A Florida First from Taylor County

 

Did you know one of the first two women to run for election to Florida’s House of Representatives was from Taylor County? Myrtice Vera McCaskill was 25 years old when she decided to run for public office in 1922. She ultimately lost the contest, but she and Katherine B. Tippetts of St. Petersburg made history by being the first two women to run. Since it’s both election season and National Women’s History Month, it’s the perfect time to take a closer look at this remarkable woman’s story.

Myrtice Vera McCaskill, candidate for Florida House of Representatives from Taylor County (1922). Image courtesy of the State Library & Archives of Florida.

Myrtice Vera McCaskill, candidate for Florida House of Representatives from Taylor County (1922). Image courtesy of the State Library & Archives of Florida.

Myrtice Vera McCaskill was born June 15, 1896 in DeFuniak Springs. She and her parents Malcolm and Mary McCaskill moved to Perry sometime in the 1910s, where her parents ran the Greystone Hotel on North Jefferson Street. Myrtice, or “Myrt” as she was called by her friends, attended the Florida State College for Women in Tallahassee (now FSU), where she received her Bachelor’s degree in 1915. She was president of her class while a junior, vice-president of the Thalian Literary Society, and a member of both the Dramatic and Classical clubs on campus.

A photograph and cartoon of Myrtice Vera McCaskill in Flastacowo, the yearbook for the Florida State College for Women - 1915 edition, page 48.

A photograph and cartoon of Myrtice Vera McCaskill in Flastacowo, the yearbook for the Florida State College for Women – 1915 edition, page 48.

McCaskill’s interest in politics developed quickly as she completed her college work and entered the workforce. As a student at FSCW, she studied public speaking, then referred to as “expression,” and was often asked to give public readings of popular poetry and literature. In the days before radio and television, such readings were a popular form of entertainment. After graduating, McCaskill served as a reading clerk in the Florida House of Representatives in 1917 and 1919, and held the same position in the Florida Senate in 1921. She also taught school in Taylor County and helped organize Florida’s contributions to the YWCA’s United War Work Fund.

When Taylor County representative Joseph Henry Scales announced his intention to run for the Florida Senate in 1922, several legislators and friends urged Myrtice to run for the House seat he would be vacating. It was an exciting time; the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution granting women the right to vote had just been ratified in 1920, and women across the country were demonstrating greater interest than ever in running for public office. Myrtice’s father Malcolm McCaskill supported his daughter’s bid for office, although her mother did not.

Malcolm McCaskill and other relatives drove Myrtice all over the county in a pickup truck to campaign. Some Taylor Countians supported her ideas; others believed she ought to leave the business of governing to the men. Years later, Myrtice’s daughter remembered her mother describing a conversation she had with a Taylor County woman who told her to leave politicking and moonshining to the menfolk. ‘That’s all they’re good for anyway,’ the woman reportedly told the young candidate.

Voter uncertainties aside, it seemed for a while that Myrtice McCaskill would go unopposed in her candidacy to represent Taylor County in the Florida House. At the last minute, however, attorney and former Perry mayor William T. Hendry entered the race. One of McCaskill’s greatest policy weaknesses was her support of cattle dipping, a method of killing ticks and parasites on cattle by herding the cows through a chemical solution contained in a large concrete vat. Cattle dipping was controversial because it was expensive to implement and difficult for cattle ranchers to round up their free ranging cows every few weeks to send them through the vats. Hendry opposed cattle dipping, and made this a cornerstone of his campaign.

A cow making its way through a dipping vat in Duval County (ca. 1920s). Image courtesy of the State Library & Archives of Florida.

A cow making its way through a dipping vat in Duval County (ca. 1920s). Image courtesy of the State Library & Archives of Florida.

When the votes were tallied after the 1922 election, William T. Hendry had won election the House with 835 votes over Myrtice McCaskill’s 197 votes. Myrtice’s being a woman, her support of cattle dipping, and the popularity of her challenger surely all played a role in her defeat, although we’ll never know which element did the most to tip the scales. Florida would eventually get its first female House representative in 1928, the same year the voters in Florida’s 4th Congressional district sent Ruth Bryan Owen to Washington as Florida’s first female U.S. Congresswoman.

 

Did you know that Taylor County was just recognized by the Florida Senate for reaching its 160th anniversary as a county? You can read the full text of the resolution here.

 

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