The City of Coral Gables has a history of women’s leadership and meaningful contribution to the community, starting with the strong women behind the creation of our City Beautiful.
George Merrick is known as the founder of Coral Gables, but he could not have achieved nearly as much as he did without the support of important women in his life, such as his mother Althea Merrick.
Admired for her artistic and positive spirit, Althea inspired her son to create something worthwhile by designing their home and now a historical staple, the Coral Gables Merrick House. Along with two other residents, Merrick’s mother also founded the Coral Gables Women’s Club in 1923, paving the way for the ongoing involvement of women in Coral Gables for generations to come.
However, Althea Merrick was not the only influential woman in George Merrick’s life.
Eunice Peacock Merrick was George’s wife and most trusted partner in all aspects of life, including the founding of Coral Gables.
As his secretary, Eunice played a key role in developing the city by organizing projects and accompanying him in conducting daily business. She even took it upon herself to choose several of the Spanish names for the city’s streets.
In 1924, Eunice Merrick and five other women came together to create the Coral Gables Garden Club, a society that to this day memorializes Eunice’s legacy in the city’s history.
Even after George Merrick’s death, Eunice remained active in civic and women’s organizations and served as a valuable source of information for writers and historians. Strong-willed and independent, Eunice lived to see her husband’s dream of the City Beautiful fully realized.
Since its founding, Coral Gables has been graced with the powerful guidance and leadership of women. Inducted as a commissioner in 1979, Dorothy Thomson began her political career in the city at a time when women were hardly seen in public office. In 1985, Thomson became the first-ever female mayor for the City of Coral Gables, revitalizing the City by overseeing multiple important projects including the Biltmore Hotel renovations. A true trailblazer, Thomson served 16 years on the city commission as a commissioner, mayor, and vice mayor.
Elected in 2001, Maria Anderson became another important female figure in Coral Gables politics. For 12 years, she served her community as an elected commissioner, known for her work in support of senior citizens as well as for reforming city services.
In 2015, another well-known community activist was elected to the city commission. Commissioner Jeannett Slesnick, wife of former Mayor Don Slesnick, served for two years until 2017. She continues her involvement in Coral Gables as a private citizen and a real estate professional.
Today, Coral Gables continues to exhibit prominent women in the community.
Commissioner Patricia Keon, who also held the title of vice mayor of Coral Gables, has been on the city commission for over five years. She has a long history of public service in the community, and served on a number of municipal boards, including the city’s Planning and Zoning Board and the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, where she spearheaded the expansion of the Coral Gables War Memorial Youth Center. In her current term as a commissioner she focuses on matters related to improving education, the inclusion of programs for people with disabilities in the community, and beautifying the city.
With such a rich history of great and influential women in Coral Gables, it is no surprise that some go beyond city limits to achieve even greater heights.
In 2001, Donna E. Shalala, the former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services in the Clinton administration, became the first female president of the Coral Gables-based University of Miami, making extraordinary progress in all areas. Under her leadership, the university experienced an extraordinary rise in the popular U.S. News & World Report’s annual Best Colleges ranking and excelled in establishing one of the most sought-after colleges in the country. After 14 years of notable leadership at the university, Donna decided to step down as president and continue her legacy by running for office, becoming a U.S Representative for Florida’s 27th Congressional District soon after.
The contributions made by all of these exceptional women have come together over time to form the modern-day City Beautiful that we cherish today. Thanks to these efforts Coral Gables has become a world-class community.