Kate Veronica Jackson (1857-1940)
Prepared by the Historical Monument Trail Selection Committee, Friends of the Tampa Riverwalk.
Kate Jackson founded the Tampa Civic Association in 1911 and her organization was a major factor in the city’s first water and sewage system, its first library, and especially its recreational facilities. A businesswoman and philanthropist, she also worked to preserve the Florida Everglades. Early in her life, she was instrumental in the creation of Tampa’s historic Academy of the Holy Names.
If she had lived at a time when women were considered full citizens, Kate Jackson probably would have been mayor like her father and her brother.
Her mother, Ellen Maher Jackson, was a teenager when she fled the famine that plagued Ireland in the 1840s. She was bound for New York, where many Irish women worked as servants, until she met a Catholic priest on the ship. He persuaded her to come to St. Augustine, where his sister owned a store. Ellen Maher was employed there until she met another Irish immigrant, John Jackson; they married in 1847 and moved to Tampa. They survived the giant hurricane of the next year and eventually built a fine home on Franklin Street, where they reared four children. Kate – originally spelled “Cate” – was the youngest.
Catholicism was so important to her family that she was educated in Key West, which had nuns before Tampa did. She graduated from the convent school there in 1873 and returned to Tampa, where she played the organ at Sacred Heart Church (then called St. Louis). So close were her friendships with nuns that she later spent summers in a Canadian convent.
Jackson was instrumental in bringing sisters of the Holy Names to Tampa and in founding the school that is on Bayshore Boulevard today. Begun in 1881, the Academy of the Holy Names originally was in a small building at Twiggs and Marion, run by two nuns who collected donations from largely non-Catholic Tampians.
Although young Kate was described as a beautiful redhead who had many suitors, she never married. She refused invitations to wed by saying that she wished to become a nun, as well as by citing obligations to her elderly mother. When Ellen Maher Jackson died in 1906, however, Kate neither married nor took vows. Maritally and financially free, she founded the (all-female) Tampa Civic Association (TCA) in 1910. Her first cause was creating a city recreation department, and Mayor D.B. McKay wrote that when he took office that year she was one of his first visitors:
She stated that among Tampa’s great needs were playgrounds under trained directors. I tried to argue that the city had more material needs, but she would not be denied… Miss Jackson is entitled to credit for the acquisition of Tampa’s first public playground. She contributed a considerable sum of money to its equipment.
A very practical thinker, she catalogued the city’s needs in a 1911 speech to the TCA. The women’s first priority was a water and sewage system to provide clean water, end outhouses, and provide the public sanitation that would curb the mosquito-based epidemics that long plagued Tampa. In discussing the proposed program, Jackson went on to make detailed points of planning and engineering that still are too often unheeded today.
“Pipes and mains should be laid down” before streets were paved and property purchased before the necessary land escalated in price. She added, “I hope the City Fathers will pardon me if I make so bold as to suggest that they deal directly with the owners of such property and not pay…commissions to the Real Estate Agent.”
Although they lacked the vote, Jackson led her TCA women in working for a library, paved streets, and improvements to public buildings. In a 1913 report, she said:
Tampa’s Federal Building is in better shape than ever before. We have protested against loafers on the Square, and have sought strenuously to have the spitting ordinance enforced. We have been largely instrumental in having the merchants close on Thursday afternoons during the summer months, thereby giving the clerks a needed rest.
Nor were her interests limited to Tampa. An early environmentalist, Jackson was instrumental in the preservation of a large tract of land in the Everglades. An officer in the Florida Federation of Women’s Clubs, she joined those women in purchasing the initial acreage for what became the National Everglades Park.
Her interests in nature and recreation made her a natural for the Girl Scouts, and when the nation’s second troop began here late in 1912, she not only served on its council, but also became a life member. When World War I began a few years later, Jackson led both the Girl Scouts and Tampa Civic Association in war support. The girls handed sandwiches to troops on trains, and the association supported the Red Cross, Liberty Loan drives, and more direct efforts. According to the Tribune, Jackson’s association “gave money to Near East Relief, and $1,100 to the poor children at Evian, France.”
She was not active for the vote in the 1890s, when Ella Chamberlain led Tampa women, but Kate Jackson was a latent feminist. After the Florida Federation of Women’s Clubs endorsed the vote for women in 1917, she supported the Miami and Jacksonville women who were the leaders in that era.
Not all of her time was spent in volunteer work: she also was a shrewd businesswoman. Because of their early settlement, the family owned several blocks downtown, and Kate Jackson expanded the fortune as a developer, investor, and major shareholder in Citizens Bank. Men respected her business ability, and even the Great Depression did not wholly wipe her out, as much of the real estate reverted to her when buyers and tenants could not make their payments.
In the quiet of her home, she was something of an intellectual. She left notebooks full of ideas on subjects as diverse as rivers, stoves, bees, and books. She wrote essays with titles such as “If I Can, I Will” and “True Politeness.”
When Jackson died in 1940, she left her estate to the church and to the female members of her family. Presumably she thought that her brothers and nephews had greater opportunities, and she wished to make life easier for the women. It was her last gesture to the independence that defined her life.