man. I frankly can’t think of any higher goal in life than to provide pleasure.

[00;11;11;02 – 00;11;16;08] Matthew Bunch: And last but not least, Hal Bergida, the executive secretary of the Tiger Bay Club.

[00;11;16;12 – 00;11;35;09] Hal Bergida: I have no objection if a woman who is a miss and wants to remain a miss and she becomes a doctor or professor or whatever continues to do so that’s great. But I don’t want the revolution to convince every attractive young girl that she ought to have a career.

[00;11;35;12 – 00;12;00;03] Matthew Bunch: When dealing with government. Roxcy’s pugnaciousness was not limited to the feminist movement. She was a resident of 1302 Alhambra Circle in Coral Gables and two fights in particular show how much Roxcy was willing to dig in her heels and fight. The first involving a topic that anyone that knows anything about Coral Gables knows set off a firestorm.

[00;12;00;05 – 00;12;06;14] Matthew Bunch: And that is the topic of pickup trucks parked in front facing driveways.

[00;12;06;16 – 00;12;24;20] Ana Azcuy, WTVJ-TV: The 1973 Dodge pickup truck that Roxcy Bolton brought back to Coral Gables from her family farm in Vermont is causing quite a stir. That’s because the Coral Gables zoning code prohibits pick ups, closed vans and commercial trucks in the city unless they are kept out of sight in garages.

[00;12;24;23 – 00;12;40;19] Roxcy O’Neal Bolton: They arbitrarily put this tow truck on our property that we’ve worked very hard for and bought and paid for. He had his chain, his thing here and was bending over, excuse me here. And I said, don’t touch anything. Don’t move this truck.

[00;12;40;21 – 00;12;46;01] Ana Azcuy, WTVJ-TV: She says that nice people with pickup trucks can live in the City Beautiful.

[00;12;46;04 – 00;13;07;20] Matthew Bunch: Nice people with pickup trucks weren’t allowed to park them in their driveway until a November 2012 referendum item passed with 56.8 percent of the vote and changed city ordinance. The second fight with local government that Roxcy got involved in is even more outlandish. This time, it involved a goat.

[00;13;07;22 – 00;13;19;15] Roxcy O’Neal Bolton: You know, one person from Greenway that’s been there for many, many years came and said what a lovely goat we had. And it was the first time I’d ever heard from her. So I said, “Well, you know, I’m delighted to hear from you. At least now I have goat status.”

[00;13;19;17 – 00;13;22;01] Unnamed WTVJ-TV Reporter: What are your immediate plans now? Do you plan to hold on to the goat?

[00;13;22;01 – 00;13;23;29] Roxcy O’Neal Bolton: Of course! Yes, of course.

[00;13;24;01 – 00;13;30;20] Matthew Bunch: The city did not find the goat as charming as her neighbor on Greenway and fined her for possessing the animal.

[00;13;30;23 – 00;13;48;22] Matthew Bunch: Those are a bit of lighter fare, but the impact that Roxcy Bolton had on South Florida as it relates to women’s rights and fair treatment for women is really immeasurable. There are two initiatives in particular that bear Roxcy’s fingerprints that are incredibly important to mention.

[00;13;48;25 – 00;14;16;25] Matthew Bunch: In 1972, Roxcy founded Women in Distress, which was the first Women’s Rescue center in all of Florida. It came upon some early trouble with funding and financing, but eventually it would be taken over by the Salvation Army, moved to Broward, and it still continues to this day to help women find stable footing after leaving abusive relationships or encountering other difficult physical situations.

[00;14;16;27 – 00;14;45;19] Matthew Bunch: The other really remarkable achievement that needs to be singled out is her proposal in the Dade County Commission’s confirmation to create the Rape Treatment Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital. It opened its doors officially on January 10th, 1974, and it became the first facility in the nation to serve as a rape treatment center located in a hospital staffed completely with professional medical personnel.

[00;14;45;21 – 00;15;15;18] Matthew Bunch: Her contributions towards the creation of that center are acknowledged today, as it is known as the Roxcy O’Neal Bolton Rape Treatment Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital. Her efforts to get sexual assault and rape treated as a serious crime worthy of serious response began in 1971 with her proposed March against Rapes in Miami, which took place on October 4th, 1971.

[00;15;15;21 – 00;15;30;19] Matthew Bunch: As part of the organization of that march, she got a permit and spoke to local media, attempting to get the biggest crowd possible she could out in front of the county courthouse steps to attempt to get local government to act.

[00;15;30;21 – 00;15;50;03] Roxcy O’Neal Bolton: Mayor’s been out of town for the past week when in fact, crimes of rape against women in the city have been increasing. He said before leaving that a woman was safer on the streets of Miami now and this is not true. It is not true at all. He is not dealing with the problem of rape seriously.

[00;15;50;06 – 00;16;10;09] Matthew Bunch: In that same interview, the interviewer spoke to David Bolton, Roxcy’s husband, and he really provides an interesting look into what it’s like to be a husband of an activist wife in the 1970s and offers a really unqualified amount of support for his wife and the work that she’s taking on.

[00;16;10;11 – 00;16;37;01] David Bolton: Well, I think my wife’s leadership generally in the women’s movement is a very constructive force. I think she’s very well qualified. I think she was forceful and I think she is highlighting some of the very critical needs that women do have in terms of their role in society being recognized and being, I think, put in proper perspective. I think her function is a very important one, and that’s why I am fully behind everything she is doing in this and in other activities.

[00;16;37;03 – 00;16;56;12] Matthew Bunch: Unfortunately, the Boltons’ confidence in that event did not necessarily match the actual results. The low turnout and the slings from local law enforcement in 1971 didn’t deter Roxcy, but she recalled them in a later interview with WPLG’s Molly Turner.

[00;16;56;15 – 00;17;21;27] Roxcy O’Neal Bolton: When we marched down Flagler Street, I went to get the permit at the Miami police station. And my, did they laugh? And there were 100 brave souls that marched down Flagler Street that night. And I recall a motorcycle policeman saying, “Are these the only women that are opposed to rape in Dade County?” But not too many policemen would say that today because they, too, have come a long way.

[00;17;21;29 – 00;17;50;03] Matthew Bunch: Bolton’s attempted crown jewel in her role as a vice president of the National Organization for Women in her role as a local leader in the feminist movement, ultimately was the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. This proposed amendment to the United States Constitution would contain a Section 1 that reads “equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”

[00;17;50;05 – 00;18;03;00] Matthew Bunch: Roxcy believed that the four-day National Women’s Conference in Houston, Texas, in November of 1977 would be essential for pushing the Equal Rights Amendment over the line once and for all.

[00;18;03;02 – 00;18;34;27] Roxcy O’Neal Bolton: The Houston Convention will be the single most important thing that’s happened to our women in America. It will determine where we are going and how fast we will get there. Depending on how united we are in Houston will determine a great deal about what would happen to our women in all walks of life for the next decade, the next perhaps 15, 25 years from now. It will be remembered, reflected upon for many years to come throughout the world.

[00;18;34;29 – 00;19;11;28] Matthew Bunch: The conference produced a National Plan of Action, a platform which included 26 different planks. The Plan of Action could have provided a whole new push of momentum for the women’s rights movement. Instead, the meeting represented a crest of its power as second-wave feminism began to fade prior to the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. Roxcy Bolton mentioned the idea of unity at this conference in 1977, and disunity within the movement was evident even before the meeting in Houston took place.

[00;19;12;00 – 00;19;41;19] Matthew Bunch: Roxcy had resigned her position at the National Organization for Women the previous year in 1976, due to the creation of a lesbian caucus. She didn’t personally oppose lesbianism, but she opposed the idea of gender identity and sexuality being at the forefront of discussions related to women’s rights. She didn’t think there was a place for it. Remember, of course, this was a woman born in the South in the 1920s, still a card-carrying member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

[00;19;41;21 – 00;20;13;23] Matthew Bunch: Just because she was a progressive on particular women’s rights issues didn’t make her progressive across the board. She would later defend subsequent National Organization for Women President and fellow South Floridian Patricia Ireland, who was attacked early in her N.O.W. presidency when she shared in an interview with The Advocate that while married to James S. Humble, she also maintained a relationship with a woman in Washington, D.C., saying that her personal preferences didn’t affect her ability to lead in the 1990s.

[00;20;14;00 – 00;20;45;08] Matthew Bunch: But this schism within the National Organization for Women made it more difficult for the group to push in one clear direction for one clear goal. Eventually, the Equal Rights Amendment failed. By 1982, the extended deadline that the amendment received, only 35 state legislatures had passed the amendment. The required number, three fourths of the states, would be 38. One of the states that voted on and rejected the Equal Rights Amendment: Florida.

[00;20;45;11 – 00;21;09;05] Roxcy O’Neal Bolton: I think that we have not seen enough women. Enough women. We have women who have struggled and fought and worked tirelessly. We have women [in] Tallahassee now working hard, but in numbers. No, we have not had. Have you seen 250,000, a quarter of a million women gathered at any one capital anywhere in the United States? You know, women should take over the White House.

[00;21;09;06 – 00;21;21;26] Roxcy O’Neal Bolton: I mean, we should not let a president sit that says he is not in favor of us being a part of the Constitution. It’s unthinkable. But where are the women?

[00;21;21;29 – 00;21;48;26] Matthew Bunch: The failure to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment would change the feminist movement in the 1980s. A new wave of feminism really wouldn’t emerge until the 1990s. And by that point, Roxcy Bolton was now a community elder. Her last major signature achievement came in 1992, when Miami-Dade County created the Women’s Park that I mentioned at the beginning of this episode.

[00;21;48;29 – 00;22;22;16] Matthew Bunch: She was always hanging around local government, particularly in Coral Gables, as long as she could. Speaking to members of local elected governments, even up to months before her death in 2017. But even now that she’s gone, her legacy remains. And that park on Flagler Street and 107th is a constant reminder, as its plaque says, when you walk in, “about the past, present and future of all women with a commitment to their betterment of quality of life.”

[00;22;22;19 – 00;22;52;10] Matthew Bunch: First off of this episode, I want to give us a very specific shout out to Vivian Greer-Digon, who is the park manager for the Women’s Park. I had a chance to speak to her on March 19th, the day before this episode drops, when I went to visit the park. And she was incredibly helpful. As I mentioned, please take time to go to the Women’s Park and budget out more than a few minutes to walk through the Roxcy O’Neill Bolton Women’s History Gallery, which is the main building there at the park.

[00;22;52;12 – 00;23;19;13] Matthew Bunch: As always, a shout out is due to the Wolfson Archives there at Miami-Dade College, as well as In particular, one writer, Howard Cohen, who has previously shared some stuff from This Day in Miami History on his Twitter account and some of his stories. He is a writer at the Miami Herald, an obituary writer in particular, and wrote the obituary for Roxcy Bolton, which was incredibly helpful in the preparation of this episode.

[00;23;19;15 – 00;23;44;23] Matthew Bunch: Lastly, the State Library and Archives of Florida. Their Florida Memory website has a great write up about Roxcy Bolton entitled “A Force for Equality” that really goes into her life, has a couple of nice photos of Roxcy at different points in her life and is really helpful. You can actually get that link from the Women’s Park website. I’ll also include it in the description of the show as well as on our website.

[00;23;44;24 – 00;24;09;13] Matthew Bunch: Speaking of, I’m going through adding transcripts there, improving the user experience, do go check it out. @ThisDayMiamiPod on your preferred social media platform and just search for This Day Miami Pod on your preferred podcast provider and subscribe or follow if you haven’t already done so. And if you have already done so, one thank you, two, please leave a five-star review.

[00;24;09;16 – 00;24;13;13] Matthew Bunch: So that’ll do it for this month. And until next time, I’ve been Matthew Bunch,

[00;24;13;13 – 00;24;29;09] King Elizabeth: ♪ “Miami Sunrise” by King Elizabeth ♪

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