Legendary for both her community involvment and one fantastic carrot cake!
Mary Brownlee Wattles was born in Sylvia, Kansas on October 23rd, 1889. Her parents were William and Isabella (Nicholson) Brownlee. She was from a family of ten and the family lived on a family-owned 1,200-acre ranch in Sylvia.
Mrs. Wattles graduated from the University of Kansas in 1918 with a BA. After graduation, she obtained her teacher’s certificate. She taught high school English for two years, from 1918 – 1920. She began working for the YWCA in 1919 and ultimately left teaching to work full-time with the YWCA. It was during her employment with the YWCA that her community interests began to grow.
Her husband-to-be (Willard) was an instructor at the University of Kansas. It was here that he befriended one of Mary’s brothers. Willard and Mary met for the first time when he came home with her brother one summer to work on the family farm during vacation break. When her position with the YWCA took her to Seattle to work, she and Willard kept up with correspondence. Then, when Willard traveled to Seattle to visit her, they became engaged.
The couple married on June 25th, 1925. After a seven-year career in teaching and YMCA work, Mary gave up her professional interests when she married. They relocated to Winter Park in 1927, when her husband accepted a professorship at Rollins College. He was not only a professor of English, but a published poet as well. Their home was located at 455 Melrose Avenue. In 1930, their son Austin was born.
The couple entertained often. The professor’s students came for meals and there were numerous faculty parties that were held in their home. She enjoyed home-making, working in her garden, and serving the food that she prepared. She was well known for her carrot cake.
Her husband once asked her to get involved in civic affairs . . . to offer her services for the welfare of their town. She took that request to heart and became involved in numerous organizations.
Here is a list of the organizations in which she took part:
American Association of University Women
Colored Day Nursery
DePugh Nursing Home Association
Friends of the Winter Park Public Library
Library Board: Winter Park Public Library
Rollins Women’s Association
United Nations Association
Welborne Day Nursery & Kindergarten
Welfare Association of Winter Park
Winter Park Garden Club
In 1948, she received from Rollins the Algeron Sydney Sullivan Medallion, one of the college’s highest awards for service to the community.
Mary Wattles was dedicated to the Winter Park Public Library, serving at different times on the Library Board (acting as president for 10 years) and on the Friends of the Winter Park Public Library. She played an important role in providing a new library for the city of Winter Park. In fact, she was considered the motivating force behind the development that new library. She was so highly respected that when the library building was dedicated in 1959, the new library garden was named in her honor. The Mary Wattles Garden served as both a formal garden and (on pleasant days) as an outdoor reading room. The garden was decorated with benches, an umbrella table, sun dial, bird bath and an ornamental iron gate. Landscaping was done by the Winter Park Garden Club. The plaque that commemorated Mrs. Wattles’ years of service to the library is pictured below. In 1969, the garden gave way to an expansion of the building – at the request of Mrs. Wattles. In 1970, the new Mary Brownlee Wattles Reading Room was dedicated.
Her husband, Willard died in 1950.
Mary died on March 10, 1989 at the age of 99 years.
This article was written by former archivist, Barbara White, MLIS.