Community Spotlight: The Women Leading the Way Campaign in Brooksville Main Street

March 5, 2021 | Community Spotlight: The Women Leading the Way Campaign in Brooksville Main Street | By: Abby Armato, Communications Coordinator, NMSC | 
A collection of women featured in Brooksville Main Street's campaign to celebrate the impact and legacy of women. Photos courtesy of Brooksville Main Street

March is Women’s History Month! Join us in this monthly celebration by sharing stories of the women who have impacted your commercial district and amplifying the women who are making history today. Get started today by downloading our sample social media graphics. Learn more about one Main Street program’s initiative celebrating women’s history below, and be sure to tag us in your initiatives using #WeAreMainStreet.

Brooksville Main Street’s Women Leading the Way Campaign celebrated the legacy of the trailblazing women who made history in their community. Debuting last fall as a part of their county-wide Founders Week celebration, this campaign featured 43 stories of important women – past and present – in Hernando County, Florida. Photos and newspaper clippings of these women’s stories were designed into posters, which were then printed out and hung in storefronts throughout downtown. Visitors were encouraged to walk the district and find them all.

When asked how this project came to fruition, Executive Director of Brooksville Main Street Natalie Kahler explained that, despite their enormous accomplishments, women had been excluded from local county history books. “I had taken out a book that was published in 1976,” shared Natalie. “It was this [thick] book of Hernando County history, and there was not a single woman listed in the index.”

The range of eras and professions of the women highlighted in the Women Leading the Way Campaign was vast. Founders, small business owners, activists, and teachers from across the decades since Hernando County’s founding were featured beside each other. The campaign also highlighted the first women to serve in various public office roles in Hernando County and Florida at large, such as the first woman mayor in the state of Florida (Lena Culver Hawkins), the first women to serve on the Hernando State Bank’s Board of Directors (Mary Alice Hale McKethan), and the first woman to serve as the Hernando County Registrar and Supervisor of Elections (Ada Cooper Law).

1st International Congress of Working Women, instituted by Brooksvillian Margaret Dreier Robins (1919). Photo courtesy of Brooksville Main Street

At the heart of the campaign was a celebration of the lasting impact the highlighted women had had on the Brooksville Main Street community. One such woman was Margaret Rogers Ghiotto. Born in 1916, Ghiotto was an all-around downtown difference-maker. An active member of the community, Ghiotto planted hundreds of trees in Brooksville in an effort to beautify the downtown and renovated a dozen historic homes in the area. She also founded Rogers’ Christmas House, an iconic small business in the commercial district. So great was her impact that Ghiotto was awarded the Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year and named the Great Brooksvillian of 2003. Today, the City’s beautification award is named after her.

Ghiotto passed in 2006, but the seeds of her legacy literally bloom in downtown Brooksville. Said the Main Street program of her impact, “Before the internet, she found ways to showcase Brooksville and reach travelers worldwide. One of her major accomplishments was making Brooksville a Christmas destination. As Main Street, we have continued this effort and hope to introduce more and more families to our beloved Brooksville not just at Christmas, but every day of the year.”

Ghiotto is just one of the 43 incredible women whose stories were told in the storefront windows of the commercial district. Each woman uniquely impacted the evolution of Brooksville’s community and downtown district, and thanks to the Main Street program, each woman’s legacy had a chance to be celebrated.