Roxcy Bolton: Tireless Feminist Organizer


This March, for Women’s History Month, the Ms. Blog is profiling Wonder Women who have made history—and those who are making history right now. Join us each day as we bring you the stories of iconic and soon-to-be-famous feminist change-makers.

Feminist and community organizer Roxcy Bolton has rarely found a problem or issue regarding women that she could not solve. For decades she has used her connections and moxie to get things done.

It usually began with a call to her Coral Gables home in Miami, Florida. One call in the 1970s informed Bolton that women were being arrested for indecent exposure because they had been breastfeeding in a Miami park.

She quickly called the state government in Tallahassee only to learn that then-Attorney General Bob Shevin was in a meeting.

“This is an emergency,” Bolton told the aide and demanded to speak to him immediately. He soon came to the phone. Her first words were: “Did your mother breastfeed you?”

She quickly had the women out of trouble—just another victory for women at the hands of Bolton.

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Roxcy Bolton was born Roxcy O’Neal in 1926 in Mississippi. A long-time Miami resident, she fought for women’s rights on numerous levels. In Florida, she advocated for women’s access to the previously all-male lunchrooms at Burdines and Jordan Marsh department stores.

On the national level she took on the National Weather Bureau on the naming of hurricanes for women (at the time there were virtually no hurricanes named after men).

“Women are not disasters,” she announced, “destroying life and communities and leaving a lasting and devastating effect.”

By the 1960s, some feminists began addressing the gendered naming practice. Appealing to the National Weather Service in the early 1970s to drop its gendered hurricane-naming system, Bolton instead recommended naming the storms for senators—who, she said, “delight in having things named after them.”

Following pressure by Bolton and other women activists, the National Weather Service and the World Meteorological Association finally ended the gendered practice in 1979 by adopting an alternating practice of using both men’s and women’s names.

Bolton first got involved in community issues and in the Democratic Party during the 1950s. She was influenced by Eleanor Roosevelt’s address at the 1956 Democratic National Convention. Shortly after, Bolton began her activism when she spoke to a women’s group in Fort Lauderdale to advocate for equal pay for equal work.

In 1960, Roxcy O’Neal married Commander David Bolton, who was a U.S. Navy lawyer. They lived briefly in Japan. After Bolton’s retirement from the Navy in 1964, the couple moved to Miami, where they raised their three children.

Bolton was one of the first Florida women to join the National Organization for Women after its founding in 1966, serving as national vice president in 1968. She also founded and was the first president of the Miami-Dade Chapter of NOW in 1968. She campaigned for the Equal Rights Amendment and convinced then-U.S. Senator Birch Bayh (D-Ind.) to hold hearings on the ERA before Congress in 1970. Bolton also worked to establish Commissions on the Status of Women in state government and in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.

She pushed to establish August 26 as Women’s Equality Day. The 1972 proclamation by President Richard Nixon establishing the day was later presented to Bolton in recognition of her work.

After years of personally assisting women in need, Bolton founded the organization Women in Distress in 1972. Now operated by the Salvation Army, the organization offers temporary lodging, legal assistance and counseling to support women in personal crises.

Bolton organized marches against rape and sexual assault, and brought public attention to the needs of rape victims. In 1974, she helped to establish the Rape Treatment Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, which was renamed the Roxcy Bolton Rape Treatment Center in 1993.

In the early 1990s, Bolton’s thoughts returned to those women arrested in the Miami park. She spoke to others about the need to have a park devoted to the women of her longtime city. By 1992, The Women’s Park opened at 10251 W. Flagler Street in Miami—a place to honor the women Bolton had fought for. In 2014, Bolton was a National Women’s History Project Award recipient; the celebration was held in Miami at The Women’s Park.

Photo courtesy of the National Women and Media Collection


Kimberly Wilmot Voss, PhD, is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Central Florida. She studies women and newspapers in the 1950s through the 1970s. She examines the women who worked in journalism at that time, as well as the media’s representation of women. This often means looking at the early years of the women’s liberation movement. She has published numerous academic articles in these areas. She is currently writing a book about Dallas women’s page editor Vivian Castleberry.