Rose Phillips Wilson: The Original Girl Boss of Sarasota County
In 1899, Cornelius Van Santvoord (C.V.S.) Wilson, the owner of the Manatee County Advocate, decided to move to the small village of Sarasota to start the area’s first newspaper. The year prior, C.V.S., a widow, had remarried to the young Rose Phillips. 40 years her senior, C.V.S. had a successful career in the newspaper industry and was ready to take on a new challenge.
The two founded The Sarasota Times in a small wooden building on Main Street. At this time, Sarasota was still part of Manatee County and the population was less than 800 people. The first edition of the paper was published on June 1,1899 and they ran the weekly publication together until C.V.S.’s passing in 1910. While he was ill, C.V.S. wrote a final editorial to be printed after his death. Published on October 6, 1910, the editorial stated that he had been ill for the past four months and during that time Rose had been operating the paper on her own. He went on to sing her praises and left the newspaper to her. His final published words were, “Now, with life’s duties finished and only awaiting the call to pass “over the River” I lay down my pen and pencil, put aside my stick and rule, vacate the editorial chair and walk out of the sanctum with honor unsullied, aged seventy-three. Farwell.”
That is how a 33-year-old woman became the editor and proprietor of The Sarasota Times in 1910
And that is how a 33-year-old woman became the editor and proprietor of The Sarasota Times in 1910. As you might imagine, having a woman at the helm of a newspaper was not common at that time, but Rose stepped into the role with grace and dignity. Every Thursday, The Sarasota Times reported on local news such as, City Commission and Board of Trade (the precursor to the Chamber of Commerce) meetings, local events, and beautifully written obituaries and tributes. Rose’s talents became known throughout the state, providing her the opportunity to serve on the board of the South Florida Press Association and write an article about the advantages and disadvantages of being a woman in the newspaper industry.
But Rose did not simply report about the local community, she was an active participant in Sarasota matters. Her activities included; being a founding member of the Town Improvement Society which became the Sarasota Woman’s Club and serving as the Chairman of the Membership Committee for the Board of Trade. Her strong connection to the community enabled her to be a genuine voice for the people.
As she mastered her trade, she also utilized the newspaper as a platform for advocacy. A proud suffragette, Rose placed news about the suffrage movement on the front page of the paper. When women were finally given the right to vote in 1920, Rose was the first woman in Sarasota to register. A meeting hosted by the Woman’s Club to educate women on politics and voting, was not only well attended, but Rose placed it on the front page of The Sarasota Times.
Rose was also a proponent for the creation of Sarasota County, and on June 16, 1921 Rose changed the name of the paper to The Sarasota County Times to reflect the community’s excitement over the new county.
When Rose took over the paper the population of Sarasota was around 900 people and the paper was four pages long. By 1923 the paper had grown to 12 pages and the population would reach 8,400 people between 1920 and 1930.
When Rose took over the paper in 1910 the population of Sarasota was around 900 people and the paper was four pages long. By 1923 the paper had grown to 12 pages and the population of Sarasota was rapidly increasing. Between 1920 and 1930 the population grew by 290% to reach 8,400 people. Rose knew the community well and was aware that the newspaper needed to expand with Sarasota. Therefore, in January of 1923, Rose sold the paper to the Sarasota Publishing Company.
Rose wrote a beautiful editorial titled, “The Ties That Bind”, that was published on January 4, 1923. In her final piece, Rose thanked the community for its support since 1899 and shared her reasons for selling the paper at this time. She writes,” We have no apologies to make for the paper we have given Sarasota. It represented, each week, many long hours of service and the standard we had set we took some pride in maintaining.” Her piece ended with these final words, “We believe that Sarasota is now entering upon a new and more substantial growth. We are glad, through our paper, to have had a part in the building of the town and glad that the Times will continue its service in a broader capacity.
"Now that larger plans speak of a greater Sarasota there are none who feel a greater interest and pride then those, who in the pioneer days, caught the vision and paved the way.”
"We are glad, through our paper, to have had a part in the building of the town and glad that the Times will continue its service in a broader capacity."—Rose Wilson, final editorial "The Ties That Bind" (1923)
After Rose sold the paper, she spent time helping her widowed brother and was noted to be studying international law at the Woman’s Club. However, there is not much printed about her after the sale of the paper because she intentionally stepped back from the public eye. Rose passed away on October 22,1964 and is buried beside C.V.S. in Manasota Memorial Park.
Although the original building on Main Street where Rose ran The Sarasota Times has long been destroyed, the building that was completed in 1926 by the Sarasota Publishing Company to expand The Sarasota Times still remains. Today that building is Sage restaurant located at 1216 1st Street, Sarasota, FL 34236, and although it is not the building where Rose ran the paper, it does represent her incredible legacy.
Compass Rose History Experiences is a local company dedicated to connecting people to the history of the Sarasota and Bradenton areas. Through stories of those who came before us, Compass Rose creates meaningful relationships with the past.