Flashback Friday: Florida’s first female member of Congress

Ruth_Bryan_Owen_(D–FL)Many political nuts do not know that William Jennings Bryan, one of the most significant politicians of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s relocated to the Miami area in the later part of his life. The three-time Democratic nominee moved the party towards economic populism and social conservatism. Bryan was the most feared man in America on Wall Street and among corporate trusts but also was a prohibitionist and ended his life defending creationism in the Scopes Monkey Trial.

A gifted orator, Bryan passed many of his political gifts and issue positions on to his daughter Ruth Bryan Owen. More worldly and better traveled than her famous father, she ran for Congress in 1926. In those days, Democratic Primaries in Florida were tantamount to election. Owen lost the primary but two years later ran again and defeated William Sears in Florida’s First Congressional District which in those days ran from Jacksonville to Miami.

As Florida and Southeast’s first female member of Congress, and the daughter of one of the most famous Americans, Owen was constantly under the microscope. She was reelected in 1930 but lost renomination in 1932 to Mark Wilcox who sought the repeal of prohibition. Owen then went on to become the first female US Ambassador serving as the American envoy to Denmark in Franklin Roosevelt’s first term.

Owen continued to be in demand and was sent on various Presidential missions by Roosevelt and Harry Truman. She passed away in 1954.

One comment

  1. A fine article. While many Miamians are familiar with Bryan’s mansion, “Villa Serena,” few know that one of the reasons why he came to Miami was because George Merrick, the developer of Coral Gables, paid the Great Commoner the staggering sum of $100,000 (in 1925 dollars!) to be his pitchman for what Merrick called “the city beautiful.” Bryan would often speak from a raft in the middle of the Venetian Pool, mesmerizing audiences with his accounts of the wonders of Coral Gables, of Miami’s weather and the glorious opportunities that real estate could bring. Unfortunately, when the great hurricane of 1925 essentially wiped out everyone’s investments, Bryan came in for a lot of the blame — “Why didn’t he tell us that Miami was in a hurricane belt?”
    It’s a long forgotten chapter of Miami history . . .


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