Gwen Cherry (1923–1979) was a lawyer and state legislator for Dade County, Florida. She is recognized as the first black woman lawyer in Florida.
Cherry received her undergraduate and law degrees from FAMU. After passing the Florida Bar Exam in 1965, she began working at Legal Services of Greater Miami as the first black woman attorney in Dade County. She also taught at Florida A&M University for 20 years as an associate professor.
In 1970, she was elected to the Florida State House in Dade County and served as the first black woman Florida State Representative. She introduced the state's first bill to implement the ERA in 1972, but it was dismissed due to a constitutional law prohibiting amendments made directly after elections. She reintroduced the bill each year, but was unsuccessful in passing the ERA. In 1973, she was elected as founding chairone of the Florida National Organization for Women and served as the organization's state president in 1974. She also served as the head of the Women's National Political Caucus. She also ran unsuccessfully for President of the University of Florida in 1973-1974. After receiving her application, Marshall Criser stated, "he would not seriously consider her application for the position." Gainesville NOW organized a mail campaign against the UF Board of Regents to support her bid. Cherry filed a sexual discrimination suit with the US Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (later renamed Department of Health and Human Services).
Cherry was killed in a car accident in Tallahassee, Florida in 1979 and was recognized posthumously as a member of the Florida Women's Hall of Fame in 1986. In 2008, FAMU dedicated Gwendolyn Sawyer Cherry, Esquire Lecture Hall in her honor. The building is used for classes and trial practice.
I have my priorities in my order, and my black priorities came first and women second. ... When you are talking about people's rights, if you are going to fight for one set of rights, you've got to fight for the other, it doesn't make sense if you don't.—Gwen Cherry, 1974
- State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, 1978. "Portrait of legislator Gwen Cherry." http://web.archive.org/web/20140725201046/http://floridamemory.com/items/show/21278 Accessed 25 Jul. 2014.
- Gwen S. Cherry Black Women Lawyers Association. "Gwendolyn S. Cherry." http://web.archive.org/web/20131203113354/http://gscbwla.org/gwendolyn-s-cherry/ Accessed 3 Dec. 2013.
- Florida Commission on the Status of Women. "Gwendolyn Sawyer Cherry." http://web.archive.org/web/20131215034331/http://www.fcsw.net/halloffame/WHOFbios/cherry.htm Accessed 15 Dec. 2013.
- Box 21 Folder 5 Document 6 p. 2
- Samuel Proctor Oral History Program - Florida and Politics Oral History Program, Interview by Jack Bass and Walter De Vries in Tallahassee, FL. May 21, 1974. "Gwen Cherry" http://web.archive.org/web/20140725201437/http://ufdcimages.uflib.ufl.edu/UF/00/00/55/75/00001/Binder4.pdf Retrieved 25 Jul. 2014. p. 15-17
- Box 21 Folder 5 Document 6 p. 2
- Box 21 Folder 5 Document 10 p. 1
- Florida Commission on the Status of Women. "Members of the Florida Women's Hall of Fame." http://web.archive.org/web/20131224182125/http://www.fcsw.net/WHOFmembers.htm Accessed 24 Dec. 2013.
- Gwen S. Cherry Black Women Lawyers Association. "Gwendolyn S. Cherry." http://web.archive.org/web/20131203113354/http://gscbwla.org/gwendolyn-s-cherry/ Retrieved 3 Dec 2013.
- Samuel Proctor Oral History Program - Florida and Politics Oral History Program, Interview by Jack Bass and Walter De Vries in Tallahassee, FL. May 21, 1974. "Gwen Cherry" http://web.archive.org/web/20140725201437/http://ufdcimages.uflib.ufl.edu/UF/00/00/55/75/00001/Binder4.pdf Retrieved 25 Jul. 2014. p. 17-18