|Subject: Activist and feminist Roxcy Bolton
Dies at 90
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Date Posted: Wednesday, May 17, 08:21:57am
Civic activist, feminist, trailblazer Roxcy Bolton dies at 90
May 17, 2017
Roxcy O’Neal Bolton, the founding mother of Florida’s modern feminist movement and a rambunctious, feather-ruffling presence on its civic and political landscape, died early Wednesday morning in the city she championed and challenged for almost five decades. She was 90.
Bolton will be buried in the old City of Miami Cemetery near the grave of Miami’s founding mother, Julia Tuttle. Her epitaph will be simple: Her name, the dates of her birth and death, and one other word: Woman.
It is not enough.
Bolton was intensely proud of her cotton-and corn-belt Southern roots and liked to describe herself as “an old-fashioned country woman.” She didn’t use a computer and never waded into the social media ocean.
But she also was a highly sophisticated, media-savvy player and manipulator, a combination that made her unusually effective in championing the issues that clawed at her heart: children, equal rights, rape prevention and treatment, the poor, the abused, the elderly, the homeless.
More often than not, she proved her assertion that “No matter what anyone tells you, one person can make a difference.”
No cause was too large — or small — to merit the high beam of her attention. And neither ridicule nor threats deterred her.
“She was a pioneer at a time when there was segregation here. She was one of the pioneers of human rights for African-Americans, for gays, for women’s rights, for the dispossessed,” said Coral Gables Mayor Jim Cason. “When it wasn’t fashionable to take on those causes she was never a person to shy away from controversy — she got results. She was like a pitbull. Once she sank her teeth into a cause she never let it go until she got it.”
For instance, in November 1971, the Playboy Plaza Hotel in Miami Beach bungled when it placed Bolton on its mailing list and offered its facilities, should she desire, for National Organization for Women (NOW) meetings. Bolton was not about to dine in Hefner's hutch and, from an antique desk in her Coral Gables home, she fired off a missive.
“Your colossal gall is exceeded only by my tolerance, despite the stress on my good nature,” she opened her letter to the club's assistant director for sales. For Bolton, Playboy clubs represented the exploitation of women. “How would you like to walk around with a wad of cotton on your rear end?” she wrote.
Bolton’sname was removed from the Playboy Club's mailing list.
From Playboy to politics, as an early local leader of NOW, Bolton was instrumental in recruiting then-Sen. Birch Bayh of Indiana to introduce in Congress the ultimately doomed Equal Rights Amendment.
She also initiated the push to have Aug. 26 designated National Women’s Equality Day, and helped National Airlines flight attendants fight for a contract to create maternity leave instead of firing its pregnant flight attendants, which had been the airline's policy.
“She's probably the best known feminist women's activist here in Miami,” Joanne Hyppolite, chief curator at HistoryMiami, said in a 2012 Miami Herald profile. “There were one or two people you would call and she was ours from the '60s onward. She's been the one really strong voice in our community.”
Bolton also helped established Miami-Dade’s Commission on the Status of Women, Crime Watch, and the Women’s Park Women in Distress — the first rescue shelter of its kind in Florida. In 1974, she opened the Jackson Memorial Hospital rape treatment center that bears her name.
A regular at Coral Gables City Hall until months before her death, Bolton held forth on local issues ranging from the relocation of sidewalk trees to the controversial placement of a Gables trolley station in a black neighborhood in Coconut Grove.
Mayors, commissioners, police chiefs and city managers sometimes welcomed — often suffered — her presence.
“They yell at me, ‘Sit down Ms. Bolton!’” she told The Miami Herald for a 2010 story about gadflies in the community. “I’m not a wimp.”
Of course not. Two strokes and two heart attacks robbed her speech of clarity so she powered through by writing out her thoughts in clear black ink on yellow legal pads. When moved to action, she would find her way to a lectern before a city commission, often unaided, catapulted by her determination.
And she’d earn admiration from the toughest of the bunch, such as former Coral Gables City Manager Pat Salerno who said of Bolton before her death: “She’s a very special person. She’s feisty. She is a fighter on many fronts, including hanging in there.”
Bolton was born in Duck Hill, Miss. on June 3, 1926, the daughter of a farmer and his schoolteacher wife who saw only three of their 10 children live past infancy.
Scrappy and unconventional even as a child, she decided at 8 that she wanted to be in Congress: “Sometimes on the way to school the bridges would be washed out,” she said. “I wanted to be a congressman so I could build bridges.”
She settled in Miami after high school, did office work, joined the Young Democrats, married, had a son, and divorced her first husband after five years.
A card-carrying Daughter of the Confederacy, she always kept roots in the soil.
In 1974, Bolton and her late second husband, lawyer David Bolton, bought Rockledge, an 18th Century, 100-acre farm outside St. Albans, Vt., where Roxcy dressed in denim, tilled a vegetable garden, and cooked on a cast-iron stove.
Although Bolton always claimed that dialogue was her preferred tool for change, she sometimes interpreted the term loosely, employing heated confrontation if more mannerly conversation failed. In 1971, she led 100 businesswomen, political leaders, activists, housewives and a few men through the streets of downtown Miami to the courthouse in what was probably the country’s first “march against rape.”
Ridiculing Bolton for the effort, former Herald columnist Jack Kofoed wrote: “If the dolls would face facts, and not live on a diet of silly ideas, including burning bras and drinking in men’s bars, they’d get a lot further.”
The next year, she packed a picnic hamper, shouldered a bed roll and with six other women took over the office of Henry King Stanford, then president of the University of Miami, to present a long list of demands, including that the school promote more women to department-head positions and pay equal salaries to men and women doing the same jobs.
“She banged down the doors and lots of people like me walked in,” said historian Arva Moore Parks, who credited Bolton with making it possible for her to become a UMiami trustee and Orange Bowl Committee member. “Her activism was what was necessary…even though some people didn’t appreciate it.”
With one ear glued to the telephone (“Tell him Roxcy Bolton’s calling; it’s an emergency!”) in her kitchen “command post,” she summoned a parade of weary, wary public officials and corporate bigwigs from conferences, meetings and, in at least one case, the shower, to plead for everything from better treatment for Haitian detainees and their children at the Krome Service Processing Center and women’s admission to the country’s military academies to legal backing for Miami mothers who wished to nurse their babies in public.
“You have to dare to be bold,” Bolton often said. “Women sometimes will talk about a problem, agonize about it too much. You’ve got to go out and, like the Marines, hit the beaches. You can’t just hang around. You’ve got to move.”
When the executives of downtown Miami’s two leading department stores, the former Burdines and Jordan Marsh, initially resisted her plan to open their men-only luncheon grilles to women, Bolton argued with laser intensity logic: “But men and women sleep together. Why can’t they eat together?”
When the male meteorologists running the National Hurricane Center balked at her plea to stop naming tropical storms after women, she suggested honoring U.S. senators (Goldwater Annihilates Florida)and the point was finally made.
Women “deeply resent being arbitrarily associated with disaster,” she said.
But not everything went her way.
Bolton split with NOW in 1976 over the creation of a lesbian caucus and what she saw as a rejection of motherhood. “Some of the liberated women are all balled up. They forget their responsibilities to family and children,” she said in a May 1977 cover story in Tropic, the Miami Herald’s former Sunday magazine. “I believe you accept new roles, but you don’t abandon the old ones. Our children are tomorrow’s world.”
On tradition: “When we took our marriage vows, I promised to love and honor, but I had ‘obey’ stricken,” she said in a May 1977 Miami Herald Tropic magazine feature about her marriage to Bolton in 1960. “I’ve been a loving, loyal, faithful wife. I have not been obedient.”
As time passed, and philosophies and tempers mellowed, Bolton came to be regarded in the public arena with a deference that often had eluded her early on.
“It’s a different ball game,” she once reminisced. “Most people at least realize women have a right to be in the parlor and not always in the kitchen and the bedroom.”
In 1984 she was inducted into the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame. In 1988 she won The Herald’s Spirit of Excellence Award. More recently, in 2014 the National Women’s History Project celebrated Bolton in Washington, D.C. as one of the 2014 National Women’s History Month Honorees. Later that year, she was honored by the Miami Woman's Club for being a “Leading Force of the Women's Rights Movement in Miami.”
And, in March 2015, Miami-Dade Parks and Recreation honored Bolton as a trailblazer during its 27th annual In the Company of Women Awards Ceremony.
After a stroke in 1998, Bolton announced that her “work for womankind is over...I don’t plan to climb any more mountains.” Of course, she did anyway. “If it were a dire circumstance, maybe I could rise to the occasion. Maybe. But for sure, I did it my way.”
Bolton is survived by daughter Bonnie Dee Bolton, sons David Bolton Jr., Baron “Buddy” Bolton and Randall Hart.
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