In the 1970s, Continental Airlines’ slogan boasted, “We really move our tail for you.” Hurricanes were named for women only.
And in the summer of 1972, as President Richard Nixon battled challenger George McGovern for a second term in the White House, a group of 20 feminists had had enough. They descended on Miami Beach’s Flamingo Park as the city hosted the Democratic National Convention. The women burned symbols of repression, including Bible verses (“Wives, submit yourselves unto your husbands as unto the Lord”), and they chanted.
The “dynamic duo” at the forefront, activists Nikki Beare and Roxcy Bolton, changed so much of what they felt had held women back. They also fought for the Equal Rights Amendment, which did not pass.
Beare, who died at 86 on Nov. 10 at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital of complications from a fall, had already staked her place in feminist history by the time of that park march during a year that included Helen Reddy’s anthem, I Am Woman, and New York Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm’s historic run for the Democratic nomination for president.
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“Women had decided they weren’t going to sit back any longer. We wanted power and were going to get it, even if we had to take it,” Beare said in a Miami Herald story in 1993.
Beare, a Women’s Page reporter for the Miami News in 1968, covered a meeting at Bolton’s Coral Gables home where a group of women met to discuss the formation of a local chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW). Beare was immediately elected as its vice president — a position she wouldn’t hold because the next day she became its first president. Martha Ingle, a fellow reporter at the rival Miami Herald, had to resign from NOW’s presidency at the newspaper’s insistence because of a conflict of interest.
Beare left journalism and joined the feminist movement full-on. One of her first tasks: persuading the Herald to change its classified ad policy, which then separated employment ads by gender.
“The really cool jobs were the architects. And male. And stewardesses and teachers were female. … Not as exciting as the ones on the male side,” said daughter Sandi Beare Schenker.
Bolton, 88, remembers that initial NOW meeting 46 years ago and Beare’s ongoing impact on behalf of the women’s movement. “Nikki Beare was a strong and effective voice for womankind and she was a loving and supportive mother and daughter,” she said from her home in Coral Gables.
Beare helped the late Gwendolyn Sawyer Cherry, Miami-Dade County’s first female black attorney, get elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 1970. “She dearly loved Gwen Cherry,” Bolton said.
She started the Women’s Almanac newspaper and opened her public relations business, Nikki Beare & Associates, Inc.
Beare also helped found the National and Florida Women’s Political Caucus and the Veteran Feminists of America. Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles named Beare to the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame in 1994.
“When I met her I was kind of a young activist … and I became a lobbyist in Tallahassee. She developed the Women’s Caucus and would track legislation that would impact women and girls’ lives,” said Miami political consultant Irene Secada. “She was very sharp. Sometimes I think shocking in how direct she would be. For her time, quitting journalism to work full-time in the feminist movement was a pretty big deal.”
Born March 7, 1928, in Detroit as Muriel Nikki Brink, Beare married her husband, Richard, in 1946 and moved to Islamorada in 1956. There, she wrote for the Key West Citizen newspaper. Four years later, the family moved to Miami.
After Hurricane Andrew destroyed her home in 1992, Beare and her husband moved to Havana, Florida, and she continued her work. Beare and her daughter were charter members of the Gadsden County Domestic and Sexual Violence Task Force and opened the Mirror Image Antiques shop in the community.
“When I first started public speaking I was a little wimpy,” said Beare Schenker, who would work with Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth on the Florida Commission on the Status of Women. “She would elbow me and say, ‘Speak out! Speak out with fervor!’ I learned to speak with fervor. I’ve had some rewarding careers and I never would have made all these things without my mom and her guidance and support.”
Beare is survived by her husband and daughter, son-in-law Richard Schenker, and seven grandchildren. A celebration of life will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday at First Presbyterian Church, 213 First St. NE, Havana, Florida.
Follow @HowardCohen on Twitter.