In the first half of the 20th century the doctrine of “separate but equal,” supported by the landmark 1896 Plessy vs. Ferguson case, constitutionally allowed for the separation of races in public places as long as facilities remained equal. (1) Winter Park adhered to this doctrine, as did most other southern towns in the U.S., and its implementation unduly disadvantaged black Winter Park residents living “across the tracks” on the westside of town. Arguably, this practice led to the neglect and defunding of westside facilities by the 1930s when “Jim Crow laws, growing anti-racial sentiment, and economic downswings effectively drained the one proud black community” of Hannibal Square. (2) The Ideal Woman’s Club was a local, grassroots, female-led organization focused on solving some of these entrenched social and economic problems for the overall the betterment of the westside and its residents. Founded by Mrs. Marry Lee DePugh in 1937, the Ideal Woman’s Club was “an organization to meet the needs of the black people of the community”. (3) The organization was highly successful in many ways over the years and is still active in Winter Park today. (4)
Among the many achievements of the Ideal Woman’s Club was the establishment of the DePugh Nursing Home in 1956, which was “dedicated exclusively to the care of the members of the Negro community.”(4) The DePugh Nursing Home (also still in existence) received recognition from both white and black Winter Park residents upon its founding, and was the result of an amazing community fundraising effort – over $30,000 were raised in just a few short years. (5) It is clear that the efforts of the Ideal Women’s Club allowed black women in Winter Park to develop critical funding channels, cultivate philanthropic relationships with local elites, and grow their social influence in a powerful and meaningful way. This strategy has been termed “self-help culture,” a phenomenon that promoted the advancement of African Americans through internal community initiatives led by African Americans themselves rather than white elites. (6) However, at least in the case of the DePugh Nursing Center, the Ideal Woman’s Club was not a solo African American organization acting on its own but rather a dynamic group actively engaged in collaboration with other local white and black organizations, including the Winter Park Woman’s Club, the Rollins Race Relations Committee, the Interracial Committee of Winter Park, The Benevolent Club, as well as groups associated with “the Negros of Maitland, Altamonte, and Eatonville.” (7)
- Leonard W. Levy, and Harlan B. Philips, “The Robert’s Case: Source of the ‘Separate but Equal’ Doctrine,” The American Historical Review 56:3 (1951): 518.
- Kimberley Tomlinson Mould, “Mary Lee DePugh: an Evanston Influence in Winter Park, Florida,” Shorefront 2:2 (2001). In folder titled, “Ideal Women’s Club.” Archives and Special Collections, Olin Library, Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida.
- P Herald on the Ideal Woman’s Club, 1950. Folder titled “Ideal Woman’s Club.” Archives and Special Collections, Olin Library, Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida.
- Bruce Dudley, “Rich History of Mary Lee DePugh Nursing Home,” February 2, 1967. Folder titled “DePugh Nursing Home.” Archives and Special Collections, Olin Library, Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida.
- Julian Chambliss, “The Ideal Women’s Club,” Rollins College, accessed December 1, 2018, https://myweb.rollins.edu/jchambliss/Historic_Winter_Park/Historic_Winter_Park/The_Ideal_Womens_Club.html
- James D. Anderson, The Education of Blacks in the South, 1860-1935 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988), 5-7.
- Hannibal Square Associates, “To the People of Our Community,” May 6, 1949. Folder titled “DePugh Nursing Home.” Archives and Special Collections, Olin Library, Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida.
— Paulina Martinez Garcia