One of Florida’s Firsts – Annie Dorcas Broward Starrett

Annie Dorcas Broward Starrett 1889-1923

There was no Saint Peter to raise “Dorcas” from the dead

My great aunt Annie Dorcas Broward Starrett had a holy name. Dorcas was the disciple of Christ raised from the dead by Saint Peter after the crucifixion of Jesus, an event that continued the work of the Holy Spirit to convert a pagan world to Christianity. Though we seldom hear the name of “Dorcas”, or the story of Jesus’ woman disciple, as raising Lazarus from the dead gets more ‘air time’ in most modern Christian traditions, the sacred name remained in my family for generations. Mary Dorcas Parsons was the mother of the 19th Governor of Florida ( Gov. N.B. Broward Jr. – 1905-1909). She died because of the terrible living conditions in the South immediately following the Civil War. 

My Great Aunt Annie Dorcas helped save her family after the death of her father

As Annie, the widow of the US Senator elect Napoleon Bonaparte Broward Jr., struggled to feed and house nine children, the first daughter of Annie Douglass and Napoleon Bonaparte Broward Jr. was her mother’s best friend and closest ally. Her mother would need her daughter’s legal skills to navigate after 1910 when her husband died of a gallbladder attack. Napoleon Bonaparte Broward Jr. had many friends and many powerful enemies. Blessed with eight daughters before the birth of a son, Annie and Napoleon believed in higher education for women. Annie Dorcas went to Florida State University for Women when her mother was First Lady of Florida from 1905-1909. Her father was a towering political figure known for promoting higher education for all Floridians with the passage of the Bruckman Act in 1905*.

One of Florida’s First Women Lawyers

Their daughter was being prepared to be her father’s closest legal advisor in Washington D.C. as his ambition ran to becoming a United States Senator. Annie Dorcas graduated from Florida State College for Women and then attended the mostly male Stetson Law School in DeLand, Florida. By the time she passed the Florida Bar, her mother’s urgent needs to save the family superseded her career in law.

She married Thomas Halstead Starrett. The salary from his work helped, bringing needed groceries to feed the big family. The women had bigger problems to solve.

There was a pile of debt from Napoleon’s political campaigns, and the salvage and shipping company he co-owned with his brother Montcalm could have been taken away from Annie and her children. They had two homes, one on Church Street in Jacksonville and a summer home on Fort George Island accessible only by ferry boat. Both were in jeopardy.

Annie Dorcas’s legal skills and her mother’s fervent prayer skills were put into play as the banks attempted to seize all the property to pay off the debts. As #GirlsonthePorch is a book compiled by a family’s stories of what took place – this is what I learned from a trusted cousin who shared what had been passed down to her mother. The First Lady had family in New York, the Hutchison family.

Her family had friends in the banking world. Her immigrant grandfather William Hutchison was a lawyer when he came from Scotland to settle in New York City. There was land that might be inherited to save the family in Jacksonville, land where the Bolles Boys School was later established, land where the Jacksonville International Airport would be built. The problem for Annie Douglass was that her husband’s debts were larger than the worth of that land.

Montcalm Broward was never a fan of his brother’s Yankee wife. She had to take over of the salvage company after her husband’s death, a difficult prospect without money for support as she became the head of the company. With her daughter Annie Dorcas’s legal skills, she managed to find a bank in New York without the bankers in Florida knowing about it. The two women went to see these formidable Florida bankers and offered them pennies on the dollar for the Governor’s debts. As the banks in Florida had no knowledge of the New York banks relationship with the women, they settled the Governor’s debts. This left Annie with enough money to keep her houses, marry her daughters, and send all her children to good colleges and prep schools.

Having helped her mother navigate the difficult banking and legal challenges to get the family out of debt, Annie Dorcas Broward and her husband Thomas Starrett became pregnant. The family was jubilant. The baby would be delivered by an obstetrician at the house on Church Street.

As family members have shared the story, a large, extended family gathered on the porch in 1923. They waited for word of the birth and all eyes were on Thomas as he paced the porch. Shutters in great need of repair, flapped in the breeze. This day would become one of the worst days in Annie’s life as the news came down. There was trouble in the delivery.

Her son-in-law was soon to lose everything a man could hope for in 1923, his wife and his infant child. I do not know if the infant was a boy or a girl – only that the baby did not survive.

Annie Dorcas and Thomas Starett (center) with the Broward Girls Church Street (1921)

Unfortunately, there was no Saint Peter to raise Dorcas from the dead. In 1923, she lost her life in childbirth. She was only 33 years old. We know today that what she succumbed to was likely eclampsia following the birth of her first child. Both the mother and child died of the common pregnancy malady. The many joyous days on the porch on Church Street would be forever overshadowed by the loss of Annie Dorcas Broward Starrett, one of Florida’s first women lawyers, to the awful perils of giving birth.

Annie Douglass Broward would go on to outlive two of her daughters. My grandmother would die of pancreatic cancer at 47 in 1943 during WWII. This was after losing her son as he trained to fight in Europe. Perhaps the only consolation in her husband’s early death at 53 was not having to live through the loss of their children in his lifetime.

*From Wikipedia “The University of Florida served as the institution for white men; the Agricultural and Mechanical College for Negroes (the future Florida A&M University) served African Americans, and the Florida Female College, later named the Florida State College for Women (the future Florida State University) served white women.[1] A fourth school provided specialized training and education for the deaf and blind (the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind).

Leave a Reply