A ‘Ruby’ in the Rough: Dowling Park’s Postmistress and the South’s First Female Mayor

Ruby Gould the first female mayor south of the Mason-Dixon

The United States of America will turn 240 years old this summer. Compared to most of the world, that is very young for a country. Similarly, Dowling Park, Florida, became a community around 115–120 years ago: very young by the world’s standards, young even when compared to most cities in Florida, but still historic for our southern United States. One historic individual who called this area home for most of her life was Ruby Estelle Jordan.

Ruby was born Jan. 11, 1886. Upon completing high school at Glynn Academy in Brunswick, Georgia, she moved to Suwannee County, Florida, and helped her father manage the Dowling Lumber and Naval Stores in Live Oak. When Thomas Dowling’s sawmill moved to the western edge of the county — the area which would eventually be called Dowling Park — the Jordans managed the Dowling Park Commissary. Mr. Jordan was also the first postmaster of Dowling Park, with Ruby as his assistant. In 1908, at age 22, Ruby became the postmistress of Dowling Park.

Ruby was well known and respected in the community. In 1924, she was persuaded to run for mayor of Live Oak. Although opposed by two men, she was elected and became the first female mayor south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

In the 1930s, Suwannee County was open range. Farmers branded their animals and turned them loose until round-up time. The animals roamed free, even within Live Oak’s city limits. One of Ruby’s more notable policy changes as mayor was to fulfill a campaign promise by sponsoring legislation to protect Live Oak’s residents from roaming animals that destroyed their lawns and gardens. The Live Oak Police Department enforced the law by catching and impounding animals that crossed into the city limits. Animal owners were then required to pay a fee to retrieve their animals.

Ruby’s personal philosophy can be summarized in two notes that she sent to her daughter, Frances Hair: “You can live only today. So live it. Put the best into it, take the best out of it, and by doing this you will more surely prepare for tomorrow.”, and “A laugh, a smile, a kind word: these three bring happiness into the lives of others. And we all know that happiness is a perfume that you cannot sprinkle upon others without spilling a little on yourself.” When asked, her formula for longevity Ruby said, “The secret is just to keep breathing.”

Ruby spent her final years in the nursing home at Advent Christian Village (ACV) in Dowling Park. Commenting on her life at ACV, she said, “I thank the Lord each day that He guided me safely to a wonderful home. Our every need is met here.”

Ruby Jordan Strickland Giles Gould died at the Advent Christian Village nursing home June 17, 1985, at 99 years of age. She is buried in the City of Live Oak Cemetery on Winderweedle Street.

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