Women’s rights activist Roxcy Bolton died last Wednesday in her home state of Florida. She was 90 years old.
According to the New York Times’s obituary, Bolton is best remembered for convincing national weather forecasters to name tropical storms after men as well as women—a means of combatting the pervasive association of women with disaster. She also founded the first rape treatment center in the United States at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, Florida. In 1993 it was renamed the Roxcy Bolton Rape Treatment Center in her honor. Both law enforcement and health professionals began to prioritize this violent crime because Bolton emphasized its severity.
But Bolton’s life boasts many accomplishments. Her activism led National Airlines to grant maternity leave to pregnant women rather than to terminate them. And, arguing that “men and women sleep together; why can’t they eat together?” Bolton successfully pressed Miami department stores to do away with men-only dining areas.
On a larger, more political scale, Bolton, along with others, persuaded President Richard Nixon to initiate the tradition of celebrating a Women’s Equality Day in 1972. She also managed to convince Senator Birch Bayh of Indiana to introduce the Equal Rights Amendment to Congress. Sadly, the ERA never passed, in part due to efforts by conservative leader Phyllis Schlafly to rally support against it.
Her mightiest crusade, however, was against sexism in meteorology. Just as ships are often bestowed with feminine names, it became naval tradition to name storms after women as well. Sexist clichés soon followed—storms “flirted” with the coast or were “temperamental.” Bolton could not abide by this.
Women “deeply resent being arbitrarily associated with disaster,” she declared.
“Officials flatly rejected her facetious first suggestion that the maturing tropical depressions also be called ‘him-icanes’ and that the [hurricane center in Dade County, Florida] bestow storm names to honor its bloviating benefactors in Congress. After all, she said, ‘Senators delight in having things named after them.’
At the time, only one woman, Margaret Chase Smith of Maine, a Republican, was in the Senate, and, as an ardent Democrat, Ms. Bolton had in mind headlines like ‘Goldwater Annihilates Florida.’”
Weathermen finally acquiesced a generation later, attributing the shift to Bolton, as well as to feminists Patricia Butler and Dorothy Yates. In 1979, the year’s second hurricane was named Bob.
In 1966, Bolton aided in founding the Florida chapter of the National Organization for Women. However, she broke with the organization when it incorporated lesbian rights into its platform. Once liberated, she said, there are women who “forget their responsibilities to family and children.”
Bolton was married twice, first to William Charles Hart, with whom she had one son before they divorced (that son, Randall, died in 2000). She married Navy Commander David Bolton in 1960. He joined her in her campaign for the Equal Rights Amendment, and they lived as partners until his death in 2004. Bolton is survived by her sons Buddy and David, and her daughter Bonnie Bolton.