My great-grandmother dreamed of going to Vassar College while growing up in New York City. Vassar was founded in 1861 to offer higher education for women in the United States. Annabelle, as she was affectionately called by her Scottish immigrant grandparents, was encouraged to dream big. Her mother Margaret Anne had died giving birth to Annie. Her grief-stricken father, who worked on boats and ships in New York harbor during the Civil War years, had moved away looking for work and a suitable stepmother for his daughter. Annie had her grandparents and her mothers’ sisters to look after her in the 1870s. It’s what writer Mark Twain called “The Gilded Age.” Her grandfather was a lawyer and her grandmother an educated housewife. The family belonged to Scottish Masonic groups and the Presbyterian Church. Her dreams of higher education were put on hold when her father with Scottish immigrant roots from the South took her out of New York and brought her to North Florida. That’s where Annie met the ferry boat captain Napoleon Bonaparte Broward on the beautiful barrier islands around Jacksonville. She was only twenty when she married Captain Broward and cast her fate to the political winds of Florida. The year was 1887.
When Napoleon died suddenly in 1910, she was left with all the children to raise and a lot of campaign debt from her husband’s successful race for the United States Senate. In the next 42 years of her life, she kept her husband’s memory alive and encouraged their children to pursue higher education. The family Annie and Napoleon raised in North Florida was astoundingly big and beautiful. The couple was blessed with eight daughters and a son. In 1954, a year after her death, the family posed in Gainesville, Florida when the University named the first women’s dormitory in her honor. Annie was a survivor. The children she left behind, the girls on the porch and their little brother Napoleon, dreamed big like their mother and father.
Great Grandmother’s Dormitory was nicknamed “Bay of Pigs” and called “Taxpayers Whorehouses” by the boys of ole Florida!
By the time I arrived at the University of Florida in 1970, my great grandmother’s memory had been erased from the beautiful campus. My professors were impressed by the legacy of my great grandfather whose biography, “Napoleon Bonaparte Broward: Florida’s Fighting Democrat”, had been penned by a favorite history professor, Dr. Samuel Proctor, but there was no biography about the First Lady Annie Douglass Broward. Her dormitory was nicknamed the “Bay of Pigs.” This was a reference to President John F. Kennedy’s failed attempt to invade Cuba in the 60s and was meant to slander the women who lived in the dormitory as ‘pigs.’
Fraternities held panty raids and often discovered the birth control pills which were easily obtained from the school infirmary. Women were pressured to achieve academic excellence and satiate the hunger for a sexual revolution. These expectations were led by popular music and the influence of Playboy and Hustler magazines. My self-educated grandmother had spent a lifetime earning the honor of having her name on the dormitory at “Broward Hall.” I had not been in Gainesville one night before I saw a male student streaking naked in front of the headlights of my car; a car full of young women eager to go to college and suddenly confronted by the sexual revolution. Playboy Magazine had named our University a top party school, and the pressure was on. For the women who were outnumbered 10 to 1 at the University of Florida, the message was clear: They were to find their liberation by ditching their bras and their great-grandmother’s values. We were all in a cloud of marijuana smoke –young and reckless.
When a woman lawyer by the name of Elizabeth Kovochevich, while serving on the governing body of higher education known as The Board of Regents, labeled the college dormitories ‘taxpayer’s whorehouses’, I couldn’t resist making my first film in ‘introduction to cinematography’ a comedic sketch on women trying to get to class while male students propositioned them outside the dormitories. I knew very little about the values of my great-grandmother and all the hardship she endured in her life. I did not know about her deep faith in God and how prayer sustained her through some terrible years. What I did know was how to shock Ed Wells, who was my film professor, along with the mostly male class by making a short film. The scene opens up, starring my roommate and my sister, Jane Hardee, as they’re approached by a couple of male nuclear engineering students who offer them money to sleep in their dorm rooms.
The reigning joke at the University of Florida was that a brick would fall out of Century Tower if a woman ever graduated as a virgin. My roommate was determined to make that brick fall as she read her bible faithfully every night, and I worried about how she was treated by the other girls and the men at the University. I once fixed her up on a date with a college football player from the University of Tennessee because she was never asked out on dates at our campus. Fortunately, she had a lovely night as she said her date was too drunk to make any advances. I was so happy her virgin dreams had not been stolen away in an environment where women were often made to feel less than simply because they wouldn’t be a part of the casual sex scene that was everywhere around the campus.
As I am writing Girls on the Porch a half-century after I started college at the University of Florida, I realize now that we did not have the advantage of biographies written about the women of the Deep South who fought for suffrage like my great-grandmother Annie Douglass Broward. Annie’s third daughter and my grandmother, Enid Lyle Broward Hardee, won notoriety when she was elected statewide as Florida Democratic National Committeewoman. I never heard my great-grandmother or my grandmother’s name mentioned in any Florida history class.
And, the “Bay of Pigs?” The nickname of Annie’s namesake dormitory is rather ironic as she waited many frightening nights for her husband, her dear Napoleon, to come home when he was running insurgents and munitions to Cuba in the dead of night to help free the island from Spain. Early in their marriage, Napoleon was often on the run because he believed in causes bigger than Florida. He was setting his sights on Washington D.C. long before he was Governor of the state.
The Taxpayers’ Whorehouses
In almost every guy’s dormitory room, there were Playboy and Hustler magazines. Fraternity guys thought they were giving you the greatest compliment when they told you that you looked just like the playmate of the month. When Playboy cast a movie on campus called “The Naked Ape,” I talked my college roommate and my sister into trying out to be extras. It was based on a book of the same name by English zoologist Desmond Morris. In it, Morris compares humans to other species of animals. The actor Johnny Crawford, who we all had watched growing up, was a child star in a TV series called “The Rifleman” and had just been cast as the ‘Naked Ape’, a male college student.
I thought we would see what Hollywood was all about and make enough money to buy our books that semester. I was cast in a scene where Crawford is daydreaming about all the women in his classroom. The director put me right next to the actor. Collectively, all the students had one line, “And the virgins do love thee.” “Easy money,” I thought as I left the set.
I was quickly followed by a man who told me he was a Playboy editor. He asked, “Would you like to make some more money and pose topless on Crescent Beach this weekend? The magazine is featuring the coeds of the University of Florida.” I looked at the young man, and I remember exactly what I told him, “I will likely run for President of the United States one day, and I don’t want a topless photograph in your magazine to keep me from running the country.” He quipped, “Ok. I don’t want to keep you from your daydreaming,” as he walked away approaching other coeds.
I did read the interviews with newsmakers in Playboy when I was hiding during fraternity parties without any favorite books to read. This habit landed me right in front of my idol as a journalism student. The Washington Post muckraker, Jack Anderson, was speaking on campus at a big lecture hall as he told students about his coverage of the Vietnam War. I walked up to the microphone in the middle of the aisle and was the only woman to ask a question of the writer. Then, the big moment etched in my mind for years, as I asked the question in a most ridiculous way, “Mr. Anderson, in your interview in Playboy magazine, you talk about your relationship with President Johnson and the bombings in Southeast Asia.”
Anderson looked out at me standing in a packed auditorium of mostly males and said, “Now we know what kind of woman reads Playboy.” While I could hardly go on with questions drowned out by the laughter in the room, my reward was getting to spend the entire day following Jack Anderson around campus as he spoke in different classrooms.
Anderson had to make up for making me the laughingstock of his campus lecture. The experience was worth the embarrassment. On my 29th birthday in Atlanta, ten years later, my TV news photographer would give me a ‘muckrake’ as a sign of respect for my tough reputation as state capitol bureau chief in the Georgia Legislature.
As for women at the University of Florida, while the turbulence of the 60s turned into the sexual liberation of the 70s, the experience was difficult and sometimes deadly. My roommate in my first year had been my best friend in high school. An illegal abortion in New York City and the trauma of her childhood changed her from a fun-loving intellectual to an anorexic drug user. I had to push her away for a time in order to save myself from the downward spiral that many women were experiencing as they tried to be like the guys, with sex drives of their own, and proving they were breaking down the barriers of the past. She ended up in the hospital and weighed in at less than 90 pounds and five-feet-eight-inches tall. We nearly lost her, first from an infection due to complications from the abortion, and then from cocaine addiction and an eating disorder.
At my mother’s death bed, more than twenty years after we had finished college, she recovered, married, and came back from the ledge where we stood in our college years. Her mother was a nurse at the hospital where my mother was in the final hours of her life. She called my roommate to tell her what was happening, and suddenly, there she was walking into the room to kneel quietly by my mother’s bedside. We said The Lord’s Prayer together while mother slowly made her way to heaven. I will keep her anonymity and say that God surely brought her to me again and had surely saved her from her years in the eye of the storm of the sexual revolution. Maybe my grandmothers were all there too – waiting for my mother on the other side of the veil.