Biographical Database of Militant Woman Suffragists, 1913-1920
Biography of Olive Dorothy Richard (Mrs. George) Rowland, 1896-1965
By Jewel Parker, Graduate Student, University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Olive Dorothy Richard was born in Mobile, Alabama, on June 4, 1896 to Edward E. Richard and Bella Scharff Richard. Her father was born in Benton, Alabama in 1852 of German immigrant parents. He worked in the optical water industry. Bella's parents were Moses and Regina Scharff, both from Bavaria.
Olive had several siblings: Marie Dorothy (born 1880), Charles Leo (born 1893), and Eloise (born 1895). Olive's mother grew up at 3552 Olive Street in Saint Louis, Missouri. Perhaps, Olive is named for her mother's fond memory of her childhood home.
A September 13, 1914 article in the Tuscaloosa News, "Mobile Girl Enters Law Department," said that Olive graduated from Baker High School in the Gulf City and explained that "She made an enviable record in that institution and her friends predict that she will be equally successful in the study of law." On September 13, 1914, the Montgomery Advertiser reported that "Miss Olive Richards of Mobile . . . has entered the University [of Alabama] and is the only lady member of the University Law Class." In the 1915 Mobile City Directory, Olive is listed as student, living at 1004 Government Street. That same year, on December 5, the Tuscaloosa News lists Olive as a member of the Kappa Delta sorority. By 1916, Olive had graduated from her program.
In 1918, Olive worked as an attorney at the same Mobile address. In 1918-1919 she served on the National Committee of State Chairmen for the National Woman's Party (NWP), headed by Alice Paul. The NWP's goal was to "Open to all women who, regarding woman suffrage as the foremost political issue of the day, support it irrespective of the interests of any national political party." There were no regular dues and only a 25-cent admission fee.
The NWP worked to spread their message into the South by making a motor trip through thirteen southern states in 1917. Most likely, Olive became involved in the suffrage movement through this event. They started their motorcade in April by first visiting Virginia and made it to Alabama by November, where an interest meeting for militant suffragists took place at the Exchange Hotel in Montgomery. However, a November 3, 1917 article, "Suffragettes Hold Slim Meeting in Exchange Hotel: Militants Fail to Arouse Wild Enthusiasm by Addresses Here" in the Montgomery Advertiser explains that "If any of the local suffrage organization were present they did not make it known" because many feared the repercussions of advocating for women's right to vote since Alice Paul was serving a jail sentence at the time for doing just that. Sara Haardt succeeded Olive as the Alabama Chairman for the NWP.
Sometime between January 1919 and 1920, Olive moved to Washington, D.C. She lodged at a residence on Columbia Road with 6 other women. According to the 1920 Federal Census, Olive worked as a clerk for the US Government. That same year, Olive joined the French Club. In the Evening Star, on November 22, 1920, under "Society," she is listed among the other women members who celebrated a Thanksgiving luncheon at the Washington Salon.
On June 2, 1923, Olive married George Alfred Rowland, age 42, in Washington, D.C. Rowland was born in Ohio. The Columbus Medical Journal lists George as a graduate of Ohio Medical University in 1907. He served in World War as a first lieutenant for the Army's Medical Corps. He was honorably discharged and lived in Washington, D.C. where he worked as a Doctor for the US Government. In 1925, the Evening Sun, reported that "Dr. G. A. Rowland Gets Perryville Hospital's Helm," a Veterans' Hospital. The article notes that Rowland was formerly the chief of the Bureau of Psychiatry, in the Veteran's Bureau.
The Rowlands lived together in Washington, D.C. until 1930 when George began working as a physician at the U.S. Veterans Hospital in Scioto, Ohio. Olive must have kept residences in both Washington, D.C. and Ohio as she appears on the census record for both places. On September 23, 1931, the Chillicothe Gazette reported in "Here and There" that "Dr. and Mrs. Rowland, recently of the U.S. Veteran's hospital at Camp Sherman, left Tuesday for their new home in Washington, D.C. where Dr. Rowland will take over the position of the chief neuro-psychiatric division of the Veteran's Bureau Medical Service."
The Rowlands continued to serve their communities. On April 10, 1932, the Evening Star reports that Olive attended the Political Study Club's Annual May Lunch. On January 15, 1933, the Evening Star reported that Dr. and Mrs. George A. Rowland attended a dance hosted by the Tri-States Societies of Oklahoma, Alabama, and Connecticut. Olive continued to stay connected with the University of Alabama and joined the Alumni Association in Washington, D.C. On October 6, 1935, the Montgomery Advertiser reported that Mrs. George A. Rowland was among the alumni who received the University's football team at Union Station.
World War II began in 1939. By 1940, George accepted a managerial position at the Veterans Administration facility in Danville, Illinois. In the 1940 federal census, Olive is listed as a lawyer for the Veterans Administration there. It was only a short time before Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on December 7, 1941, leading to the United States' entry into the war.
George continued to work for the U.S. military through World War II. After the war, the Rowlands returned to Washington, D.C. However, the Rowlands soon retired from federal work and moved to Florida in 1950. They built their last home at 16333 Redington Drive in 1955.
Yet, this would not be the end of Olive's political experience. Upon moving to Redington Beach, Florida, locals were impressed with her law degree and experience working for the US military. She was elected to the Town Commission, and on December 6, 1956, she was elected by the other commissioners to be the first woman mayor of the town.
A May 17, 1965 article in the Tampa Bay Times recounts Olive's achievements as mayor. She was responsible for starting a 24-hour police force and a fire department. She also financed two new police cruisers, two fire pumps, and a resuscitator for the first responders. The police force also made money for the town since Olive implemented her idea to rent out the Redington Beach police to North Redington Beach for $200 a month. She also led a project that contributed $135,000 to road improvement and $1.5 million to the Redington Reef Cooperative Apartment Building. Clean up of the town was close to her heart. As mayor, she contracted with private firms to collect garbage across town, hired a plumbing inspector, installed 26 new streetlights, and purchased a mosquito fogging machine.
On January 8, 1957, Olive ran for reelection as mayor against Commissioner Hartwell P. Morse. She would serve two terms before retiring as mayor on January 7, 1958 at the age of 62. She and George continued to live in their home in Florida until May 15, 1965 when Olive was killed in a two-car collision. She was 69 years old. Only a few days later, on May 22, George also died at home at the age of 86.
"Addition is Planned for Hospital in Ohio," The News Leader, October 10, 1931.
"Crash Kills Mrs. Rowland; Redington Beach Ex-Mayor," Tampa Bay Times, May 17, 1965.
"Dr. G.A. Rowland Gets Perryville Hospital's Helm: Replaces Col. Barlow as Superintendent of Veterans' Institution," The Evening Sun, March 22, 2020.
"G.A. Rowland, Former Beach Mayor's Spouse," Tampa Bay Times, May 24, 1965.
"Here and There," Chillicothe Gazette, September 23, 1931.
"High-Speed Limits," Tampa Bay Times, May 30, 1965.
"It Happened in Washington," The Montgomery Advertiser, October 6, 1936.
"Marriage Licenses," Evening Star, June 3, 1923.
"Mobile Girl Enters Law Department," Tuscaloosa News, September 13, 1914.
"Mrs. Olive Rowland Dies in Car Crash," Tampa Bay Times, May 17, 1965.
"Mrs. Rowland Again Mayor of Redington," Tampa Bay Times, January 9, 1957.
"National Committee of State Chairmen," The Suffragist (July 13, 1918-Jan. 18, 1919).
"Ohio Medical University," Columbus Medical Journal: A Magazine of Medicine and Surgery, Vol. 31 (December 1907): 275.
"Political Study Club Annual May Lunch," Evening Star, April 10, 1932.
"Society," Evening Star, November 22, 1920.
"Society and Women," Tuscaloosa News, December 5, 1915.
"South to be Invaded by Suffragist Hosts: Women Plan Motor Trip Through Thirteen States Starting on April 1," The Birmingham News, March 18, 1917.
"Suffragettes Hold Slim Meeting in Exchange Hotel: Militants Fail to Arouse Wild Enthusiasm by Addresses Here," The Montgomery Advertiser, November 3, 1917.
"Transfer Vet Chief," The Decatur Herald, September 3, 1939.
"Tri-States Society Give Dance Wednesday," Evening Star, January 15, 1933.
"Twelfth Annual Report, Ohio State Board" in Annual Report of the State Board of Medical Registration and Examination of Ohio, Vol. 12 (December 1902): 19.
"Woman Mayor Retires Jan. 7," Tampa Bay Times, December 29, 1957.