Current Exhibitions

Gainesville’s Modern Landmarks: Celebrating our Mid-Century Architectural Past (1945-1975)

Main Exhibit Hall

Closing Saturday, March 7

This exhibition has been produced in partnership with Gainesville Modern and the Department of Special and Area Studies Collections of George A. Smathers Libraries at the University of Florida. Every city has a period of time that defines its built environment and architectural character. For Gainesville, that moment was the mid-20th century. This exhibition highlights some of the outstanding examples of the Mid-Century style that are worthy of consideration for landmark status. The urgency of landmarking these irreplaceable resources has been heightened by the demolition of St. Michael’s Church (1975) designed by Frank Lloyd Wright protégé Nils M. Schwiezer. As Matheson Board member and Gainesville Modern president Marty Hylton says, “Landmark status, however, does not mean freezing buildings in time, but retaining them and adapting them to meet new community needs.”

McCarthy Moment: The Johns Committee in Florida

Mary Ann Cofrin Exhibit Hall

Open through Saturday, June 6, 2020

“Have you ever been engaged in any homosexual activities here in Gainesville?”

This question forever altered dozens of lives at the University of Florida between 1958 and 1959.

In 1956, State Senator Charley Eugene Johns created the Florida Legislative Investigation Committee. Better known as the Johns Committee, it tried to uncover subversive activity in Florida.

Their first target was the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The Committee used Communists as an excuse to prevent integration in public schools. The NAACP’s members and lawyers proved too hard for the Committee to beat.  Soon an embarrassed Johns looked for easier victims.

At this time, Americans thought being gay was a shameful mental disorder. It was something to hide and keep secret. It was also illegal in Florida. This secrecy made gay people more vulnerable to the persecution of the Johns Committee. Committee members threatened people with exposure and prison if they did not cooperate. This reign of terror led to dozens of professors and students leaving the university. Although we will never know everyone the Committee hurt, this exhibition seeks to tell their stories.

**The “McCarthy Moment” exhibition does contain sensitive information, including self-harm, sexual acts, and persecution of the LGBTQ+ community. Museum staff is available if any visitor would like more information before entering the exhibition.

Featured image (above) – Lakeshore Towers Apartments, courtesy of Gainesville 360

Upcoming Programs

Reception for “McCarthy Moment: The Johns Committee in Florida”
Thursday, February 20

Join us at the museum as we honor the Matheson’s newest exhibition McCarthy Moment: The Johns Committee in Florida. Light refreshments will be served.

Boston Marriages Gone South
with Betty Jean Steinshouer
Saturday, March 7

We are excited to welcome Betty Jean Steinshouer to the Matheson to give a presentation entitled “Boston Marriages Gone South,” which explores the lives of four same-sex couples who traveled to Florida together in the 19th and 20th centuries, long before marriage equality: Sarah Orne Jewett and Annie Fields; Katharine Loring and Alice James; Marjory Stoneman Douglas and Carolyn Percy Cole; and Elizabeth Bishop and Louise Crane.

Author Henry James coined the term “Boston Marriage” in his 1886 novel The Bostonians. Inspiration came from his sister Alice and her partner, Katharine, plus Miss Jewett and Mrs. Fields, who had the original Boston Marriage. The four went back and forth between New England and St. Augustine at the height of the Gilded Age, circa 1888, always stopping in St. Helena Island, SC, to see their mutual friends, Laura Towne and Ellen Murray. Then fast forward to four 20th century ladies. Both couples met at college (Marjory and Carolyn at Wellesley, Elizabeth and Louise at Vassar) and traveled to south Florida, where Marjory Stoneman Douglas and Elizabeth Bishop each became established authors with major Florida influences on their work.  Ms. Steinshouer will examine the closeted relationships of these four couples and how they managed to stay connected in spite of secrecy and society’s judgments.

Florida’s Female Pioneers
with Dr. Peggy Macdonald
Thursday, March 12

We are thrilled to welcome back public historian, author, and former executive director, Dr. Peggy Macdonald, to speak at the Matheson about Florida’s female pioneers. A signing of her book, Marjorie Harris Carr: Defender of Florida’s Environment, will follow her presentation.

In this presentation Dr. Peggy Macdonald examines some of the women who have shaped Florida, including: Dr. Esther Hill Hawks, a physician who ran the first racially integrated free school in Florida–and probably the nation–after the Civil War; Harriet Beecher Stowe, who kick-started Florida’s tourism industry with her 1873 book, Palmetto Leaves; Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, a pioneering educator and civil rights leader whose statue will soon replace Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith’s statue at the National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol; Betty Mae Tiger Jumper, the first and only female Florida Seminole tribal chair and the first female tribal chair of any American Indian tribe in the nation; and May Mann Jennings, a suffragist and conservationist who was once known as the most powerful woman in Florida. Florida’s “Three Marjorie(y)s”–Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Marjorie Harris Carr and Marjory Stoneman Douglas–are also featured. The talk is illustrated by stereographs and historic postcards from the Matheson’s photographic collection, the State Archives of Florida, the private collection of Mimi Carr, and other repositories.

Florida’s Minority Trailblazers: The Men and Women Who Changed the Face of Florida’s Government
with Dr. Susan MacManus
Thursday, April 2

In celebration of the 19th Amendment centennial, which gave women the right to vote, we are honored to welcome professor, author, and political analyst Dr. Susan MacManus to discuss her book Florida’s Minority Trailblazers. We are excited to partner with the UF Bob Graham Center for Public Service and the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections office for this program.

Florida experienced a population surge during the 1960s that diversified the state and transformed it into a microcosm of the nation, but discrimination remained pervasive. With the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, along with later rulings on redistricting and term limits, the opportunity to participate in government became more and more possible for previously silenced voices.

Drawing primarily from personal interviews, Susan MacManus recounts the stories of the first minority men and women–both Democrat and Republican–who were elected or appointed to state legislative, executive, and judicial offices and to the U.S. Congress since the 1960s. She reveals what drove these leaders to enter office, how they ran their campaigns, what kinds of discrimination they encountered, what rewards each found during their terms, and what advice they would share with aspiring politicians. Full of inspiring stories and informative statistics, Florida’s Minority Trailblazers is an in-depth rendering of personal struggles–guided by opportunity, ambition, and idealism–that have made Florida the vibrant, diverse state it is today.