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Kathryn Abbey Hanna: Florida’s Forgotten Environmental Historian

by Danielle Kendrick

Editor’s Note: Danielle Kendrick is a former JHS intern pursuing a master’s degree in history at University of North Florida. Her article gives us a glimpse at Kathryn Abbey Hanna as “Florida’s Forgotten Environmentalist.”

Dr. Kathryn Abbey Hanna is the namesake of a Jacksonville city park, yet many people who visit the park do not realize it is named after a Florida historian. Over the course of her forty-year career, Dr. Hanna created and assigned cultural and social value to nature through her historical scholarship, her work as a public figure, and as a member of the Florida Parks Board. A study of

Dr. Hanna, Mrs. Kathryn Abbey Hanna and Governor Caldwell on March 20, 1948. Photo credit: State Archives of Florida.

Drs. Alfred Hanna and Kathryn Abbey Hanna and Governor Caldwell on March 20, 1948. Photo credit: State Archives of Florida.

her career demonstrates that her ideas about the environment were ahead of their time. Moreover, that the contributions of female scholars to the betterment of society, are often overlooked.

Through her historical scholarship, Dr. Hanna articulated a progressive view of the environment, one that encouraged the preservation and conservation of Florida’s landscapes and natural resources. Scholars argue that environmental sentiments emerged when ecology entered the vernacular. However, Dr. Hanna’s work conveyed an understanding of ecological concepts as early as 1941. In other words, she understood the relationship between humans and their environment, earlier than her contemporaries.

As a historian in the public sphere, Dr. Hanna used public engagements in woman’s clubs, garden clubs, and historical societies to perpetuate her advanced views about the natural world. Her historical scholarship established an understanding of the relationships between humans and nature, but in her public work, she ascribed cultural and social value to nature. Within her social and professional networks, she and like-minded individuals from various professions, altered how we understand our relationship with the land in Florida.

As a member and chairwoman of the Board of State Parks from 1953 to 1963, Dr. Hanna lobbied for the protection of Florida’s natural spaces in the state park system. She used the term historical preservation to protect public land from further development, at the start of Florida largest and longest developmental boom — arguably, the boom that never ended. As a historian, her most significant contribution was the intrinsic historical value she applied to the physical characteristics of the land.

Kathryn Abbey Hanna was one of many Florida women whose mark remains with us in the present. Her stamp on Florida exists in the progressive historical scholarship she left behind, her ideas about historical preservation that included: natural areas, trees, shrubs, coastlines, and waterways, and in a vibrant and thriving state park system. For a woman who did not picket, she left a lasting impression on her adopted state, one which has been neglected and deserves to be told. She is Florida’s forgotten environmental historian and environmentalist.

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