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From the Collections Vault: Archival Binder: Staff – Marie Hawkins Little

For Women’s History Month here in the Bonnet House blog we are celebrating the life of Marie Hawkins Little (1911-2008). Marie was seventeen years old when she came to Bonnet House as kitchen maid for the Birch-Bartlett family in the 1920s. At the request of Evelyn Bartlett, Marie became head cook in the 1930s. She lived in the building next to the Orchid House. In our archives, we have an archival binder dedicated to the employees of the Birchs and Bartletts. As I began researching to create new signage in the Caretaker’s Cottage, I came across this particularly incredible woman whose obituary and celebration of life pamphlet are included in that binder. Not only was she a treasured staff member at Bonnet House, she and her family were also Fort Lauderdale pioneers. Marie’s sister, Gussie Pope, was employed as a housekeeper here as well. Her cousin Dewey Hawkins was a caretaker and chauffeur for Hugh Taylor Birch and the Bartletts. Dewey’s wife, Arneather Hawkins, was a laundress, and they were the first family to live in the Caretaker’s Cottage. Their nephew Alonzia Nash and niece Irene Riley Hart came to live with them as well in the 1930s. Irene went on to serve on the Bonnet House Board of Directors from 1995-2001 and was a Bonnet House ambassador since her time living here. Quite a remarkable family!

Here is Marie’s beautifully written obituary, by Gregory Lewis, staff writer at the Sun-Sentinel:

“Marie Hawkins Little, a member of a pioneering Fort Lauderdale family who taught migrant workers and Seminoles how to cook and eat healthful meals, died Sunday after a five-month illness. She was 96.

Mrs. Little was born Nov. 21, 1911, in Eve, a Central Florida town her father named. The family moved to Fort Lauderdale in October 1924. She attended the Colored School, now Dillard High School, which had only eight grades. She graduated in 1932 from high school at Luther Merner Colored School in Daytona Beach.

Mrs. Little made a living with her culinary skills after graduation, working at Delta Tea Shop in Fort Lauderdale and as the head cook in the 1930s for the families of Hugh Taylor Birch and Mr. Fredrick (sic) Clay Bartlett at what is now known as the historic Bonnet House.

In the 1970s, the Broward Board of Education hired her as a home economics teacher in the adult education program, in which she visited migrant workers and Seminole Indians to teach them healthy eating and cooking skills.

‘She was a gourmet cook,’ said her granddaughter-in-law Michelle Blakely of Plano, Texas. ‘She could cook food of any ethnicity, soul food and her own recipes. But she was famous for her molasses cookies and oyster stew.’

A long-time member of St. Christopher Episcopal Church in Fort Lauderdale, Mrs. Little was recognized in the late 1980s as a pioneer by the Broward County commissioners and the Historical Society.

She was a grandmother to the children and younger adults, who called her ‘Grampy’ in her northwest Fort Lauderdale neighborhood. She was honored by various organizations for here community service, including the Les Bon Amie Club.

Mrs. Little is also survived by her daughter Clytimus Austin, four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.”

Marie had a great relationship with Evelyn Bartlett. Marie often referred to her as “Madam” which tickled Evelyn every time. Together they would confer on the weekly menu, and Evelyn regularly raved about Marie’s cooking. In the attached photos you will see Marie (in pink), with her cousin Arneather on Bonnet House property in the 1930s, as well as in 2002 with Irene Riley Hart (dark hair) reminiscing in the Kitchen. We thank you, Marie, for your work for the residents and visitors of Bonnet House.

New, more informational signage on the cottage, its first family, Birch and Bartlett employees (including Marie), and a panel dedicated to Irene Riley Hart will be on display by the end of the month in our Caretaker’s Cottage. Stop by to learn more!

To get to know more about Marie Hawkins Little and the Hawkins family, visit Hugh Taylor Birch State Park and History Fort Lauderdale:

Hugh Taylor Birch State Park | Florida State Parks

Homepage – History Fort Lauderdale


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