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James Velma Keen Papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MSS 1970-150

Scope and Contents

The papers of James Velma Keen document his campaigns for Sarasota Mayor and for Florida Representative from Sarasota County in the late 1920s and early 1930s, and his later activities in banking, law, and business. Materials include personal and professional correspondence related to his political activities and legal practice, speeches delivered at commencement programs, convocations and other occasions, photographs of his Florida campaign and nuclear development activities in Florida, scrapbooks documenting his personal and political career, and several memorabilia items. The additional materials, received and processed in 1971, pertain to the Florida Historical Society during the period that Keen was its First and Second Vice President (1954-1957 and include correspondence, minutes of board and annual meetings, financial materials and reports, and other administrative documents.

The collection is significant to researchers examining the political history of Florida during the 1930s, public education, and the study and teaching of science in Florida during the mid-20th Century. It is also a valuable primary resource in examining the development of nuclear energy in Florida and the creation of nuclear science programs at Florida colleges and universities during this period.

Additional Florida Historical Society records are housed at the Smathers Libraries, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida.

Includes MSS 77-38 and 1971-151. Also known as MSS 0-150


  • created: 1922-1967
  • Other: Majority of material found in 1955-1967


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open to all researchers.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright has not been transferred to the Florida State University Libraries. All requests for permission to quote, publish, broadcast or otherwise reproduce from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Associate Dean for Special Collections & Archives. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the Florida State University Libraries as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the researcher.

Biographical or Historical Information

James Velma Keen was born in Dublin, Georgia on August 23, 1899 and moved to River Junction, Gadsden County, FL with his parents in 1902, then to Marianna, FL in 1913. His father, James Henry Keen, began the first Coca-Cola bottling plant in North Florida in River Junction in 1907, and the plant operated continuously until 1954, when it merged with the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Marianna, begun in 1913. For the Marianna operation, Keen's father organized a corporation known as Purity Bottling Works. In 1924, the Purity Bottling Works name was changed to the Marianna Coca-Cola Bottling Company. Upon James Henry Keen's death in 1942, his son, Charlton Keen, became president, secretary, and manager of this plant, and operated it until he died in 1957, when James Velma Keen became its president and director.

Before graduating from the University of Florida, where he received the LL.B (1922) and A.B. (1923) degrees, James Velma Keen attended the Georgia School of Technology, Oglethorpe University, and the University of Pittsburgh. He was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1923 and began his law practice in Sarasota, principally with the firm of Sawyer, Surrency, Carter, and Keen, which Keen operated from 1922-1932.

During his residence in Sarasota, he served as State Attorney for the 27th Judicial District. In 1927, he campaigned for Mayor of Sarasota, but was not elected. From 1927 to 1929, he was Chairman of the Board of Public Instruction of Sarasota County. In 1930, he was State Attorney in Sarasota County. From 1931 to 1933 he served in the Florida State Legislature as a Representative from Sarasota County. From 1933-1936 he served as Florida Assistant Attorney General. In November 1936 he moved to and opened a law practice in Tallahassee (Keen, O'Kelley and Spitz), which he maintained until his death on March 4, 1963. His firm engaged in general civil practice, and practiced school, taxation, administrative, legislative, corporate, estate, insurance, and real estate law. During 1940-1941, he served as president of the Florida Bar Association, and for many years was a member of the American Bar Association. He authored articles in the Florida Law Journal, and served as a member and as chairman of committees of the Florida Bar.

Keen was very active in Florida public education. This was demonstrated by his service as trustee of Florida Southern College, president of the Southern Scholarship and Research Foundation, his chairmanships of the Continuing Education Council of Florida (whose purpose was "to continue over a long period of time a concerted effort to correct and improve public schools") since 1947 and the Florida State Advisory Committee on School Libraries from 1962-1963, his memberships on the National Citizens Council for Better Schools, the Education Committee of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce from 1948 until his death, and the Florida Advisory Council on Education, from 1952-1953. These activities were recognized by Florida State University (FSU) when the honorary degree of Doctor of Law was conferred upon him in 1959.

Keen also made many contributions to financial and commercial enterprises. In 1952, he was one of the founders of the Leon Federal Savings and Loan Association in Tallahassee, and served as its president from the time it was organized until his death, and he held the positions of First and Second Vice Presidents of the Florida Historical Society from 1954-1957. He was a founder and director of the Commonwealth Corporation, with its principal office in Tallahassee, served on the board of directors of several other corporations, a president of the Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce in 1945, 1946, and 1948, and a director of the Florida Chamber of Commerce during the 1950s.

In 1955, Keen became the first chair of Florida's Nuclear Development Commission, serving in that capacity until 1961. The Nuclear Development Commission was a citizens' group whose purpose was to assist in providing direction and guidance to nuclear development in Florida. Initially, it was concerned with recruiting and retaining good teachers of mathematics, physics, and chemistry, and motivating elementary and high school students in careers in science and engineering. The Commission expanded its activities by recommending the establishment of nuclear energy programs at state universities, with a minimum of a basic science and nuclear research program. These programs would include a suitable particle accelerator at FSU and a reactor at the University of Florida. He was also a member of the Regional Advisory Council on Nuclear Energy, an organization of 17 southern states concerned with the use of nuclear power as an energy source and the storage of radioactive waste. Keen noted in a 1957 speech at the Florida Newsmen's Seminar on Nuclear Energy that several nuclear scientists believed that "when the presently planned facilities and programs at FSU and the University of Florida are complete, Florida's nuclear education opportunities will be on par with the finest in the nation."

Keen was also one of the founders of the Southern Interstate Nuclear Compact in 1959, a voluntary agreement established by the 16-state Southern Governors' Conference to "provide the means for cooperation with each other in fostering the development of the region by taking full advantage of nuclear energy." On March 19, 1966, to honor his work in nuclear energy development, the James Velma Keen Physics Building was dedicated on the FSU campus. A portrait of Keen was unveiled in the building on December 8, 1967.


7.73 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



Correspondence, memorabilia, newspaper clippings, photographs, and speeches documenting the career of attorney, Florida legislator, educator, and businessman James Velma Keen, from 1926 when he began practicing law in Sarasota, Florida, until his death in Tallahassee, Florida, in March 1963.

Source of Acquisition

Mary Weedon Keen

Method of Acquisition

The Florida State University Libraries acquired the James Velma Keen Papers through gifts in December 1970, August 1971, and October 1977 from his wife, Mary Weedon Keen. The major body of materials (MSS 1970-150) was given in December 1970, papers related to the activities of the Florida Historical Society (MSS 1971-151) were received in August 1971, and a 1922 University of Florida "Seminole" yearbook signed by James Velma Keen (MSS 1977-038) was received in October 1977.

Existence and Location of Originals

Portions of collection available online?: No

Processing Information

MSS 1970-150 was originally processed in March 1971. The second accession, MSS 1971-151, was processed in August 1971. The last accession, MSS 1977-038, was processed in March 1978. A finding aid incorporating these accessions was revised in June 2006.

James Velma Keen Papers
Burt Altman
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Repository Details

Part of the FSU Special Collections & Archives Repository

116 Honors Way
PO Box 3062047
Tallahassee FL 32306-2047 US