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A Study of Notoriety

An example of the Tersely Told column, April 26, 1914. Source: The Pensacola Journal, in Chronicling

An example of the Tersely Told column, April 26, 1914. Source: The Pensacola Journal, in Chronicling

In the early 1900s, if you got your name in the newspaper, it was a big deal. It indicated prominence in your community. If you think about it, the community news blurb columns were a sort-of equivalent to our Facebook.

In Pensacola, these columns were mostly found in the Society section of the paper, with little headings over each news blurb; if you were a businessman or the items were often filed under a column titled, “Tersely Told.’ Mostly, these were about prominent individuals’ comings and goings, and what they were doing that day, much like what you see on Facebook, when friends post where they are at a certain moment, who they are with, what they are doing, and the like.

How it worked at The Pensacola Journal (morning paper) and The Pensacola News (evening paper) was that you (or your secretary) would call the item in to the editor’s desk. These columns often were filler, so there never was a guarantee that whatever you called in to include would get selected. But, if you were considered a hot property among the locals, you could be sure that your item would run in the paper.

F.C. Brent. Source:

F.C. Brent. Source:

Who were the key people of Pensacola in the early 1900s? If you were a member of the families Blount, Knowles, Brent, Avery, Maxwell, you would be certain of automatic coverage, at least in the society pages. No need to have to call up the society page editor to sell yourself for the treasured copy space.

But if you aspired to prominence, as did Emmett when he first moved to Pensacola in 1906, and were unknown, it was all about contacting the editors on your own; selling yourself, making yourself into prominence, using whatever connections you could to get your name in print.

Justice Evelyn Croom Maxwell. VIP in bar and bench circles. Source: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory,

Justice Evelyn Croom Maxwell. VIP in bar and bench circles. Source: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory,

In 1906, Emmett had already had two big start-overs in his life to overcome; the pressure was on him now to make good, not screw up royally. People who could make a difference for Emmett, such as Frank Mayes (the editor, publisher, and Democratic party kingmaker) were watching.

Oh, he didn’t have to try as hard as, say someone who was completely new to Pensacola; after all, Emmett was the grandson and nephew of two of the Maxwell family members. But he was still an unknown. Emmett would have to contact the papers, tell the editors what he was doing, and hope that information about his doings would be included in the news.

I wonder if Emmett felt uncomfortable doing this; that he felt this was akin to prostituting himself in some way, to selling his soul a little bit at a time?

In reviewing the statistics on Emmett’s press coverage in the Pensacola papers, there were less than 20 during the years 1906-07.

In 1908, Emmett’s name appeared more often in the society section of the paper; he was now attending important events, and his comings and goings were now being reported regularly. There were 42 society-news mentions in the papers; still, his name was spelled correctly only nine times during that period.

As Emmett’s popularity (and prominence) increased, his name was mentioned several times a week — and now, more often than not spelled correctly, especially leading up to and during his campaign years (1911- 1912). Rest assured, editor Frank Mayes had a lot to do with this — Mayes wanted a close association with President Woodrow Wilson, and he knew he could do this if he got Emmett into Wilson’s administration.

Frank L. Mayes of The Pensacola Journal. Champion grudge holder.

Frank L. Mayes of The Pensacola Journal. Champion grudge holder.

Emmett was elected by a landslide — an amazing thing in 1912, given the fact he had little political experience (every job he held that was public service was given to him via connections — he’d never run for office before), and his age. It was all Frank Mayes’ doing, everyone knew. Despite the fact that Emmett was a good public speaker, and a fairly good lawyer, he was unknown and new to the profession. If Emmett had been incompetent, Mayes wouldn’t have been able to cover that up so well.

Emmett was finally prominent. His family was proud of him; his friends knew how hard Emmett worked to get there — and, they knew how stressful it was on him, as he was drinking more than ever to cope. I wonder if this was related to the fact that he had to compromise his beliefs and political views to get what he wanted — that he was still selling himself, so to speak, to Mayes as well as the Democratic party officials?

In September 1914, when Emmett was in his second term as a U.S. Congressman, Emmett stood up for himself against Mayes — it was only once — and that would prove to be Emmett’s undoing. He failed to nominate a close associate and political friend of Frank Mayes to the coveted postmaster position in Pensacola. Mayes felt slighted by Emmett, and Mayes was the kind of guy who took slights personally.

The next day, a front-page article about Emmett and his disloyalty to his friends appeared, written by the postmaster runner-up Chipley Jones.

October 14, 1914. The Pensacola Journal. Source: Chronicling

October 14, 1914. The Pensacola Journal. Much of the letter Jones wrote for The Pensacola Journal appears to have been a collaboration with Mayes. It would not do for Mayes to blast Emmett in an editorial, since Mayes was the one who had to sell Emmett as a candidate to the Democratic state party in the first place. Source: Chronicling

Emmett had two more years left in his term, but Frank Mayes was done with him. In fact, Emmett’s name rarely appears in the paper anymore, except for articles that are negative about his service. He’s simply referred to as ‘the Congressman from the Third District.’ No name.

Mayes must have known the appearance of indifference would bother Emmett more than anything else. And it did. For the two years remaining of Emmett’s term in office, there’s less than 25 mentions of his name in The Pensacola Journal — and Emmett’s name isn’t always spelled correctly, just as when Emmett was fighting his way out of obscurity.

Categories: Congressman Family Recommended Sources The Writing Life

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