Byline: Sandy Strickland
French nuns willing to give their lives to nurse yellow fever victims.
A hospital matron who married Florida's territorial governor.
The founder of an orphanage who also taught freed slave children.
The first African-American female missionary assigned to Africa.
They are some of the honorees in a "Great Women of Florida" exhibit at the Amelia Island Museum of History, 233 S. Third St., Fernandina Beach. The exhibit is on display through Saturday, March 31.
The museum has designated the "Year of the Woman" as its theme for 2012 and is sponsoring special events throughout the year. March is designated nationally as Women's History Month.
"We are celebrating the unsung women of history who have contributed a lot more than they are often given credit for," said Alex Buell, the museum's education director. "The whole purpose of Year of the Woman' is to bring to light their achievements."
Some, such as Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, who won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1939 for "The Yearling," and Zora Neale Hurston, a folklorist, anthropologist and author associated with the Harlem Renaissance, are nationally recognized.
Others are known primarily in Fernandina Beach or Northeast Florida. Nine were selected with an emphasis on variety of background and interest, Buell said.
The earliest is Anna Madgigine Jai Kingsley, who was born in 1793 and was possibly a West African princess. Captured when she was 13, she was sold to slave trader Zephaniah Kingsley who married her, set her free and made her his plantation manager during the times he was away.
The most contemporary are Lucy Carnegie Ferguson, who owned the Greyfield Inn and worked to preserve Cumberland Island, and MaVynee Betsch, the "Beach Lady" noted for her 7-foot mane of steel gray hair and 14-inch fingernails, who moved to American Beach in 1970 after a career as an opera singer. She worked for decades to preserve the Nassau County community founded by her great-grandfather as an African-American vacation spot during the time of segregation.
The exhibit includes such items as a treadle sewing machine, seashells, a manual typewriter and a movie poster. The most intriguing item, Buell said, is a quiltlike wall hanging created by fiber artist Billie McCray of Fernandina Beach as a tribute to Betsch. It was made from remnants of her clothing after she died in 2005.
WOMEN OF FLORIDA
THE FRENCH ORDER OF THE SISTERS OF ST. JOSEPH
The sisters founded a convent in Fernandina Beach in 1871. When the town was hit with a yellow fever epidemic in 1877, they turned their convent into a hospital. They nursed the sick, fed the hungry, sewed bodies into shrouds and buried the dead. Two of the nuns died from the fever while two others caught it but recovered. The survivors founded St. Joseph's Academy in 1882. It operated until 1961 when the order sold it to St. Michael's Catholic Church. The convent is now a private home.
MARY MARTHA REID
Reid was born in St. Marys, Ga., in 1812, and married Judge Robert Raymond Reid in 1836. He was named territorial governor of Florida two years later and died in 1841 after contracting yellow fever. When the Civil War began, she moved to Richmond, Va., to be near her only surviving son, Raymond Jenckes Reid, a Confederate Army soldier who later died from wounds received in the Battle of the Wilderness. …