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Willson, Minnie Moore (1859-1943) | University of Miami Finding Aids

Name: Willson, Minnie Moore (1859-1943)

Historical Note:

Minnie Moore Willson was born to a well-to-do country family near the town of West Newton, Pennsylvania, on August 14, 1859. Willson was a relative, through her mother, of President James Polk. Minnie Moore married James Mallory Willson, a native of Somerset, Kentucky, but a resident of Chicago, Illinois, on September 3, 1890 in West Newton Pennsylvania.

Willson's acquaintance with Kissimmee, Florida, began in the early 1880s. Wilson visited the area during the winter season and developed an interest in the Seminole Indians. Both Willsons were nature lovers and Minnie wrote for a number of wildlife magazines. The Willsons were active members of the Audubon Society of Florida and through Mrs. Willson's writings and influences, the town of Kissimmee served as one of the first towns in the state to become a bird sanctuary.

Through contacts with the Southern Baptist Organization, James Willson helped organize Baptist missionary crusades for the Seminole Indians. The Willsons were instrumental in the society known as "Friends of the Florida Seminoles". This organization dealt with the Indians through education and attempts to raise their standard of living. The Willsons proved instrumental in the passage of an act by the Florida Legislature in 1913, setting apart 100,000 acres in the extreme southern portion of the state for use by the Seminoles. The Willsons worked closely with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the resident Indian Agent, and the National Indian Association, and their efforts culminated with passage of the bill.

Minnie Moore Willson served as first president of the Kissimmee Women's Club and thereafter was elected honorary president for life. She was also a member of the American Pen Women and other literary groups. Willson published The Seminoles of Florida in 1895. The book contained a vocabulary of the language by James Willson and the volume achieved unusual success. The Seminoles of Florida was rewritten, enlarged and re-edited in later years.

Willson also wrote short stories, the most famous of which was a collection of "slave" stories taken from an old slave woman from Virginia who lived among the Seminoles and claimed to have cooked the "treaty dinner" that marked the end of the Seminole War. Willson's last works included a short history of Osceola County and a monograph of the Indian Chief, Osceola. Minnie Moore Willson was an invalid a great part of her life, suffering from headaches and hip problems that required two major operations. Willson died on August 12, 1937. James M. Willson, also an invalid the last few years of his life, died on August 5, 1943.

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