The following is a transcript of a presentation given on June 25, 2009 by Dr. Mike Denham to the 10th Judicial Circuit Historical Committee. The presentation was given at a luncheon hosted by the law firm of Boswell & Dunlap.
First, I want to thank the Boswell & Dunlap Law firm for hosting us for this lunch gathering.
I also want to thank Judge Mary Catherine Green for inviting me to speak on the 1899 Montage composite of the Florida Bench and Bar. I also want to congratulate Judge Green, Judge Estrada and all the others involved in investigating the history of Florida’s 10th Judicial circuit, and I look forward to being involved in the work of the committee as time passes.
Back on May 15th at the first event sponsored by the committee we were treated to an excellent panel discussion of four veterans and the bar and the bench of the 10th circuit: Judge Oliver Green, Polk County Attorney Robert Trohn, Public Defender Marion Moorman, and Prosecutor Jerry Hill. Together they represented nearly 120 years of practicing in law in the tenth Circuit. The stories were enlightening, humorous, and educational, but the major theme I took away from the morning was CHANGE. If history teaches us anything it is that change dominates the human experience, and all four commentators were struck by how the law profession, their work, and daily activities had changed since they began.
But now to the montage. First, the 1899 Florida historical context: 1899 was one year after the U. S. Supreme Court in Plessey v. Ferguson, upheld the notion of “separate but equal” as the law of the land. Segregation, was supreme in the South and Florida and there was no end in sight. Women could not vote but exerted influence in clubs, religious and benevolent societies. William Dunning Bloxham—a redeemer or “Bourbon” leader was nearing the end of his second term. (Bloxham was the only Florida Governor to serve two non-consecutive terms—the first began in 1881.) Floridians were recovering from the Panic of 1893 and the Great Freeze of the next year and were looking forward to a new prosperous century. Florida’s population approached one million and growing, with the three largest cities being Jacksonville, Tampa, and Key West. Jacksonville was booming. Nearly a third of all of those represented here hailed from this prosperous New South city, and not surprisingly more than two-thirds of these images are of lawyers from Florida’s largest towns. Railroads were pushing south into the peninsula. By 1899 railroads had crisscrossed the state. Plant’s trains entered Tampa by 1884. Flagler’s trains ran the entire length of the Atlantic coast, reaching Miami in 1896. Trains brought visitors to what some referred to as an exotic tropical paradise. The trains also exported oranges, vegetables, phosphate, and timber out of the state.
When I saw that montage last month the first time with Judge Green and Sam Crosby, I immediately recognized that this image represented a kind of “Who’s Who” of power and influence in the state of Florida. Many of the people presented were lawmakers (back then a “part-time” endeavor). Also there were several older folks represented here. 1899 was thirty-four years after Appomattox and there are several Confederate veterans among this group. The list of 290 also includes two women.
Francis P. Fleming (Jacksonville): Second Florida Infantry of the Confederate Army, fought at Gettysburg, wrote Memoir of Capt. C. Seton Fleming of the Second Florida Infantry. In 1889 Fleming was elected as the fifteenth governor of Florida. One of his first acts was to establish a State Board of Health in response to a serious outbreak of yellow fever that had spread in Jacksonville and around the state, particularly in 1888. Fleming served as governor until 1893. He spent the last years of his life practicing law and helped to reestablish the Florida Historical Society, becoming its president in 1906. He died in Jacksonville on December 20, 1908.
Pleasant Woodson White (Quincy): Former leader of the Confederate commissary Dept in Florida. White was commissioned a Major in the Confederate Army in 1861 and as Chief Commissary Officer for Florida commanded the depot at Quincy. White became active in politics and served as Judge of the Second Judicial Circuit from 1869–1879. He also served as Commissioner of Lands and Immigration from 1881–1885.
Washington Ives (Lake City)
William H. Milton (Marianna): Son of the [Florida Governor, John Milton] who committed suicide when FL Surrendered
John L. Doggett (Jacksonville): 2nd Battalion, Florida Infantry, fought at Olustee.
Major Political Leaders
Duncan Upshaw Fletcher (Jacksonville): He was a founding member of the Jacksonville Bar Association and its first president. In 1896 Fletcher was one of three attorneys appointed to administer the bar examination to James Weldon Johnson, who in addition to his many other accomplishments was the first black admitted to the Florida Bar by examination. It was Fletcher who motioned that Johnson be admitted to the bar over the objection of another examiner. Mayor of Jacksonville 1893–1895, 1901–1903, Florida House 1900–1907, US Senate 1909–1934.
Jefferson B. Browne (Key West): President of the Senate 1891–93, Florida Supreme Court, 1917–25, Chief Justice 1923.
George E. Sparkman
Mathew B. MacFarlane
Mellville G. Gibbons
Peter O. Knight
Solon G. Wilson
Other Interesting Names
Mallory Horne (Jasper): The father or the grandfather of the Florida House Speaker and Senate leader who just passed away [Mallory E. Horne].
Enoch Vann (Madison): Wrote a wonderful memoir, Reminiscences of a Backwoods Cracker Lawyer, (1880)
Miss Lou Becca Pinnell (Bronson): Daughter of Ethan A. Pinnell of Bronson
Miss Alice H. Johnson (Live Oak)
A final word on the two women depicted in the montage. Thanks to the book produced by Wendy Louquisto and the Florida Association of the Women Lawyers, Celebrating Florida’s First 150 Women Lawyers, (2000), we know a little about Ms. Pinnell and Johnson, but their story, and other women like them, is obscured by the fact the process of admission to the bar at the time was uncertain, and often arbitrary. In other words, while these two women are the first “documented” women admitted to the bar, its likely that there may have been other women who practices in Florida before these two. In 1899 a state law for the first time required applicants for the bar to be examined for fitness by two members of the bar in open court. This law further formalized a process that was implemented haphazardly throughout the state. Therefore it’s likely that women may have practiced earlier at various times and locations throughout the state. One of these women may have been a women named Gertude Dzialynski Corbet, a remarkable women with Polk County connections. Historian Canter Brown in a new collection of essays soon to be released book entitled, Varieties of Women’s Experiences: Portraits of Southern Women in the Post-Civil War Century, wrote a chapter on Mrs. Corbet entitled “Miss Dynamite,” a Jewish Women in Public Life in the Progressive-Era South.” Gertrude Dialynski was a daughter of a prominent merchant in Bartow and Fort Meade. Through her own talents, her family connections, and political skills Gertrude prospered as a business woman, journalist, and legal secretary. She eventually served as a assistant to FL Gov. Napoleon Bonaparte Broward. Though it cannot be entirely verified Brown makes the case that Corbet practiced law in Jacksonville.
I hope my brief remarks today have been informative, and have been informative. Once again I want to thank the Judge Mary Catherine Green the Boswell-Dunlap Law firm for inviting me to address you today.