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Under the lavish stained-glass ceiling and up a grand marble staircase, the San Carlos Hotel and Ballroom created a space where women could gather in Pensacola. While the hotel has a rich backstory, the "Gray Lady of Palafox" established itself as a venue for women to assemble. Built by James Michael Muldon, Sr. and Frasier Franklin Bingham in 1910, the hotel hosted thousands of guests, clubs, and organizations until 1982. The Spanish artistic architecture and luxurious ballroom, dining room, and lobby attracted various women-based groups. These women came from all different backgrounds: religious, occupational, suffrage, business, and military. San Carlos Hotel was a gathering space that forged groups and unified many of these women.

San Carlos Hotel, ca. 1940s

Building, Architecture, Black-and-white, Landmark

Leaders of the Catholic Women's Parley

Photograph, Forehead, Text, Head

Fashion Show Advertisement

Text, Font

Junior Miss Fiesta Entries

Face, Facial expression, Hairstyle, Retro style

The Business and Professional Women’s Club held monthly meetings at the San Carlos for many years. The club hosted dinners, career clinics, amusements, and fundraised for charities. In 1949, they held a career clinic in the San Carlos Ballroom that discussed business clothing regarding upkeep, pricing, styling, business ethics, and habits. In 1966, they held a career awards banquet, which celebrated local women in business. The career awards were a part of a larger ceremony—Nation Business Women’s Week. The club also regularly hosted speakers that encouraged women’s participation in political affairs, much like the League of Women Voters. This grassroots organization fought for women’s suffrage, which also met at the hotel.

           The San Carlos hosted other women’s rallies, including a three-day event for Navy Mothers in February of 1951. This rally was especially important due to the ongoing Korean War and the impending threat of communism in the US. Mothers from the southeast gathered at the hotel to promote and boost morale. Captain D.W. Lyon, commanding officer at the Pensacola Navy Hospital, noted: “They play an important role in bringing the degree of high morale to the Navy which exists today.”[1] The Navy Mother’s Club aimed to help military personnel and support one another through shared experiences.

In October of 1959, the National Council of Catholic Women (NCCW) held a three-day conference with headquarters at the San Carlos Ballroom. Organized by women, for women, the event drew in hundreds from the southeast. After many sessions, Catholic women came out of the meeting with many ideas about education and womanly duties. Archbishop T.J. Toolen reenforced Catholic education's goals: to "make the child a good citizen of this earth and prospective citizen of heaven."[2] Helen Theissin, president of the NCCW, noted the Catholic woman’s duty in a modern and confusing world: “to shine their light to those in the darkness of pagan philosophy… women will set the goal and inspire men.”[3]

           The San Carlos hosted stereotypical feminine events as well. Fashion shows became token events in the San Carlos Ballroom. Pageants, and competitions, like Junior Miss Fiesta, promoted the gathering of women. Other women’s clubs and organizations that met in the hotel include, but were not limited to, the Hairdressers and Cosmetologist Association, college alumnae groups. One of the earliest and long-lasting events, debutante balls, served to encourage young-adult courtship. The San Carlos Hotel was a gathering space, home to countless events that forged groups and unified many women.   

[1] Winnie Smith “Navy Mothers Big Morale Builder, Convention Told.” Pensacola News Journal, February 7, 1951.

[2] Yvonne Gullatte, “Make Children Good Citizens,” Pensacola News Journal, October 27, 1959.

[3]Jane Ware, “Womanhood’s Job ‘Big in Modern Confused World,’” Pensacola News Journal, October 28, 1959.  

“Area Navy Mothers Arrive in City for 3-Day Rally.” Pensacola News Journal, February 4, 1951.

“B&P W Club Women Hold Meet in Hotel.” Pensacola News Journal, November 15, 1950.

“Career Clinic Will Be Held in San Carlos.” Pensacola News Journal, January 30, 1949.

“Catholic Elect New Directors.” Pensacola News Journal, October 29, 1959.

“Catholic Women’s Parley Will Open Here Tomorrow.” Pensacola News Journal, October 25, 1959.

“Catholic Women Set 3-Day Meeting Here.” Pensacola News Journal, October 18, 1959

Dawkins, Mary. “Officers From Four States Attend Seminar.” Pensacola News Journal, March 5, 1970.

“Diocese Head Will Preside at Conference.” Pensacola News Journal, October 23, 1959.

“Esquire Fashion Parade Will Be Presented in Hotel Friday Night.” Pensacola News Journal, March 12, 1950.

“Fashion Show Luncheon,” Pensacola News Journal, November 13, 1947.

“Hairdressers Unit to Meet Tuesday.” Pensacola News Journal, February 4, 1951.

James, Helen Frances. “Gulf Park College Girls Enjoy Weekend as Guests of Pre-Flight.” Pensacola News Journal, December 10, 1950.

Johnson, Sandra, Virginia Parks, and Pensacola Historical Society: Pensacola in Vintage Postcards. Postcard History Series. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2004.

“Junior Miss Fiesta Entries.” Pensacola News Journal, April 14, 1957.

“Local B&P Club Members Hold Meeting.” Pensacola News Journal, February 15, 1950.

“Pensacola BPW Club Members Have Election.” The Pensacola News. April 25, 1961.

Small, Mary. “Business Women’s Week To Be Celebrated Here.” Pensacola News Journal, October 9, 1966.

“Tiller’s Togs Presents Fashion Show Luncheon,” Pensacola News Journal, February 19, 1947.

“Watch Politics, McCarty Urges Business Women.” Pensacola News Journal, February 27, 1951.

“Welcome Catholic Women.” Pensacola News Journal, October 27, 1959. 

Image Sources(Click to expand)

University of West Florida Archives

October 25, 1959, Pensacola News Journal

November 13, 1947, Pensacola News Journal

April 14, 1957 Pensacola News Journal