Fannye Ayer Ponder
Coming to the Sunshine City from her native Ocala with her husband in 1925, Fannye Ponder was an educator, organizer and a social and civic leader in St. Pete for more than 40 years. A graduate of Florida A&M, Ponder taught at Gibbs High School for 20 years, organized the St. Petersburg Metropolitan Section of the NCNW (National Council of Negro Women) as well as the City Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs. She worked as a Republican committeewoman and helped build two community buildings in the black community: the Council House that bears her name and the Melrose Clubhouse. Ponder directed her limitless energy toward the advancement of women on the local, state and national levels, working alongside such prominent activists as Dr. Bethune and First Lady of the United States Eleanor Roosevelt. In 1972, in recognition of her accomplishments for more than 40 years of service to her community and the nation, then St. Pete Mayor Herman Goldner declared a day in June of that year as Fannye Ayer Ponder Day. She passed away on May 31, 1982, but her legacy still lives.
Ponder’s legacy is that of someone who worked for women’s rights, believed in equality and worked to change the lives of those less fortunate. She was politically astute, a patriotic and servant leader, once selling thousands of U.S. Savings Bonds during World War II, totaling $85,000 in one single night in Miami. It was Ponder who founded the local NCNW chapter in 1942 — properly called the St. Petersburg Metropolitan Section — to develop "competent and courageous leadership" among African-American women. During World War II, she sold thousands of dollars in war bonds to help build a U.S. Merchant Marine Liberty ship, the SS Harriet Tubman, the first to honor an African-American woman. She and her mentor, Mary McLeod Bethune, founder of the NCNW and what would become Bethune-Cookman University, had tea at the White House with three first ladies, Eleanor Roosevelt, Bess Truman and Mamie Eisenhower. In St. Petersburg, Ponder was the force behind the prime site for political, educational, social and cultural gatherings for African-Americans at a time when racial segregation barred them from public facilities, such as beaches, libraries and swimming pools.