The mid-19th century desk and hutch that she used to write many of her letters — first in flowing cursive and then neatly typed — went to HistoryMiami.
“This is where she did a lot of the writing and that’s a great personal artifact to be able to share with visitors,” said Joanne Hyppolite, chief curator at HistoryMiami. “Where does history get made? Often in routine, regular circumstances.”
The downtown Miami museum also has a Picasso print reproduction from Bolton’s collection that had been given to her by a group of women she had assisted when she founded the nation’s first Rape Treatment Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital in 1974. She also donated the letters, state officials’ accolades, and a proclamation she earned for creating the center, renamed the Roxcy Bolton Rape Treatment Center in 1993.
“She’s probably the best known feminist women’s activist here in Miami,” Hyppolite said, citing Bolton’s activism in getting National Airlines to create maternity leave instead of firing its pregnant flight attendants, which had been the airline’s policy. “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.”
Today, Bolton communicates mostly by pad and pen, and with help from her daughter Bonnie, 47, one of her three children with her late husband, David Bolton, a Navy lawyer she married in 1960. There is no social media because there are no computers in the Bolton home. But modern contrivances like Wikipedia and a Facebook fan page dutifully note the pivotal moments of her storied life.
What her home contains is heart, along with rooms filled with memorabilia of a life well-lived: a cherished 1956 photo of Bolton with one of her heroines, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt; a shot of Bolton marching for the Equal Rights Amendment in the early 1970s with State Rep. Gwen Cherry, the first black woman to serve in the Florida Legislature. A photo of Bolton greeting President Bill Clinton in Miami in the early 1990s. A 2009 letter from First Lady Michelle Obama that gives thanks to Bolton for her commitment to community.
In August, Beth Golding, archivist supervisor for the State Archives in Florida, Division of Library and Information Services, and members of her staff, visited Bolton’s home to pick up some materials.
“Since 1994 she has steadily made donations of her papers and photographs and correspondence that she’s collected over the years,” Golding said. “So the collection we have here at the State Archives contains a great deal of documentation of her personal role in the women’s movement in Florida and the evolution of the movement as a whole from the 1960s into the early 21st century.”
Golding also notes that Bolton was a key advocate of preserving the Miami Circle when the archeological landmark was discovered downtown in 1998. “She has a keen sense of history and the importance of preserving history.”
Bolton says that her passion, and commitment to fighting for equal rights, comes from her upbringing in Mississippi. She writes the word ‘grandparents’ on a notepad in handwriting that hasn’t changed much from the hand that guided the pen on that 1971 letter to Playboy.
“She spent her formative years on a farm in Mississippi and that inspired her to appreciate history. From the country in Mississippi she was learning to save everything,” Bonnie said.
The photo that means the most her: a beaming Bolton and Eleanor Roosevelt.
“Eleanor was one of the greatest inspirations outside of her own family,” Golding said. “She feels that her Mississippi upbringing instilled in her the values that led her to be an activist. She often will refer to her pioneer-settler grandparents and how strong and caring those people were and she feels [this] is what led her to be the person she is and to advocate for the things that are important to her.”
From those humble beginnings, future generations can learn how a powerful voice can affect change.
“Thousands of children come here and can’t believe women weren’t treated equally, couldn’t vote, weren’t paid equally — that’s unfathomable to them,” HistoryMiami’s Hyppolite said. “We need these historical documents to show them physical evidence that these things happened and that there are people who overcame them.”
Follow @HowardCohen on Twitter.