An observant writer once said of Roxcy O’Neal Bolton, “I have heard Roxcy Bolton laugh, as elusive an event as seeing the great Greta Garbot smile.”
The Roxcy Bolton who opens the door to her Coral Gables home to welcome visitors on a recent afternoon laughs easily and often on this day.
Though two strokes and two heart attacks conspired to steal some of Bolton’s verbal abilities, good cheer and a fierce determination to champion equal rights, along with a desire to document her history as a trailblazer, keeps Bolton energized.
And now she’s sharing her life story with others through donations of her memorabilia to state and local museums. For nearly 20 years Bolton has been collecting memorabilia — letters and correspondence, documents, photographs — and has submitted them to the State Archives in Tallahassee and, locally, HistoryMiami.
“She has so many objects she can’t give all of them just to her family and she has such a spirit of community that she wants to make sure the community benefits from having them,” said Bolton’s daughter, Bonnie, her caretaker.
Earlier this year, Bolton, 86, added the city of Coral Gables, her family’s home since 1964, to the beneficiaries of her photographs and memories. Among the items: she donated a plat book from 1947 that lists property boundaries for Coral Gables at the time and an original building code document from the city’s founding in 1925.
“For a community such as Coral Gables that takes such pride in its history, these documents help explain where the city has come from,” said City Manager Pat Salerno. “Not only has she been a pioneer for women’s rights but she’s left her mark on the city in so many ways.”
Bolton, born to a Mississippi pioneer family, was one of the first Florida women to join the National Organization for Women after its founding in 1966. She founded and presided over the Miami-Dade Chapter of NOW in 1968 and fought for the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s.
At the same time, as pop singer Helen Reddy’s I Am Woman and television’s groundbreaking All in the Family and Maude tackled the subject of the ERA nationally, Bolton had already successfully thrown open the doors locally at the all-male lunchrooms at the former Burdines and Jordan Marsh department stores to women patrons. A decade later, she lobbied the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to end its practice of naming hurricanes solely for women.
In Nov. 1971, the Playboy Plaza Hotel in Miami Beach made the mistake of placing Bolton on its mailing list and offering its facilities, should she desire, for NOW meetings
Bolton’s response became one of her most pointed missives when she made it abundantly clear she would never join Hefner’s hutch.
“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. To Bolton, armed with pen and paper, Playboy clubs represented the abuse and exploitation of women. “How would you like to walk around with a wad of cotton on your rear end?” she wrote.
Bolton received a terse letter a week later from the sales director; her name was removed from the Playboy Club’s mailing list.