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Chapter 149: Gentleman in Waiting

October 4, 2021
Chevy Chase, Maryland

March, 1908 was a prime social month for Emmett: He was selected to be a Gentleman in Waiting for the Pensacola Mardi Gras court, featuring Miss Stella Clare Avery as Queen of the Mardi Gras.

Emmett Wilson, back row, second from the left, escorting Celestine Quina. The queen of the 1908 Pensacola Mardi Gras was Miss Stella Clare Avery. Source: Pensacola Historical Society.
Stella Avery, Mardi Gras Queen, 1908. Source: The Pensacola Journal, March 3, 1908, p1, via ChroniclingAmerica.gov

This was a huge accomplishment for Emmett. It meant he had secured alliances with the more powerful social and political families in less than two years since he’d arrived on the scene in Pensacola. What surprised Emmett was that the conscious effort to become a social player involved a lot of time and effort on his part — it was almost a full-time job.

But no matter: Emmett had achieved a social coup that he believed would pave the way for political gain later on.

Emmett knew also that his selection to the court was all Stella Avery’s doing. It was no secret among Pensacola society that Stella had her eye on Emmett, and desperately wanted him as a husband. It was also no secret among Pensacola society families that Emmett was working diligently to climb a political ladder, and would do just what it took to become part of them. Emmett had the pedigree; he also actually had a college degree (not common in 1908).

Bear with me a moment:

The data in the charts below, from 120 Years of American Education: A Statistical Portrait, supports the idea that Emmett would do anything to reach his goals. That’s not necessarily a negative quality; being driven and dedicated to a specific goal is fine, and credible in most cases.

The problem is when it involves manipulation of others to reach those goals. It doesn’t always happen that way, but it can.

This chart illustrates how rare/unusual it was to have a college degree in 1908 (i.e., the number of college degrees earned per 1,000 23-year-olds). Emmett earned his degree from Stetson University in 1904 at age of 21; the number of college degrees earned remains consistent until after 1910, where the number rises. Source: https://nces.ed.gov/pubs93/93442.pdf

About Celestine Quina: She was engaged, or close to it, to John Carroll (Celestine and John would marry several months later). So, Stella made sure Emmett was paired to escort someone on the court who was safely spoken-for, someone who couldn’t compete with Stella for his attentions. And, as was Queen of Mardi Gras that year, Stella would be front-and-center of everyone’s attention! Emmett wouldn’t be able to resist admiring her; maybe finally, realizing she was front-and-center of HIS attention.

Stella was funny, smart, and an excellent dancing partner, but Emmett was not attracted to her beyond friendship, and that wasn’t going to change. Of course, Emmett would never say that directly to Stella: He understood the value of having the Avery family as allies. So, Emmett tolerated Stella’s attentions.

There were plenty of marriages made for political or convenience’ sake; for example, Emmett had friends who were not inclined towards women but who married to hush the potential of damaging gossip; or, who (regardless of sexual orientation) needed to appear more settled, for a favorable political or business career.

And despite having married, some of these fellows would continue their activities as if they were still unmarried; one example was Emmett’s brother, Cephas Love Wilson. Some men were circumspect; Cephas was not, and the result was Emmett witnessing the embarrassment and hurt of his sister-in-law, Lula.

“Cephas loves the women.” What.An.Ass. Imagine Cephas’ wife Lula and her reaction after reading this in the paper? Source: Pensacola Evening News, August 12, 1912.

My research partner, Nancy Rayburn, and I frequently discussed the aspect of Emmett’s calculating-type behavior when it came to constructing/developing his political career.

We both agreed that Emmett was GIVEN many opportunities, primarily because of his family and political/social connections, and he took advantage of them, including opportunities for politically/socially advantageous marriages. In fact, Emmett was advised around 1911 that he ‘had’ to get married or risk becoming a political liability. But Nancy and I both thought it interesting that while Emmett would take advantage of everything else to move his career forward, a trip to the altar was always out of the question. (Emmett was talked out of marrying Pearl Spaulding back 1904, because she was considered a social/political liability; he probably regretted that decision for the rest of life.)

In the case of Stella Avery, here was a socially prominent woman who wanted (probably) desperately to marry Emmett, would (probably) take him under any circumstances, endure whatever heartbreak might come with the willingness to look the other way regarding misbehavior. Emmett understood the collateral damage that the other person could endure; he witnessed it between his own brother and sister-in-law. He wasn’t the kind of person to inflict that kind of pain, and that was much to his credit. Emmett didn’t do a lot of things perfectly, but he had something Cephas didn’t: A heart.

Yeah, Emmett was willing to do almost anything to achieve his goals, and sure, he manipulated people and situations (he wasn’t perfect), but he did have his limits, and he wasn’t the kind of man who would marry to quiet gossip, or to achieve political power.

Although Emmett would never marry Stella, they remained friends, and she pegged him, correctly, as a gentleman.

Obituary of Stella Avery Bushong, from the Pensacola News Journal, March 30 1962 via Newspapers.com

=====

Stella Avery eventually married — at age 49 — to a widower from Maryland, Dr. Daniel Bushong, and died March 29, 1962.

Emmett, who died at age 35 on May 29, 1918, never married.

Hopefully, Stella found happiness; Emmett never did.

Categories: Book Family Florida History Interesting & Odd

Tagged as:

jsmith532

Professor
The University of Maryland Global Campus

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