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Women's Herstory Month

Posted on March 27, 2023

Dear friends,
In 1980, celebrating women’s history didn’t seem like a very serious idea. Sure, there had always been women as part of history. But few knew who they were or what specifically they had done to forward the progress of the nation and the world. President Jimmy Carter took a bold step in declaring a week in March 1980 as Women’s History Week. By 1987, Congress had stretched the week to the entire month!
As we near the end of Women’s History Month, it’s worth noting the crucial role women have played in shaping the world we live in today. They’ve been at the forefront of social, political, and economic change throughout history. Women have made significant contributions to the fields of science and medicine, literature, and the arts. They have led movements for justice, human rights, and environmental protection.
Some of those names are familiar. Maya Angelou, Jane Austin, Marie Curie, Amelia Earhart, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Katherine Graham, Frida Kahlo, Florence Nightingale, Georgia O’Keefe, Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt, Gloria Steinem … and so many more.

In Martin County, women have made their mark as well, sparking the establishment of our local library system and preserving the history of our community - from saving Gilbert’s Bar Refuge to fostering the Historical Society of Martin County. They helped enhance health care in our community and founded organizations like Hibiscus Children’s Center.
For generations, local women have been instrumental in promoting education and literacy, advancing the arts, preserving the environment, caring for the sick, feeding the hungry, and revitalizing our community. So much of the good that happens in our community is a credit to the boundless determination of women.
As the chief illuminator of a public relations and marketing firm, I found this year’s theme to be especially fitting: Celebrating Women Who Tell our Stories. As storytellers ourselves, it gives me great pleasure to recognize some of the women who have done so much to preserve the history and tell the story of Martin County. They deserve recognition all year long!
With gratitude,
Stacy Weller Ranieri
Founder, President, and Chief Illuminator

Women's History Month

During Women’s History Month, Firefly is delighted to honor some of the Martin County women who have preserved and shared the history of our community.


Sandra Thurlow has tracked down countless photos, articles, and stories about Martin County since she and her family settled here more than sixty years ago. Her welcoming presence has made people want to share their stories with Sandy, and her attention to detail has resulted in an amazing archive of material that would otherwise have been lost to the ages. Treat yourself to Sandy’s books: Stuart on the St. Lucie: A Pictorial History, Historic Jensen and Eden on Florida’s Indian River, Gilbert’s Bar House of Refuge: Home of History, and Sewall’s Point: The History of a Peninsular Community on Florida’s Treasure Coast. Her words and photos will endear you to our history and to one of our pre-eminent historians.


Janet Hutchinson was small in stature but a giant in preserving the cultural and historical legacy of Martin County. She became the Director of the Martin County Historical Society in 1965 and could be found on any day either scrubbing a new addition to the Elliott’s collection, giving a tour of the House of Refuge, hosting her radio show Museums on the Air, or pounding on the doors of legislators to ensure that the Elliott and the House of Refuge would be named Historical Memorials of Florida. Her 1997 History of Martin County captures details that only Janet could have preserved. 



Iris Wall describes herself as a Florida Cracker “with a little extra salt.” As a fifth-generation Floridian, Iris has lived a lot of the history she is preserving through her talks throughout the state about life in Indiantown when it was the untamed frontier. She’s rounded up wild horses, hunted alligators, and herded cracker cattle. She’s also seen how easily the past can be lost to future generations and so, in her 90s, she’s still as busy as ever, sharing with groups eager to learn about the history of Old Florida. At the Seminole Inn, in the heart of Florida’s cattle and citrus county, Iris still can mesmerize guests with her knowledge of the land and its people in a place where “history comes alive.” 



Alice Luckhardt was a walking encyclopedia of historical information about Martin County, and she was selfless in her desire to share what she had learned. In hundreds of Historical Vignettes, she documented details about the community that was close to being lost to future generations. She authored four books on Stuart and could always be counted on by other historians as a generous resource about historical monuments, buildings, and the people who created them. The Stuart Heritage Museum, once the Stuart Feed Store, was dear to her heart. Its preservation and its growth as a treasure trove of historical artifacts are a tribute to Alice and her fertile historical searches. Stop by to get copies of Alice’s works and marvel at the history she and others have preserved for us.



Mary Dawson as an author has preserved stories from the early 1900s in her historical fiction The River Way Home: The Adventures of the Cowboy, the Indian, & the Amazon Queen. It captures the adventures of a Florida cow hunter, A Seminole, and an African-American girl stranded in what was then the Florida jungle. But Mary is also preserving living history with her passionate work to save the Martin Grade, the exquisite and endangered canopy of trees between Palm City and Okeechobee. As a County Commissioner in the 80s and 90s, Mary learned firsthand the need to protect and preserve the land as well as the history before it’s forever changed or lost. Take a drive along the Martin Grade and you’ll understand Mary’s passion for speaking for the trees and saving our heritage. 



Notable Organizations

Here are a few examples of organizations that are making an impact through the collective commitment of women.



The Soroptimists of Stuart, a vibrant group of executive business and professional women, have a rich history and legacy in Martin County. They helped to create the Martin County Historical Society in 1955 and, as their first major project, saved the House of Refuge. This structure, the oldest in Martin County, was once the Gilbert’s Bar station, constructed in 1876 by the U.S. Lifesaving Service and in service until 1945 as a shelter for shipwreck victims. They also gave their energies to establishing the Elliott Museum and finding a home for Tri-County TEC (now Helping People Succeed), among other civic projects. They continue to make an impact by funding scholarships, honoring Women of Distinction, and educating women and girls for the betterment of women and families.



The Women’s Club of Stuart dates all the way back to 1914 and has never lost any of its energy and enthusiasm for Martin County causes. For 40 years, the Women’s Club operated the county’s library. They donated the Lady Abundance statue that now graces Haney Circle in downtown Stuart, helped start the Parks & Recreation Department, and led the efforts to establish a state historical monument at the Seminole Inn in Indiantown to honor Betty Mae Tiger Jumper, the first chief of the Florida Seminole tribe. They continue to sponsor events to enrich the cultural and artistic life of the community and fund projects in support of the women and girls of Martin County.



Martin County Black Heritage Initiatives is fortunate to have a dedicated, energetic group of women helping to collect and preserve the history of the Black community in Martin County. Some of that history is in written documents and photographs, but much of it is in the stories of community members who were witnesses to history or who remember the stories told to them by their ancestors. Curious and engaging women are now gathering this oral history so we can all understand how the lives of Black residents helped to shape the community we live in. One of the signature projects of the Initiatives is the preservation of a schoolhouse in Port Salerno, known as the One Room Colored Schoolhouse, recently saved from demolition.



Each year, World Doula Week begins with World Doula Day on March 22 and goes through March 28. What is a doula you might ask? The word "doula" comes from ancient Greek, meaning "a woman who serves." Today, "doula" refers to a professional who is trained to provide emotional, physical and informational support to women throughout their pregnancy, birth and the early postpartum period.
World Doula Week brings greater awareness to the important role they serve, and we honor them not just for this week but all year long. Happy Doula Week from The Firefly Group! #WorldDoulaWeek




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