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Sunday Favorites: Pioneer Women of Sarasota


Women have played an integral role in the development of Sarasota County beginning with the native people that resided in the area. While men were out hunting, the women of the tribe were gathering shellfish and herbs to feed their loved ones. They threw the shells down creating middens in the area. While those women we don’t know have their names, the women below made an undeniable impact.

Mary Wyatt Whitaker
Mary Wyatt Whitaker

Mary Jane Whitaker

Mary was the daughter of one of the very first pioneers in the area. When she arrived, she was in ill health and needed a wheelchair to get around, but the warm coastal air strengthened her. She married William Whitaker in 1851, the first recorded marriage ever in the area. She ended up bearing 11 children, including the first white child born in what is now Sarasota County. She requested a cabin made of cedar to repel bugs. William floated the logs to Sarasota from Longboat Key. The cabin was burned during the Seminole Wars, but the couple rebuilt on the same land. During the war, Union troops raided home sites along the shoreline, stealing food and belongings, and one day a Union captain, after taking Mary Wyatt Whitaker's chickens and ransacking her house, asked her for matches to burn it down. Still, she courageously handed him the matches while challenging him to look her in the eye, leading him to spare the house, exemplifying the spirit that shaped Sarasota's history, according to the speech “Pioneer Women of Sarasota” by historian John McCarthy.

Fanny Curis Crocker

Fanny Crocker Curtis's knack for cultivation surpassed mere gardening prowess. As recounted by McCarthy, she pioneered tobacco farming in Sarasota, generously distributing her precious seeds among friends and igniting a trend among women across the region. Situated near the modern-day Southgate mall along Tamiami Trail, the Crocker homestead was a hub of activity, featuring a farm, church, and family cemetery, according to the article “The Crockers” by historian Ann Shank. One day, Fanny spotted a sprouting coffee bean, sparking her next venture. Building on the triumph of her tobacco crop, she nurtured and propagated coffee plants, sharing them with her circle of friends. Before long, the aroma of freshly brewed coffee permeated Sarasota, a testament to Fanny's ingenuity and influence.

Carrie Spencer Abbey

During an era when postal duties were typically assigned to men, Carrie defied conventions by becoming Sarasota’s postmistress in 1891, a position she held until 1922. During her tenure she would personally hand deliver mail across town. In 1899, Sarasota celebrated a technological leap with the installation of its first telephone, housed in the post office. With just one line connecting Sarasota and Braidentown, Carrie took on the responsibility of answering calls and locating recipients in town while the caller waited—a testament to her multitasking skills and physical stamina. McCarthy says she also painted all the town trash cans every year as part of her duties on the Town and Premise Society, an early women’s club. Carrie's commitment and adaptability exemplified the resilience of Sarasota's pioneering women, leaving an indelible legacy in the community.

Ocean Roberts

If you venture to Siesta Key, you'll find Ocean Boulevard tracing the Gulf of Mexico. Contrary to its name, it honors a woman, Ocean Roberts. Born during her parents' transatlantic journey, she later married Captain Roberts, a pioneering figure on the island who established a beloved motel offering rowboats and renowned clam chowder. Interestingly, despite the motel's fame for the clam chowder, it was Ocean who crafted the recipe, overshadowed by her husband's reputation. Photos depict the sizable Captain indulging in her culinary creations, underscoring Ocean's culinary skill and the often-overlooked contributions of women in shaping community traditions. Ocean Boulevard thus symbolizes not just a coastal road but also the legacy of a remarkable woman whose name and culinary expertise have become intertwined with the island's history.

The women of Sarasota epitomize resilience, ingenuity, and unwavering determination. Their stories highlight the often-overlooked contributions of women in pioneering industries, nurturing communities, and preserving traditions.


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