Although all of the women in Sarasota history that we are profiling in this year of celebrating Amendment 19 and women’s right to vote were remarkable, not all of them were necessarily suffragists working toward that right. But for Rose Wilson, one of our area’s earliest newspaper editors and publishers, voting was indeed a priority—in fact, she was one of the first two women in Sarasota to register to vote in 1920.
Born Rose Phillips, she moved to Sarasota with her husband, commonly known as C.V.S. (that’s for Cornelius Van Santvoord), who had entered the newspaper business in the Orlando area in the 1880s. Here, they founded the small town’s first newspaper, The Sarasota Times, first publishing in 1899. For a number of years, they operated out of a two-story frame building on Main Street, halfway between Palm and Pineapple avenues. (The building known as the Sarasota Times building, on First Street, was constructed in the mid-1920s, after Rose had already sold the newspaper.)
Both Wilsons were members of the Presbyterian Church and taught Sunday School. Rose was also a founding member of the Town Improvement Society and an active member of the Sarasota Woman’s Club, and she considered herself a progressive. After C.V.S. died in 1910, Rose continued the Times tradition, and her newspaper editorials proved her credentials as a progressive indeed.
She fought for compulsory school attendance in 1919, for example, arguing that, “Every child has the right to an education” and a law for compulsory attendance was a “vital necessity.” When low voter turnout for that election year outraged her, she wrote, “Is it any wonder women want to exercise the right of citizenship [to vote] when men are so indifferent?”
Once women finally did achieve the right to vote, Rose encouraged her women readers to fully inform themselves on how to register and the backgrounds and platforms of the political parties and candidates. But that wasn’t her only civic battle.
Prior to 1921, Sarasota was still a part of the larger Manatee County, and there were issues of inequality when it came to roads and schools in the southern portion of the county. Rose advocated for separation from Manatee County; and after the state legislature passed the bill creating Sarasota County, it was she who received the telegram from Tallahassee announcing it. She promptly changed the name of her newspaper to the Sarasota County Times. (You will hear much more about this event in our history as we move toward marking Sarasota County’s centennial year in 2021.)
After 13 years of running the newspaper on her own, Rose sold the Times in 1923. But she continued to be active in her church, in the Woman’s Club, and on issues affecting women and children especially. She died in 1964, at the age of 88.