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Florence Lee Jones Cahlan

UNLV Professor Michael Green, respected historian and contributor to the Online Nevada Encyclopedia, says, “In a town and era in which women often were second class citizens, Florence Lee Jones was a true Las Vegas leader and pioneer” (Green, 2009).

In a 1983 interview, Florence Lee Jones Cahlan said, “I was always treated with the highest respect because I behaved like a lady,” [t]he communications field should inspire people to be better and to reach higher. I take pride that I have been at the beginning of many wonderful things” (Hopkins, 1999).  Florence is a transformational leader who had a positive impact on the City of Las Vegas from the beginning.

Florence’s Lee Jones’ youth was spent traveling the world, as her father worked for Royal Dutch Shell.  Those travels formed her curiosity and interest in other people, places and events.  She received her Bachelors of Arts in Journalism from the University of Missouri in 1933.  She was hired as the only journalist for the Las Vegas Review-Journal in 1933, after submitting a fiery story on a famous lawsuit against Six Companies, the prime contractor for what is now called Hoover Dam.  She went on to investigate and expose the many wrongs that Six Companies meted on Las Vegas workers for many years.

The Nevada Press Association (NPA) considered Jones part of their Hall of Fame, and reflected on her professional life

“This longtime Las Vegas Review-Journal writer was the first important female journalist in Southern Nevada when she began her career in the 1930s. She covered hard-news stories when most women writers were confined to tea party beats. She later became the dominant scribe of Las Vegas society news” (Nevada Press Association, n.d.).

The NPA clearly respected her abilities and long career as journalist.  Jones was more than a hard-news journalist, she also was interested in preserving the history of Nevada, serving her community and mentoring others.

In her journalism, she was said to be “a stickler for double-checking all facts” (Hopkins 1999).  Jones kept a large collections of factual information on anyone who was of interest, which is housed in the Nevada State Museum, and often utilized to check up on things Las Vegas.  Her then-assistant, Maisie Gibson Ronnow, was one of those Jones mentored, who said that besides Jones’s work as journalist, her volunteer work was important too, “It almost seemed that she gave 100 percent of her time to each of them” (Hopkins 1999).

Jones deeply cared for preserving Las Vegas history.  The following quote from the R-J article shows how important her work is:

“In 1955 Jones wrote a voluminous special section for the Review-Journal, marking the town’s 50th anniversary. Lavishing time on the project, she looked up old-timers who were still alive, and the aging offspring of others, and recorded their memories. “You find things in that edition that aren’t found anywhere else,” said David Millman of the Nevada State Museum” (Hopkins, 1999).

She also “spent a week in California interviewing Lelah Vegas Gass Slaughter, the 80-year daughter of Octavius Decatur Gass the first white to make a long-term home in the Las Vegas Valley” (Hopkins, 1999).  This was a very important visit, as Lelah was the only remaining member of the family, and little had been recorded about the families’ situation while living in Las Vegas.  They left because of the oppressive heat, and inability to farm successfully.

Jones also was at the beginning and contributed to the creation of the Service League, now called the Junior Service League, and served as President for 2 years.  The Service League was begun after WWII, by women who had worked on various projects during the war, and wanted to re-focus that energy onto the City.  Her long care and preservation of history was well-recognized as “In 1972 she became the first woman ever selected to the board of trustees of the Nevada State Museum” (Hopkins 1999).

Florence and her husband, John Cahlan wrote Water, A History of Las Vegas, commissioned by the Las Vegas Valley Water District, and published in 1975.  I used this three-volume publication when preparing a research paper on the creation of the Las Vegas Valley Water District, and on an earlier project writing about the Union Pacific Railroad.  While researching, I gained a great deal of respect for Jones, who was a thorough and careful writer. Just as she double-checked her facts, I checked hers against the original documents in Lied Library Special Collections and the Nevada State Museum and never found a discrepancy.

I believe Jones was a transformational leader, because of the things she helped create, including the Junior Service League, and serving on various boards.  I see her as an ethical person because she was a “stickler for the truth” in her journalism and her desire to preserve the history of her community.

Her comment that her ability to be the top reporter for Las Vegas for decades was that she “acted like a lady.”  I take that comment to mean she treated others with respect and sensitivity, and received respect in kind, which would be transformational qualities.  Jones succeeded because of her energy, truthfulness, caring, and clear communication skills.

As Professor Green says, Jones, from her early days as reporter assigned to the Boulder Dam project (now Hoover Dam) to her 1975 book, was always a leader, ready to find or create ways to transform and preserve Las Vegas into a place of peace, prosperity, and enjoyment over her long career.

References

Green, M. (2009, February 4). Florence lee jones cahlan. Retrieved from Online nevada encuyclopedia: http://www.onlinenevada.org/articles/florence-lee-jones-cahlan

Hopkins, A. (1999, February 7). Florence jones cahlan. Retrieved December 3, 2015, from ReviewJournal.com: http://www.reviewjournal.com/news/florence-lee-jones

Nevada Press Association. (n.d.). Florence lee jones. Retrieved from Nevada Press Association: http://nevadapress.com/about-us/hall-of-fame/florence-lee-jones/

Women’s Research Institute of Nevada. (2011, March 21). Florence lee jones cahlan. Retrieved from UNLV: http://wrinunlv.org/research/our-history-profiles-of-nevada-women/florence-lee-jones-cahlan/

 

2 thoughts on “Florence Lee Jones Cahlan

  1. Great informative read about a clearly wonderful and inspirational female leader. I’m glad I came across this. I also think her leadership qualities were of such a high calibre because she was a stickler for the facts, meticulous and overall focused on producing the best possible results in anything she did; her research was clearly second to none and she always sought to reveal the truth in her writings. Thank you for the references too!

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