- January 18, 2023
The Winter Garden Heritage Foundation is paying tribute to the women who made a difference in West Orange County in a new exhibition: West Orange Women: Making History Part I.
It recognizes the contributions of the female residents in this area, who were educators, artists, community activists, socialites, politicians, business owners and blue-collar workers. Coming from all walks of life, each of these women was instrumental in growing and nurturing this region.
Included in the first of several exhibitions are Carolyn Anderson, Amanda Booker, Linda Chapin, Annie Connell, Pauline Dees, Mildred Dixon, Ann Harrell, Jean Grafton, Charlene Payne Kammerer, Dorothy Kannon, Laura Scott Kirton, Juanita Coney Maxey, Amanda “Tex” Brown Meachem, Mae Reeves, Grace Mather-Smith, Helen “Dewey” Vick, Mary Vea Tanner and Charlie Mae Wilder. The exhibition also honors the organizers and earliest members of the Bloom & Grow Garden Society, Woman’s Club of Ocoee, Orgarlan Women’s Club and the Winter Garden Welfare League, as well as the contingent of female workers in the local packinghouses.
“We have always been aware of the contributions made by women in West Orange County,” said WGHF director Jim Crescitelli. “In order to survive, pioneer families all had to work together. Women were a huge part of that, from working in the orange groves and packinghouses and small businesses to raising families and starting social service organizations that we still benefit from today here in West Orange County.”
Here's a look at some of the women featured. Check out the full exhibition to read about all of the local women who have made a difference in the area.
Booker moved to Winter Garden in 1948 and was a crucial member of the black community along Avalon Road in Tildenville. She was the sole director of the Tildenville Childcare Center in its 24 years of existence, and working parents trusted her with their children. In the facility’s early days, there was no funding for food or a washing machine; she spent her own money to buy food for the center and wash all the clothing and linens.
The facility also served as a network for people needing employment opportunities or donated items such as furniture or clothing.
Dixon was the first female and the first black resident to serve on the Winter Garden City Commission. She chose to run for a seat on the commission because she felt black residents were underrepresented in city government. She served 11 years, from 1985 to 1993 and 2003 to 2006.
Dixon was born in Winter Garden in 1923, moved to New York City after high school and eventually returned to her hometown and became an advocate for the residents of east Winter Garden. She died in 2006 but her legacy lives on through the Mildred Dixon Activity Center and Mildred Dixon Way.
Harrell was a key figure in Winter Garden’s business community in the mid-20th century. She and her husband, John, opened the Winter Garden Café in 1933, where regulars could get their daily cup of coffee and where meals were cooked for the prisoners housed in the city jail in the basement of the old City Hall.
When John Harrell was drafted during World War II, Ann Harrell had to operate the restaurant in his absence, working 16 to 20 hours each day. Before he returned home, she had sold the restaurant; they then opened and operated Winter Garden Loan Company for several decades.
Kannon devoted her life to creating outstanding and moving art. Her art career began soon after she graduated from Lakeview High School in 1949, and her work was recognized throughout her life. She was passionate about her art, saying to create was innate to her being. She worked as a graphic designer and helped design the Knight mascot at the University of Central Florida.
Kannon was spiritual, and many of her paintings included angels and angelic figures. She also grew a portfolio of works that included foliage, blossoms and earth tones.
AMANDA “TEX” BROWN MEACHEM
Meachem answered the Army Air Force’s call during World War II for citizens who could fly a plane and became a member of the Women’s Air Service Patrol. She accepted a financial position with the Civil Air Patrol after college on the condition she could fly. She served the WASP — flying planes from factories to air bases and assisting with training and fulfilling cargo missions — until she got married in 1944.
She flew again at the age of 93 when the nonprofit organization History Flight allowed her in the cockpit of a vintage AT-6 Texan.
Reeves worked for Florida Telephone Corporation for nearly three decades and, after retiring, served as a volunteer at the Winter Garden Heritage Museum and History Center. She started drawing and taking art classes later in life following a massive stroke. She won first place in a juried art exhibition when she was 80.
ORGARLAN WOMEN’S CLUB
The traditionally black club, named by combining Orlando and Winter Garden, was organized by Dorothy Brown Mathews in 1974 as a spiritual outlet for local women. After three years, the club officially was incorporated as a nonprofit organization. Early members were Margaret Jefferson, Janice Hogan, Martha Stevenson, Frances Ward King, Joyce Brown, Ferndale Jenkins, Dorothy Brown Matthews and Annie Bell Brown.
Members today continue the tradition of engaging in at least one service project each month.