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Sunday Favorites: Extra, Extra, Sarasota Suffragist Founded First Newspaper


Rose Phillips Wilson emerged as a pioneering figure during a time when women faced limited rights. Beyond serving as the owner, editor, and publisher of the Sarasota Times, one of the region's early newspapers, she stood out as the first two women to register to vote following the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. Wilson also became one of the initial women to serve on the Sarasota Board of Trade. In 1921, she championed Sarasota's separation from Manatee County, mobilizing newly enfranchised women voters to support the formation of Sarasota as an independent county.

Rose was the second wife of Cornelias Van Sanvoord, or C.V.S., as he was known locally. After the death of this first wife, they married, although he was 40-years her senior, according to the article “Rose Phillips Wilson: The Original Girl Boss of Sarasota County,” by Compass Rose History Experiences.

The Sarasota Times building on Main Street.  C.V.S. Wilson, and his wife, Rose sit in the doorway.
The Sarasota Times building on Main Street. C.V.S. Wilson, and his wife, Rose sit in the doorway.

C. V. S. came from al long line of newspaperman. In 1880, he moved to Orlando, Fla. to try his hand at the family trade. From there, he settled in Manatee County, where he began the “Manatee County Advocate,” according to the article “The Sarasota Times was the town’s first Newspaper,” by Ann A. Shank.

In the spring of 1899, he and Rose moved to Sarasota, and started the “Sarasota Times,” with the first edition publishing on June 1, 1899. At the time, women were still constrained to gender roles that met society expectations; a woman’s primary place was be limited to household affairs. While the suffrage movement was gaining momentum in urban areas, the cultural landscape of the South remained deeply entrenched in traditional gender norms.

Still, Rose was a key player in the couple’s newspaper business, which served as a weekly watchdog for local affairs and was valued by the few hundred residents that lived in the area. In 1910, C.V.S. fell ill and wrote a final editorial to be printed posthumously. On October 6, 1910, the townspeople learned from well-respected newsman that it was not him, but his young wife Rose who had been operating the paper on her own for the last four months while he battled ill health. He applauded her dedication and explained that he’d left the newspaper to her, “Now, with life’s duties finished and only awaiting the call to pass over the river, I lay down my pen and pencil, put aside my stick and rule, vacate the editorial chair, and walk out of sanctum with honor, unsullied, aged seventy-three. Farewell.”  

When Rose inherited the paper, she was 33 years old. Yet, her talent and prose came through each article that graced the pages of the paper every Thursday. Her skills gained notoriety, earning her a seat of the board of the South Florida Press Association where she was able to vocalize the challenges women in the newspaper industry faced both verbally and through skilled articles, according to Compass Rose History Experiences.

The newspaper was located in a two-story, wood frame building located on Sarasota’s Main Street (1216 First Street, Sarasota). The centralized location helped Rose engrain herself in community causes. She was a founding member of the Town Improvement Society, which later became the Sarasota Woman’s Club, a role that would help her promote the suffrage movement with informal sessions for women to help them become intelligent voters. But Rose didn’t discriminate when it came to attendance, in an article she wrote for the Tampa Tribune, she urged men to also attend the meetings, warning that if they chose not to participate “the salvation of the country in the way of good government will rest with the women.”

Wilson used the newspaper as a platform to promote the latest national news. While other rural towns were shying away from publicizing the women’s rights movement, it was considered above-the-fold, front page content in the Sarasota Times. Wilson’s talent and influence extended to other causes as well, she was a major advocate for Sarasota’s separation from Manatee County in 1921.

Rose also championed the cause of children's education. Following the submission of petitions by local women's clubs to the January 1919 meeting of the county Board of Public Instruction, Wilson expressed her support in an editorial urging the establishment of a compulsory school attendance law. In her endorsement, she emphasized, "Every child has the right to an education," and she deemed a compulsory attendance law a "vital necessity" to ensure the fulfillment of that right.

By the time she sold the paper in 1923, it had gone from a four-page weekly with a distribution of around 900, to 12 pages with a circulation of nearly 10,000. On Jan. 4, 1923, she published her final piece, thanking the community for supporting her for more than two decades. In the editorial entitled “The Ties That Bind,” she wrote “We believe that Sarasota is now entering an era of new and more substantial growth. We are glad, through our paper, to have had a part in building the town and glad that the Times will continue its service in a broader capacity.”

Rose stepped out of the public eye after the sale of the paper. She passed away on October 22,1964 and is buried beside C.V.S. in Manasota Memorial Park. A plaque on the building where the newsroom used to stand is a reminder of her legacy.


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