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Today in History - September 27

The Quest of Ponce de León

On September 27, 1514, the Spanish crown granted the explorer Juan Ponce de León a contract to settle the islands of Bimini and Florida (de León thought the latter was an island). His first contract, granted in February 1512, authorized de León to discover and populate Bimini. For his second voyage, he equipped his fleet and sailed for Florida from Puerto Rico in 1521 with two ships, two hundred men, fifty horses, and a variety of domestic animals and agricultural tools.

Norton Gallery and School of Art, West Palm Beach, Florida. Patio, general view with statue (title: Fountain of Youth; sculptor: Wheeler Williams). January 17, 1942. Gottscho-Schleisner Collection. Prints & Photographs Division

Ponce de León landed near Charlotte Harbor on Florida’s west coast, and his arrival did not go unnoticed; the colonists were soon attacked by Seminole Indians. During the assault, an arrow struck and wounded Ponce de León. He returned to Cuba, where he died as a result of his infected wound that same year.

On his first visit to Florida, in April 1513, Ponce de León landed at the site of modern day St. Augustine. He named the region Florida because of the lush, florid vegetation that grew there. Thinking he had found the island of Bimini, he searched for the mythical Fountain of Youth, said to rejuvenate those who drank from it. Subsequent Spanish incursions in North America led to the founding of a permanent settlement at St. Augustine in 1565.

In the Court of the Ponce de Leon, St. Augustine, Fla. c1905. Detroit Publishing Company. Prints &Photographs Division
“‘On February 10, 1521, he [Ponce de Leon] wrote to the emperor: “I discovered Florida and some other small islands at my own expense, and now I am going to settle them with plenty of men and two ships, and I am going to explore the coast, to see if it compares with the lands (Cuba) discovered by Velasquez.…But the captain’s star of fortune was waning. He had a stormy passage, and when he and his men landed they met with such fierce resistance from the natives that after several encounters and the loss of many men, Ponce himself being seriously wounded, they were forced to reembark. Feeling that his end was approaching, the captain did not return to San Juan, but sought a refuge in Puerto Principe, where he died.”

Chapter XI: Calamities—Ponce’s Second Expedition to Florida and Death 1520-1537. In The History of Puerto Rico, from the Spanish Discovery to the American Occupation, by R. A. Van Middeldyk; edited by Martin G. Brumbaugh; New York: D. Appleton & Company, 1903.Puerto Rico at the Dawn of the Modern Age: Nineteenth- and Early-Twentieth-Century Perspectives. Hispanic Division

Alcazar, Cordova, & Ponce de Leon, St. Augustine, Fla. Harris Co., c1910. Panoramic Photographs. Prints & Photographs Division

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Kathy Whitworth, Champion Golfer

Professional golf’s all-time leading tournament winner Kathy Whitworth was born on September 27, 1939, in Monahans, Texas. Whitworth started playing golf at the age of fifteen. At nineteen she joined the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) Tour. Over the next fifteen years, she received the LPGA Player of the Year Award seven times.

[Three Women Playing Golf-"Jackson Sanitorium]. ca. 1890. Johnston(Frances Benjamin) Collection. Prints & Photographs Division

Whitworth won her first tournament, the Kelly Girls Open, in 1962. Three years later, she was named the Associated Press Athlete of the Year. She received the award again in 1967. For her outstanding performance between 1968 and 1977, Golf Magazine named Whitworth “Golfer of the Decade.”

Whitworth was inducted into the LPGA Tour Hall of Fame in 1975, but didn’t rest on her laurels. By 1982, she had captured eighty-two LPGA titles. Whitworth won her eighty-eighth title in 1985, setting the tournament victory record for a professional golfer—man or woman.

Women’s Metropolitan Golf Championship, Nassau Country Club. W H Wallace, 1913. Panoramic Photographs. Prints & Photographs Division

Golf first became popular among American women in the mid-1890s when the growing leisure class adopted it as one of its new amusements. Magazines such as Ladies Home Journal urged women to try the sport, a sixteenth-century favorite of Mary, Queen of Scots.

“The Golf Girls” in The Clover Trio: A High Class Singing Act for the Vaudeville Stage Arranged for Ladies Voices. Samuel H. Speck, 1898. The American Variety Stage: Vaudeville and Popular Entertainment, 1870-1920. Rare Book & Special Collections Division

For many women of privilege, golf provided the adventure and challenge missing from their restricted everyday lives. The sport’s popularity grew, and by the 1920s, women’s amateur golf tournaments were attracting a range of players and large crowds.

Golf. Woman with Clubs on Golf Course II. Theodor Horydczak, photographer, ca. 1920-ca. 1950. Horydczak Collection. Prints & Photographs Division

In the 1940s and 1950s, golfing greats Babe Didrikson Zaharias, Patty Berg, and others worked firmly to establish the LPGA Tour, the first professional tour for women, and to make their sport more accessible to women of all races and social classes.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Kathy Whitworth and her peers, including golfing legend Mickey Wright, further developed the LPGA, helping female golfers gain greater acceptance and opportunities for lucrative financial rewards.

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