marlienebastien_fc.jpgJuly 30 was a very hot day.  The city of Miami was celebrating its 114th anniversary and Mayor Thomas Regalado said in his remarks that Miami was the “only city in the U.S. that was founded by a woman,” referring to Julia Tuttle.

Miami-Dade County Commission Vice Chairman Pepe Diaz said  for Tuttle to accomplish what she did in such a difficult time really proved that “women are the superior race.” Realizing that the pioneering women in the room would not hesitate to have him sign the statement with a gold pen, he laughingly added,” What do you expect me to say with a wife and two daughters in the house?”

It was  indeed a momentous event.

“For a woman to have the audacity to get Henry Flagler to bring his railroad to Miami, build a hotel, and lay out the town at a time when women had no voice is extraordinary,” Mayor Regalado said.

As recounted by well-known historian Arva Moore Parks, Julia Deforest Sturtevant Tuttle “discovered” Biscayne Bay in 1875.  She and her two young children came from Cleveland, Ohio, to visit her parents, Ephraim  and Frances Sturtevant ,who lived in the area now known as Miami Shores. After her husband’s death in 1886, she was left without money and she turned her ancestral home into a “boarding house and social gathering place.” With money left her by her parents, she sought new opportunities.

At age 42, she came back to Miami, bought 644 acres on the north bank of the Miami river and right after she arrived on Nov. 13, 1891, she lobbied for the railroad to come to Miami, promising half of her land to Flagler.  Sensing that he still needed a nudge,   she sent him a “bouquet of orange blossoms” to prove to him that Miami was alive.

On April 13, 1896, the first train bearing Flagler and other dignitaries arrived in Miami, Parks noted, and three months later, Flagler's luxurious Royal Palm Hotel opened and “a new city was born.” 

Tuttle died Sept. 14, 1898, at age 49, at the time a “real old age.” She did not see her prediction come true, that Miami would become a great international metropolis.

At least 10 of her descendants came to the event. Several elected officials were also present on this day to honor women. I was reminded by the  women pioneers present that I was part of the initial process. 

Soon, Biscayne Boulevard will be designated Julia Tuttle Way, thanks to a bill sponsored by State Rep. Yolly Roberson in the Florida Legislature.

I wonder what Tuttle would think about today’s “City of the Extremes,” where extreme poverty rubs shoulders daily with obscene wealth.  The city's filthy rich live on isolated islands, while the dire poor fight daily for a livable wage, affordable housing and access to health care in their slums.

I wonder what she would think of the dictum “zafe pov pa zafe rich” (Creole for “the problems of the poor are no concerns for the rich”).  No matter. Soon , her magnificent statue offering fresh oranges blossoms to Henry Flagler will grace the south end of Bayfront Park.

“Today, Julia Tuttle’s vision has been cast in bronze for  all time,” Parks said.

Marleine Bastien is the founder and executive director of Fanm Ayisyen Nan Miyami (FANM), or Haitian Women of Miami, Inc. She may be reached at