From the History of Florida, Past and Present, Vol. III, 1923.
The Strangest Names in American Political History makes its first stop in Florida for 2018 to examine the life of multi-term state representative, gubernatorial candidate and U.S. Representative Dannitte Hill Mays, a man best known to this author as that funny named Florida congressman whose first name sounds as if it belongs on the periodic table of elements. Curious name notwithstanding, Mays was for over twenty years a political power player in the Sunshine state, serving three terms in the state legislature (including one as speaker of the house), a two-time candidate for Governor, and in 1908 was elected to the first of two terms in Congress.
A son of Richard Adams and Eliza (Williams) Mays, Dannitte Hill Mays was born in Madison County, Florida on April 28, 1852. Bestowed the unusual name Dannitte (an ancestral family name) upon his birth, Mays was not the first child in his family born with that name, an older brother (name spelled Daunitt Hill Mays) having died in November 1851. Dannitte Mays' formative years were spent upon his father's plantation and attended the public schools of Savannah, Georgia. From 1866 to 1870 he was a student at Washington and Lee University, and despite having the opportunity to go into multiple fields, Mays elected to pursue farming as a full-time career.
Returning to Florida, Mays began his career in agriculture in a "small way", and by the time his two terms in Congress had concluded owned large land holdings in Jefferson, Madison and Leon Counties, totaling "7,000 acres and his farms are operated by tenants." In 1880 he married to Emmala "Emma" Bellamy Parkhill (1861-1954), and the couples near five-decade marriage saw the births of six children, Elizabeth B.P. (?--?), Mary Eliza (1884-1957), Sarah Croom (?--?), Emmala Mays (1889-1975), Dannitte Hill (1893-1966), and Charles Parkhill (1902-1981).
Dannitte Hill Mays began his political career in 1888 when he was a delegate from Jefferson County to the Florida Democratic state convention. Two years later he was elected to the first of three terms as Jefferson County's representative to the Florida state legislature. His first term from 1891-93 saw him named to the committees on Rules and State Institutions, and after winning a second term in late 1894, sat on the committees on Finance and Taxation, Public Health, Public Printing, and Railroads and Telegraphs during the 1895-97 session. Mays would also chair the Appropriations committee during this session.
Elected to a third term in late 1896, Mays was elevated by his fellow representatives to the position of Speaker of the House at the start of the 1897-99 session, and during this term held no committee assignments. Following the conclusion of his final house term in 1899, Mays set his sights on higher office, and in 1900 his name was put forward as a candidate for Florida Governor at that year's Democratic convention held in Jacksonville. Despite an impressive showing in the balloting, Mays would fail of nomination by only a few votes, the nomination instead going to William Sherman Jennings, who later won the election and took office in January 1901. In 1904 Mays again made a run for Governor in the Democratic state primaries but was defeated by Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, who in turn was elected as Governor that November.
From the Pensacola Journal, January 26, 1908.
After two losing gubernatorial candidacies, Mays' political fortunes changed in 1908 when he announced his candidacy for the U.S. House of Representatives from Florida's 3rd congressional district. As one of five Democratic candidates vying to succeed outgoing congressman William B. Lamar, Mays faced an uphill battle. After announcing his candidacy in January 1908, Mays' campaign platform and previous legislative service was touted in a number of Florida newspapers, and Mays himself detailed the following tenets of his political platform in the April 16, 1908 edition of the Madison New Enterprise, including:
- An improved Florida waterway system to meet the demands of Florida's "growing commercial importance."
- An improved rural free delivery system
- Government aid in building good roads
- Backing labor unions in the state
In addition to the above platform, Mays would relate that as a longtime farmer and lifetime Florida resident, he was very much in touch with the needs of the average citizen, remarking that:
"As a Floridian born and bred, I invite and solicit my people's support. Having been a farmer always, I may have missed some of the strenuous features of modern life; but I claim that this will not alienate from me, a tiller of the soil, the support of the people, nor disqualify me from serving them faithfully as Congressman."Following his win in the 1908 Democratic congressional primary, Mays faced off against Republican William H. Northrup in the general election that November. When the votes were tallied it was Dannitte Mays who coasted to an impressive victory, garnering 9, 314 votes to his opponents 1,712. Taking his seat in Congress in January 1909, Mays' first term saw him named to the committees on Private Land Claims and Reform in the Civil Service.
From the Tallahassee Weekly True Democrat, June 5, 1908.
Announcing his bid for reelection in 1910, Mays' reelection campaign was advertised in newspapers throughout his district throughout that year, which intoned his accomplishments during his first term. As the Pensacola Herald detailed in its May 8, 1910 edition, Mays:
"Has done and is doing earnest work for his district--he has had over half a million dollars appropriated for the rivers and harbors of his district for one year--he has had rural routes increased nearly 100 per cent, and will continue to work until every family has daily mail, carriers have better pay, and good roads throughout the district from one end to the other. He is a farmer, and is making every effort to assist the farmers of the district, and encourage agriculture."In November 1910 Dannitte Mays polled another impressive victory, besting his Republican opponent, Eric Von Axelson, by over 7,800 votes. During the 1911-13 session Mays was named to the committees on Expenditures in the Department of Agriculture, and Post Offices and Post Roads. In the 1912 election year, Mays entered the Democratic primary but later withdrew, the nomination instead going to Emmett Wilson.
Following his time in Congress Mays returned to farming and partook in two of his favorite leisure activities, hunting and fishing. Dannite Mays died in Monticello, Florida on May 9, 1930, several days after his 78th birthday. He was survived by his wife Emma, who, after her passing at age 93 in 1954, was interred alongside her husband at the Roseland Cemetery in Monticello.