Rosalind Fisher, Guest columnist
PNJ Published March 1, 2020

Female Firsts in Pensacola

As the first female African American female Human Resources Director at the University of West Florida, I know how hard it is to be the first or only at anything. Being first in the 1990s was challenging, so imagine what it was like to be the first woman leader in a male-only profession in Pensacola in the 1790s.  Marianna Bonifay, a widow in the 1780s, faced many hardships despite which she became a realtor and builder from 1790 to 1807.  She got a Spanish land grant in 1807 and became the first woman to own a Brickyard, Bohemia Brick Yard, which she and one of her sons ran. With another of her sons, she ran a cattle and farming enterprise but is remembered best for being an exceptional mother to her fourteen children and endowing Pensacola with its Spanish-French traditions.

The incomparable Lillie James opened the first school in Pensacola that was explicitly for “Colored” children in 1903. Although she is well-known as the mother of the first African American 4 star general, she was the mother of 17 children. She taught and mentored hundreds of other children along with their parents by her eleventh commandment, “Thou shalt not quit.” She was also the first Black instructor at Pensacola State College. Minnie Kehoe passed the Florida bar exam in 1912 and was Pensacola’s first female attorney. In 1922 she was the first woman in the US to defend an Army Officer in a court-martial. 

Modest Hargis became the first woman and the youngest person to pass the Florida pharmacy exams in 1893.  She also became the first woman in the region to own a drug store. Oh, and she might have whistled while she worked since she also had a radio show about whistling. In 1951 Yvonne Kyle was licensed as the first Black female pharmacist in Florida.  She worked in Pensacola a Black-owned drug store, Jones Pharmacy, and then became a staff pharmacist at Sacred Heart from 1971 to 1992. Harriet Keyser was one of the most prolific builders in this area during the late 1800s and early 1900s.  

These historic women of Pensacola were trailblazers who risked the danger of being leaders in their professions. Today , among myriad other “firsts” achieved by our esteemed membership,   IWP member Amy Miller is the first female director of a Florida Port and Dr. Judy Bense was the first female President of the University of West Florida.

Rosalind Fisher is an Instructor of Sociology and Women’s Studies at the University of West Florida and a member of the Institute for Women in Politics.

Special thanks to  Pensacola News Journal  for publishing this article.

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