Chapter 48: She Wore a White Ribbon

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January 12, 2020
Chevy Chase, Maryland

I’ve been thinking deeply about this new article on Emmett’s mother that I located during one of my regular database re-check activities two days ago, and wishing I’d been able to find it at the start of Emmett Wilson’s research project.

But then, the ancient hard-copy newspaper (The Pensacola News from 1891) was unaccessible to everyday researchers because of its frailty, and, it takes time to scan precious pages into a database without destroying the artifact.

Better late than never, though.

Without further ado, here’s what I found:

Source: The Pensacola News, from June 26, 1891, via Newspapers.com

If you’ve been following the Emmett Wilson story so far, then you’ll remember a few earlier posts I wrote about the death of Emmett’s mother, and its impact on Emmett and his family. Also, this news item supports/confirms much of the first-person narrative of Elizabeth Maxwell Wilson’s death as told by Emmett’s older sister, Katie Wilson Meade.

With the info from those earlier posts in mind, I’d like to focus on several new things that enlighten our understanding of Elizabeth Maxwell Wilson.

In 2016, I wrote about Katie Wilson Meade’s reflections on the death of her mother, that she had stopped by the drug store for a soft drink. The Pensacola News article from 1891 confirms this, stating the ‘drink threw her into convulsions….’ 

The soda isn’t identified, but it most likely was a fountain version of Coca-Cola or something similar, and it wouldn’t have been bottled, but mixed by a soda jerk behind a counter. [Coca-Cola wasn’t bottled until 1894, at the Biedenharn Candy Company in Vicksburg, Mississippi.] Was there something wrong with Elizabeth’s drink? We don’t know, because there isn’t any information that the drink was the problem. Or, that anyone examined the components of the soda.

…which caused a hemorrhage of the brain.’ A brain hemorrhage is also known as a stroke. Could the drink have caused the stroke? Maybe; but another explanation could be that Elizabeth had undiagnosed high blood pressure. Katie makes no mention of problems with her mother’s health leading up to this event, but Elizabeth herself may have brushed off the symptoms (headache, stiff neck, numbness, and so forth), or perhaps had no symptoms. We know it came on suddenly, without warning, as the paper reported that Elizabeth appeared to be ‘in perfect health’ leading up to the stroke.

The Horns’ residence was Katherine and Richard Carey Horne‘s home, which was located over their business, adjacent to the drug store. [Katherine and Richard’s daughter, Mary Baltzell Horne, was a lifelong friend of Emmett Wilson; Mary would later wed Emmett’s best friend, Paul Carter in 1912.]

This section indicates that all Wilson children, except Max, were present at their mother’s death. Imagine Emmett and his twin brother Julian, bewildered eight-year-olds, holding their mother’s warm but lifeless hand, perhaps thinking ‘she might wake up,’ and yet everyone is saying goodbye. No one was prepared for this; no one knew how to handle it. Perhaps the young fellows were told to ‘be men’ now since their father would need them. Oy.

One final item of note from the article is this:

Elizabeth was a member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. That means she went to meetings; she read the literature about the problems of booze on individuals and families; she wore a white ribbon in support of abstinence from alcohol.

Source: ebay.com

I found out that members of the WCTU also had a White Ribbon Recruit ceremony, where members would bring their babies to dedicate them to the cause of temperance. At the ceremony, the parent-sponsors would pledge to help their children lead a life free of alcohol; a white ribbon was also tied around the baby’s wrist at the ceremony. I wonder if Elizabeth brought any of her children to such a ceremony, and if she took that pledge to help her children live sober lives.

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Elizabeth Wilson may not have drank alcohol, but the men in her family did. That’s a fact; also, there is documentation that alcohol was a problem (for at least) the Wilson side of the family. Was booze a problem for the Maxwells? I’m not sure; but a letter from A.E. Maxwell’s son, Judge Evelyn C. Maxwell to a historian relates the story about how A.E. Maxwell loved toddies and during the Civil War regularly carried his own private trunk of sugar (a rare commodity) wherever he went to ensure he had his favorite drink whenever possible.

Could that be indicative of a drinking problem for Elizabeth’s father? Maybe.

Did Elizabeth understand that some of the men in her life were using alcohol as a means to escape discomfort, unease in their lives? Did she understand that drinking to avoid the demons in people lives was futile, because everyone has a demon of some sort on their backs, and drinking only made it worse?

Did Elizabeth see and understand Emmett’s demon before anyone else ever did, and she was, in fact, modeling how to live with that demon, not run from it, but to own it, because acknowledging it was the first step to being free of it?

And perhaps, this is the main reason why Emmett never really got over the loss of his mother during his brief life?

I wish we knew for sure.

 

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