Historical Women of Palm Beach County

By | March 28, 2024

Fannie’s Legacy: How a Mixed-Race Couple Settled Early in Lake Worth

In the annals of Lake Worth Beach history lies a lesser known chapter, one highlighted by the lives of Samuel and Fannie James, pioneers of the former town of Jewell.

Recent research by local historian Ted Brownstein reveals the remarkable journey of this enterprising couple, who braved the swampy terrain to establish a post office and cultivate a thriving community. Using online databases and archival documents, Brownstein painstakingly reconstructs a story that was once shrouded in mystery. Through his research, he sheds light on the intertwined threads of ancestry and opportunity that shaped the Jameses’ story.

Their story is one of resilience and ingenuity, epitomized by Fannie’s business acumen and Sam’s craftsmanship. Together they carved out a living in the challenging landscape, earning respect and admiration from their peers. But despite their successes, the specter of segregation loomed.

As the city commemorates its centennial, Brownstein’s findings challenge conventional narratives, portraying Lake Worth Beach as a bastion of diversity and egalitarianism before the dark clouds of segregation descended. The discovery of the Jameses’ potential resting place, marked by ground-penetrating radar, serves as a poignant reminder of the injustices of the past.

As Lake Worth Beach looks back on its history, the Jameses’ story serves as a beacon of resilience and hope, guiding the city toward a future rooted in inclusivity and understanding.

Historical Women of Palm Beach County

In honor of Women's History Month 2022, there is an outdoor Women of Palm Beach County exhibit in front of the 1916 courthouse in West Palm Beach.

In honor of Women’s History Month 2022, there is an outdoor Women of Palm Beach County exhibit in front of the 1916 courthouse in West Palm Beach.

An outdoor exhibit in downtown West Palm Beach honoring 15 remarkable Palm Beach County women in 2022. Conceived by the Historical Society of Palm Beach County, the exhibit showcased the extraordinary contributions of women from different eras and fields. Here’s a closer look at the notable women featured:

Midwife Millie Gildersleeve: A late 19th century midwife, Millie Gildersleeve, played a crucial role in delivering countless babies in central Palm Beach County. In the 1880s, she traveled by boat with Dr. Richard Potter to help patients in need. Gildersleeve and her husband, Jacob, also owned property in what would become Riviera Beach, where they grew vegetables and strawberries.

Midwife Millie Gildersleeve.Midwife Millie Gildersleeve.

Midwife Millie Gildersleeve.

Petra Pinn: When Petra Pinn, a prominent nurse, arrived in the area in 1916, she founded Pine Ridge Hospital in West Palm Beach. As the first hospital to serve the black community, Pine Ridge Hospital was a beacon of hope and healing. Pinn’s contributions extended beyond hospital walls, as she served in a key role with the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses for more than two decades.

Golf professional Bessie Fenn: From 1926 to 1959, Bessie Fenn made history as a golf professional and supervisor of golf operations at The Breakers in Palm Beach. Known as the first woman in the country to hold such a position, Fenn earned her place through skill and determination. She won several state championships in Maine and Florida before turning pro.

Golf professional Bessie FennGolf professional Bessie Fenn

Golf professional Bessie Fenn

Nellie O’HaraA tireless civic leader, Nellie O’Hara arrived in Palm Beach County in 1911, where she championed women’s suffrage and founded the Palm Beach County League of Women Voters around 1920. O’Hara’s commitment to equality extended to her involvement in founding the Florida League of Women Voters, where she served as president in the 1920s.

Nellie O'HaraNellie O'Hara

Nellie O’Hara

Dr. Alice R. Evans Miller: Dr. Alice R. Evans Miller broke barriers in medicine and became the first female physician to establish a practice in West Palm Beach in the 1910s. She became the first woman to graduate from the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1898 and specialized in ear, nose and throat diseases, providing crucial medical care to the community.

Dr.  Alice R. Evans MillerDr.  Alice R. Evans Miller

Dr. Alice R. Evans Miller

Barbara Joan Pariente: Barbara Joan Pariente was appointed to the Florida Supreme Court in 1997, making history as the second woman to serve on the court. Growing up in the ranks of a civil law firm in West Palm Beach, Pariente’s legal career was marked by integrity and excellence. She later served as Chief Justice and retired in 2019, leaving a lasting legacy in Florida’s judicial system.

Other notable women in the exhibit include pioneer Lillie Pierce Voss, early Palm Beach Daily News editor Ruby Edna Pierce, architect Agnes Ballard, sculptor Ann Weaver Norton and founder of the Belle Glade performing arts center Dolly Hand.

For more information, contact the historical society at 561-832-4164 or visit pbchistory.org.

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Women’s History Month: Facts About Impactful Women in Palm Beach County

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