by Sydney Boyd | March 29, 2024

Ten Influential Women Transforming the Sunshine State

From restaurateurs to Olympians to python hunters, meet the influential women of the Sunshine State.


Across the untamed wilds of the Everglades to the glitzy streets of Hollywood, we’ve compiled a collection of stories spotlighting a few powerful women who are leaving a mark on the Sunshine State. Each story highlights remarkable individuals such as Victoria James, a trailblazing sommelier turned Michelin-starred restaurateur alongside figures like Anna Leigh Waters, the nation’s youngest professional pickleball player, and Laura Chinn, a talented storyteller reshaping Florida narratives through film. Join us as we celebrate each of these inspiring female Floridians in honor of Women’s History Month.

Ladies of the Glades: The Five Women on the Front Lines of the Everglades

Photography by Mary Beth Koeth.

Beth Koehler, Peggy Van Gorder, Anne Gorden-Vega, Donna Kalil and Amy Siewe share an unconventional profession: python hunters. These five women trek through Florida’s swampy Everglades and down dirt roads in search of these invasive predators that have destroyed South Florida’s ecosystem. While their reasons and techniques for hunting pythons differ, they all share a passion for finding these reptiles overrunning the state. Flamingo contributor Craig Pittman sat down with these lady python hunters to hear their tales of wrestling pythons and to learn more about their important work

Photography by Gary He.

Victoria James: From the World’s Youngest Sommelier to Michelin-Starred Executive Beverage Director

A dusty copy of “Wine for Dummies” is what first led Victoria James to discover her passion for wine and become the world’s youngest sommelier at 21 years old. James partnered with Simon Kim, a Korean American, to open Cote, a Michelin-starred Korean steakhouse that earned her the 2022 Florida Sommelier Award for their Miami location. Read more about Victoria’s impressive ventures and how she’s making a name for herself in a largely male-dominated business.

Photography by Cole LoCurto.

Saji George: Bringing Her Heritage to the Plates of Jacksonville

At 55 years old, Chef Saji George accomplished her long-held dream of opening her own restaurant with Mesa, a beloved Indian eatery located in Jacksonville’s Avondale neighborhood. There’s a piece of her history in each dish, combining what she’s learned from her grandmother on the coast of Kerala with the flavors of the United States. From finding a home in the Sunshine State to launching a successful restaurant with the support of her family, Chef Saji’s Cinderella story will leave you hungry for more. 

Photography by Robyn Breen Shinn.

Ariana Greenblatt: Rising Latina Star in Hollywood

Only a few years into her career, Parkland teen Ariana Greenblatt is already making a big name for herself in Hollywood. Appearing in “Liv and Maddie,” “Avengers: Infinity War”and most recently starring in the award-winning film “Barbie,” Greenblatt is no stranger to success. At just 16 years old, Greenblatt has become an icon to young Latina girls, and along the way, proving that representation matters. Read Flamingo’s interview with Greenblatt to learn more about her projects and her time in the spotlight so far.

 Photography by Josh Letchworth.

Leigh and Anna Leigh Waters: Mother-Daughter Duo Dominating Pickleball

After discovering pickleball while waiting out Hurricane Irma in 2017 in Pennsylvania, Leigh and Anna Leigh Waters haven’t put down the paddle since. While they’ve won awards and tournaments through the sport, they’ve also strengthened their bond from mother and daughter to friends. On top of an already long list of combined accolades, Anna Leigh was named to Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list in 2023 for being the youngest professional pickleball player. Read the full story on how these South Floridians have dominated the pickleball scene and transformed the sport. 

Photography courtesy of Laura Chinn.

Laura Chinn: Talented Storyteller Bringing Florida Stories to Life

Hailing from  Florida’s west coast, Laura Chinn is currently making waves with her award-winning film “Suncoast,” a dark comedy reshaping her childhood into a fictional coming-of-age story about a mixed-race teenage girl. Her feature directorial debut honors the Sunshine State and Clearwater’s signature style. Read Flamingo’s Q&A with Chinn to learn more about the Florida native and her poignant film “Suncoast.”

Photography by Ivy Rose Scott.

Caroline Marks: Shredding Barriers on the Waves

Growing up surfing the waves of Melbourne, Florida, Caroline Marks has captured the hearts of female surfers and fans worldwide. She became the youngest Championship Tour qualifier at age 15, and won her first World Surf League world title in 2023 at age 21. With unwavering determination, she has shattered gender barriers, clinched Olympic glory and notably championed equal pay in Florida surfing contests. Read more about the surfing prodigy as she prepares for the Paris 2024 Olympics.

Photography courtesy of the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens.

Andrea Barnwell Brownlee: Groundbreaking Black Museum Director and Curator

When the Cummer Museum of Arts and Gardens in Jacksonville called, Andrea Barnwell Brownlee didn’t pick up, almost missing her opportunity to become the museum’s director. Now, she’s dedicated to bringing radical change to the museum as one of only four Black female directors of mainstream art museums in America. Her disruptive thinking is bringing necessary diversity to the Cummer Museum and a greater focus on reaching minority audiences. Read the full story here.

Photography by Omar Cruz.

Emily Estefan: The Miamian Blazing Her Own Path in the Music Industry

Daughter to Emilio and Gloria Estefan, Emily Estefan bears her iconic name while forging her own path, a “fusion” sound of equal parts soul, jazz, Latin and pop. Miami native, now 29, continues to perform at festivals, most recently at the 2024 Montreaux Jazz Festival Miami. From being shaped by Miami’s music scene to growing up with celebrity parents to her first band in high school, Flamingo’s chat with Estefan dives into her journey. 

Photography by Rose Marie Cromwell.

Anastasia Samoylova: Photographing the Sinking Sunshine State

With a background in environmental studies, Anastasia Samoylova became struck by Miami’s susceptibility to climate change and the rising sea level after moving there in 2016. This concern eventually developed into projects to document Florida’s beauty and synchronous environmental perils.  These photographs earned her a finalist spot for the 2021 Florida Prize in Contemporary Art and her work has been in numerous galleries since. Read the full story on how she hopes her work inspires reflection on climate change.