For Women’s History Month, we take a closer look at one woman whose name you have probably heard but you may not know much about the woman herself. We are talking about Kathryn Abbey Hanna, an esteemed Florida scholar whose namesake Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park has become one of our community’s premier beach and nature parks.
Winthrop Bancroft, a Jacksonville investor and millionaire, donated five acres of oceanfront property to the City of Jacksonville in 1967 with two requirements: that it become a park and that it be named for Kathryn Abbey Hanna — an educator, author and historian — who had died earlier that year. The city needed more than just the five acres for a park so they acquired additional acreage adjacent to the donated property and opened Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park in 1972.
Kathryn Abbey Hanna was a remarkable woman. While she had no direct ties to the area, she had an affinity for Florida and, like the man who wanted to honor her with a park that bears her name, Hanna served as chair of the state’s Board of Parks and Historical Places. As a member and chairwoman from 1953 to 1963, she advocated for the protection of Florida’s natural spaces in the state park system.
Hanna was born in the Chicago-area in 1895 and earned her PhD from Northwestern University. Eighteen months after receiving her PhD, she was invited to be on the program of the American Historical Association. She completed a dissertation dealing with the “Floridas” which held her intellectual and academic interest. In 1926, Hanna learned of a faculty opening at the then Florida State College for Women (which would later become Florida State University), and with glowing support from her former professors and college administrators, she became an associate professor. She quickly rose in the academic ranks and was a full professor by 1927 and by 1930, she was chairman of the Department of History, Geography and Political Science.
Hanna’s first important publication was “Florida, Land of Change” which was published in 1941 and was the first comprehensive history of the state. At the age of 46, she married Alfred Jackson Hanna, professor of history at Rollins College and later its vice president. Hanna then resigned from her tenured senior-faculty position and collaborated with her husband in research and writing. The two branched out beyond Florida and began research in Central and South Americas Canada, England, France and the United States.
Kathryn Abbey Hanna died in April of 1967 at the age of 71.
So the next time you visit Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park, you will now know the legacy of its namesake, a pioneering woman who made her mark on Florida education and scholarship.