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South Florida's First Woman Editor



Rose (Phillips) Wilson (1876-1964)

Exhibit 42 of To Sarasota, with Love, Orlando

 

Sarasota history which began at Longwood:


Sarasota Times is the oldest business institution of Sarasota,” claimed the Tampa Times of 9 June 1917. Beneath the headline it said, “Good Newspaper, Good Woman, Good Community.” The Tampa paper was applauding its neighbor paper to the south on its nineteenth anniversary, but went on to praise the Sarasota Times editor, “Mrs. C. V. S. Wilson, as the first-ever South Florida Newspaperwoman.”


The Tampa Times added, “She’s the biggest institution in Sarasota!”


The 1917 article in fact celebrated two historical facts, although we must dig deeper into the annals of Florida history to learn of the details of each. “Mrs. C. V. S. Wilson,” as Rose (Phillips) Wilson was known throughout her impressive career by fellow newspaper executives, is indeed only one-half of the story, a story that began at Longwood in 1880, a new town in then Orange County, Florida.


“Our First Woman Editor,” the Tampa Times said three years after its first story, “she’s the biggest institution in Sarasota.” Dated 11 February 1920, this second article again addressed the Sarasota editor as “Mrs. C. V. S. Wilson.” And Rose remained “Mrs. C. V. S. Wilson” until the very end. Her 1964 obituary headline read: “Mrs. C. Wilson Dies; Widow of Publisher.” Rose had managed the Sarasota Times for longer than her husband had at the time of his death. And she had been the Publisher of Sarasota Times for a longer span than he!


“Saunter into the joint editorial and business office of the Sarasota Times most any hour of the day, and at some late hours of the night for that matter, and the first person to greet you will be a pleasant woman,” continued the Tampa Times in their admiration of editor Rose (Phillips) Wilson. By every written account, Mrs. Wilson had been a credit to journalism. Her excellent journalistic and editorial skills, however, could not seem to overcome the memory of her husband’s reputation as a Florida journalist.


Like Father, Like Son:


Cornelius Van Santvoord Wilson was living with his first wife and family at Longwood in 1880. Soon to become a railway stop at Mile 10 of the South Florida Railroad line that year, the census takers over the summer of 1880 found track layers near Mile 13, Snow’s Station (later Altamonte Springs). The first train left out of Sanford on 11 November 1880, passing through the town of Longwood on a journey of twenty-two miles to the Orange County seat at Orlando.


The Palm Beach Post of West Palm Beach, Florida, on 9 March 1920, credited the Longwood Whisper as the first Florida newspaper to take up the “anti-saloon fight” in the summer of 1886. The Longwood newspaper, said the Palm Beach Post, also supported a “local option” in Florida, which in turn led to Orange County being the first county to “vote saloons out of existence.”

The reason for the Palm Beach Post mentioning the Longwood Whisper newspaper was because of an article in which the paper was announcing the retirement of a St. Lucie County Tribune editor and publisher. “Mr. A. K. Wilson,” said the article, “owned three newspapers which he had sold to The News Printing Company.”


Archibald Kearny Wilson (1877-1944), the St. Lucie County journalist, was the son of Cornelius Van Santvoord Wilson. “Mr. Wilson,” said the Palm Beach Post of Archibald Wilson, “is the dean of the newspaper profession in this state, having been continuously engaged in the business since January 6, 1885.” Doing the math finds Archibald began his career at age eight (8), which was possible only because the young fellow had connections. “He began by sticking type on the Longwood Whisper, owned and edited by his father, Judge C. V. S. Wilson, and published at Longwood, Orange County.”


Rick’s April Blogs: Citrusland Poets


Bradenton on the Manatee River:


The newspaper career of Cornelius S. V. Wilson (1837-1910) is known largely because of his son’s retirement from the same industry in 1920. “In the fall of 1886,” said the Palm Beach Post, “Judge Wilson moved to Bradentown (now Bradenton) and established the Manatee River Advocate.” On 23 March 1888, son Archibald became a partner in his father’s newspaper business.


Wilson’s move to Bradenton on the Manatee River was a smart move. Florida’s sale of 4 million acres to Hamilton Disston of Philadelphia made it possible for the State to begin using public lands for the construction of railroads. Disston kept less than half of the four million acres, with one of the large acreage buyers being the Florida Land and Mortgage Company of Scotland, a consortium of investors who acquired 65,000 undeveloped acres south of the Manatee River.


Cornelius S. V. Wilson no doubt realized that a development of such magnitude would also need a good newspaper. It may well have been his talent for scouting news that led him to hearing about the Scotland investors plan to develop “Sarasota,” or it could have been that he learned of the plan from reading the April 1884 account by Piers E. Warburton, the Scottish lad dispatched to the States to oversee the Sarasota development. Warburton had come to Sarasota through Sanford, acquiring land at Maitland and Lakeland on his way southwest to the Gulf Coast.


However Cornelius learned of the plans for Sarasota, his move from Longwood to Bradenton was to bring the newspaperman success - but only after a dreadful loss. His first wife Harriett died in 1887, within a year of the family’s arrival in Bradenton. His eldest son died the next year. Harriett and son Arthur both died during a time when the Manatee Advocate was reporting on cases of Yellow Fever at Bradenton.


The Apprentice:


John and Isabella Phillips were natives of Scotland. He, a Canadian boatbuilder, decided to bring his shipbuilding skill and family to Bradenton in the early 1880s. Bradenton at the time was heavily populated by the Scotts, encouraged no doubt by investors from their homeland buying 65,000 acres along Sarasota Bay. Rose Phillips, daughter of John and Isabella, had been born on Canada’s Prince Edward Island in 1876.


Cornelius Van Santvoord Wilson, a native of Schenectady, New York, married Rose Phillips in 1898 at Bradenton. He was 60 years old, and she was 22. Soon after their marriage the Wilson’s relocated one final time – to Sarasota’s Five Points, where they established the Sarasota Times.

 

Cornelius Van Sanvoord Wilson died 13 October 1910, and the nearby Bradenton Herald said this of their neighbor: “He was the oldest editor in the county, both as to his age and in journalistic career, and at the time of his death Cornelius was President of the Manatee County Press Association. The Sarasota Times will continue to make its weekly visits to its patrons under the able management of Mrs. Wilson, as it has been in the past four months, Colonel Wilson during that time being too ill to give it his attention.” 


Exhibit 43: The Sarasota Times office was located on the west side of Main Street, a half-block south of Five Points.

 

The Wilson family owned the Sarasota Times for 24 years, the first eleven under the management of Cornelius. For the next thirteen years, Rose (Phillips) the widow of Cornelius, served as Editor and Publisher.


Rose (Phillips) Wilson died 22 October 1964 at the age of eighty-eight years, forty-three (43) years after selling the Sarasota newspaper founded in partnership with Cornelius.

 


Exhibit 44: Tampa Bay Times obituary of Rose (Phillips) Wilson

 

The Wilson family and the Sarasota Times history is one of the histories presented in my book, To Sarasota, with Love, Orlando: Our Shared Heritage. If you plan to attend the Centennial Celebration of the Sara De Soto Chapter of the DAR from 1 to 3 PM on Saturday, April 6, I invite you to visit my booth and look over my selection of Florida history books.



 

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