Apalachicola women hold reins of power

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It’s not a first for our country or our state, but it is for Franklin County, and an uncommon picture for the state of Florida.

Apalachicola now has an all-female city commission, with the swearing in Oct. 5 of Mayor Brenda Ash to complete the last two years of the four-year term of the late Kevin Begos, and with that taking of oaths for full four-year terms for commissioners Anita Grove and Donna Duncan.

The three join incumbents Despina George and Adriane Elliott on the commission.

Ash, the first female mayor of Apalachicola, said she is looking forward to the future. “I think it’s going to be good,” she said.

“As with any board, each of us brings a different perspective to the role, which is good,” she said. “We all have different points of view, different backgrounds.

“Women see things differently; we have a tendency to look at things from all perspectives,” Ash said. “We’re more apt to look at unintended consequences of a decision."

One of the trailblazers for females on the commission, Rose McCoy, who was first sworn in as an appointment in March 1987 and then re-elected in her own right to two more terms, said it will take knowledge and dedication when it comes to the board’s success.

“A person’s ability to perform in the commissioner seat is not based on race, religion, sex or national origin,” she said. “A city commissioner is elected by voters within the city of Apalachicola, and as long as they can perform the duties, and if they represent the city of Apalachicola voters who elected them, and if they have the knowledge and all the information, it wouldn’t matter if it’s all-male or all-female."

A complete list of all the female city commissioners who have served is not available, but folks remember Valentina Webb and further back Edith Page.

If you go all the way back, an entire century, you can find the history in Apalachicola of one of the state’s earliest pioneers for women in elected office.

Eleanor Gertrude Hickey Floyd, grandmother of former City Attorney J. Patrick Floyd, was one of the first females ever elected to public office in Florida.

A native of Quebec, Canada, she had grown up nearly her entire life in Apalachicola. She served for 20 years as tax assessor for Franklin County, from 1919 to 1939. Technicalities had prevented Floyd from appearing on the 1920 ballot as the Democratic nominee, so she ran as an independent candidate.

By the time the 19th Amendment was ratified in Aug. 2020, women had already begun serving in public office, with several Florida communities having already granted women the right to vote in municipal elections.

Fellsmere, which was in St. Lucie County, was the first to do so, having put the necessary language in an amendment to its town charter, which was approved by the Legislature and signed by the governor in June 1915.

Activists for women’s suffrage vowed to build on this victory, and soon other Florida towns adopted similar changes to their charters. By November 1919, 16 towns in 10 counties allowed women to vote in municipal elections, including Fellsmere in what is now Indian River County; Tarpon Springs, Clearwater, Dunedin and St. Petersburg in Pinellas County; Aurantia and Cocoa in Brevard County; Orange City and DeLand in Volusia County; West Palm Beach and Delray in Palm Beach County; Florence Villa in Polk County; Miami in Dade County; Fort Lauderdale in Broward County; Moore Haven in DeSoto County; and Orlando in Orange County.

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