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Coral Gables

Women’s rights activist Roxcy Bolton honored at new library exhibit


If you go

What: Persistent Advocate and Formidable Adversary: The Civic Life of Roxcy O’Neal Bolton exhibit

Where: Coral Gables Branch Library, 3443 Segovia St.

When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday, Thursday-Saturday; 1 p.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday-Wednesday; closed Sunday, through Nov. 6

Information: 305-442-8706

Roxcy O’Neal Bolton, born to a Mississippi pioneer family, a trailblazer for women’s rights from her Coral Gables home, has helped change the local and international culture. She 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, Bolton led a march in support of rape victims along Flagler Street on a fall evening in 1971 and would soon found the nation’s first Rape Treatment Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital in 1974.

If Hurricane Blake and Bobby come blowing at your door, that, too, bears Bolton’s imprint. Decades ago, she convinced the National Weather Service to stop naming hurricanes solely after women.

She has since donated numerous letters, state officials’ accolades, and a proclamation she earned for creating the Jackson center — renamed the Roxcy Bolton Rape Treatment Center in 1993 — to the State Archives and, locally, HistoryMiami.

In honor of Bolton’s work for women’s rights and her activism, HistoryMiami, in partnership with the Miami-Dade Public Library System, opens the exhibit Persistent Advocate and Formidable Adversary: The Civic Life of Roxcy O’Neal Bolton on Monday at Coral Gables Branch Library. The free public exhibit of about 25 images will be on display through November 6.

“We are covering her real contributions to moving the needle on women’s rights here in Miami,” said Joanne Hyppolite, chief curator at HistoryMiami. “The exhibit is really about Roxcy’s contribution to making Florida, and South Florida in particular, a better place for women and a more equitable place for women.”

Hyppolite cited, among other achievements, Bolton’s work in forcing executives at the now defunct National Airlines to end their practice of firing flight attendants for becoming pregnant, her advocacy for victims of abuse, and for helping open the male-only lunchrooms at long-gone department stores Burdines and Jordan Marsh to both sexes.

“Men and women sleep together, why can’t they eat together?” Bolton once famously said in retort to anyone who turned their nose up at the idea of ending the original divided practice at the popular lunch rooms.

The exhibit will be divided into several sections to showcase Bolton as she confronted the business elite, her work as a staunch life-long Democrat and campaigns for presidents dating back to Kennedy and her visits to the White House.

A gathering at the library Monday morning is expected to include Bolton, now 87, and her children Bonnie, Buddy and David — “an informal gathering of her friends,” daughter Bonnie said on the phone with her mother earlier this week from her Gables home.

Bolton, who has weathered two strokes and two heart attacks, writes out her answers in response to a reporter’s question and Bonnie reads them aloud — though Bolton can often get her points across without the pen.

Pressed to comment on what the exhibit means to her today, Bolton puts pen to paper. “She is thankful to reach the age of 87 and all the blessings that life has given her,” Bonnie reads from Bolton’s notepad.

Not every conveyance on paper has been met with such welcome.

In November 1971, the Playboy Plaza Hotel in Miami Beach put Bolton on its mailing list and offered its facilities for her NOW meetings.

Her typewritten response, on display, became legendary in South Florida.

“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. Bolton believed that 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.

A week later, a simple letter landed in her mailbox from the sales director. Her name was removed from the Playboy Club’s mailing list. No word on whether Thomas V. Zemsta every sported the fluffy white tail.

Follow @HowardCohen on Twitter.

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