Meet the Women Who Have Helped Shape Sarasota Over the Past Century

Our city wouldn't be the same without these ten powerful females.

By Kay Kipling June 28, 2019 Published in the July 2019 issue of Sarasota Magazine

Emma E. Booker, left, and Eugenie Mitchell.

Emma E. Booker

This leader in education for the African-American community was tireless in trying to ensure access to learning for black children during the long years of segregation. In the 1920s, she established Sarasota Grammar School and served as principal for many years; Booker Elementary, Booker Middle and Booker High are named in her honor.

Eugenie Clark

The “Shark Lady” was a pioneer in marine biology and scuba diving for research purposes; she was an author and the leader of the Cape Haze Marine Laboratory, the forerunner of today’s Mote Marine, where Clark also worked for years.

Katherine and Daisy McClellan

These sisters were early developers in Sarasota, designing the McClellan Park subdivision in 1915-1916 with paved sidewalks, shade trees and flowering shrubs framing the residential areas. (Telephones and electricity were standard, too.) The neighborhood’s clubhouse eventually became McClellan Park School.

Bertha Honore Palmer

Already a wealthy widow at the time of her first visit to Sarasota in 1910 (she was married to Chicago merchant Potter Palmer), Bertha's Palmer eye for business led her to purchase thousands of acres of land here—eventually amounting to at least one-fourth of present-day Sarasota County. She got involved in ranching and farming, too.

Mable Ringling

Mable Ringling

The wife of circus king John, Mable played her own role here, supervising the design of the couple’s mansion, Ca’d’Zan, collaborating on acquisitions for their museum, and setting the tone for social life as a hostess of lavish parties in the Roaring ’20s. She was also active in the early years of the Garden Club and the Woman’s Club.

Marie Selby 

An outdoorswoman who lived modestly with her husband, oil and gas millionaire Bill, Marie had enough of an adventurous spirit to become the first woman to cross the country by car. Thanks to her will creating a botanical gardens on their bayfront property, we have today’s Selby Gardens.

Eliza Webb

With her husband John, Eliza built a family homestead at Osprey’s Spanish Point in the 19th century, along the way developing a sugar mill, a packing house shipping vegetables and citrus up North, and the first real winter resort for tourists.

Mary Jane Wyatt Whitaker

Of hardy pioneer stock, Mary Jane, born in 1831, could ride horseback, herd cattle, paddle a dugout canoe and shoot a wild turkey at a hundred yards—all skills that came in handy as she and husband William built their home and family along Yellow Bluffs (near today’s Whitaker Park) despite Indian raids and the Civil War.

Rose Wilson

As the publisher (at first with husband C.V.S. and, from 1910 to 1923, on her own) of the area’s first newspaper, the Sarasota Times, Rose holds a special place in the hearts of us media types. An advocate for children and founding member of the Town Improvement Society, she was also one of the first two women in Sarasota to register to vote in 1920.

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