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Chapter 152: Meet the Richardsons

October 21, 2021
Chevy Chase, Maryland

Because we have very little primary information (letters, journals, scrapbooks, personal testimony) from Emmett, the next best thing is primary information from Emmett’s friends, family, and colleagues, in addition to the secondary information (newspaper articles, books, other research). Emmett spent a lot of time with specific individuals outside of the law office and the courthouse; so, it makes sense to get to know his friends and what their lives were like in 1910 Pensacola.

The Richardsons lived in this house in 1910 on 908 N. Spring Street in Pensacola, Florida. Image source: Google Maps. Wonder which room Emmett had?

Who better to study than one of Emmett’s actual housemates and best friends?

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In the last post, we learned in 1910 Emmett boarded at the home of a friend, Shelley Graham Richardson, located at 908 N. Spring Street, in Pensacola. The house was in the North Hill District (now the historic district), which was considered an upperclass neighborhood. There were (and are) large homes and spacious yards.

Also, the neighborhood was convenient. Not only was the Richardson house within walking distance to downtown (Emmett’s office was on North Palafox, which would have been a nice walk on any day), but the neighborhood was also close to the streetcar stops.

According to the 1910 Pensacola City Directory, Richardson was a purchasing agent — likely someone who managed supplier and vendor relationships and contracts — with the Pensacola Electric Company. Prior to that, Richardson was a railroad clerk in Malden, Massachusetts (according to the 1900 U.S. Federal Census, and in the 1906 Malden Massachusetts City Directory. He moved to Pensacola around 1907, and in 1909, his mother Sarah relocated from Malden to Pensacola (she was listed as a widow in the 1908 Malden Massachusetts City Directory)

We know that Emmett and Richardson were friends from at least 1909; they attended a large number of the same social events, and frequently, when the cousins Stella and Edna Avery were present. I don’t know how Emmett and Richardson met; after all, they didn’t work in the same industry. But because they seemed to be invited to many of the same gatherings from 1908 onward, it makes sense that they met at one of the parties.

From the July 4, 1908 issue of The Pensacola Journal. Most of the attendees were on the Mardi Gras court for 1908. Notice Richardson is present, along with Emmett. Some of the men (Sohier, Carroll) were also employees of the Pensacola Electric Company and colleagues of Richardson. Emmett and Shelley attend many such events together. Image source: ChroniclingAmerica.gov

Richardson met and courted Edna Lord Avery, the daughter of Judge and Mrs. John C. Avery during this time; they became engaged in 1910. Edna was 34 when she married Richardson; I thought this was interesting as the median age for women’s first marriage was 21 in 1910. I wonder if, when Edna married, she felt relief, as the local media, family, and friends often encouraged young people to settle down, before ‘it was too late.’

Edna Avery, far left, as a member of the Pensacola Mardi Gras Court, February 1900. Source: Pensacola Historical Society.

What also seems likely: A hopeful pairing of Edna’s cousin, Stella Avery to Emmett Wilson at that wedding. Emmett was the best man; Stella was the maid of honor. Stella and Emmett seemed to be paired at a lot of different local events. But here’s the thing: Richardson and Emmett were close friends. Richardson likely knew that it wouldn’t be a great idea to push Emmett towards matrimony — he had other, more immediate goals to accomplish before settling down.

Also, it was at this point in Emmett’s life that gossip was out about how Emmett spent a lot of time at The Osceola Club; how he seemed to enjoy drinking a bit too much; how he seemed to be making a lot of money but for some reason was never able to save it, or to purchase his own home….

….and that, maybe, it was best that Emmett was not settling down with one of the local society girls for awhile.

Engagement announcement of Edna Avery to Shelley Richardson, February 11, 1910, in The Pensacola Journal. Source: ChroniclingAmerica.gov
Second part of engagement announcement of Edna Avery to Shelley Richardson, February 11, 1910, in The Pensacola Journal. Source: ChroniclingAmerica.gov
A much longer article, with the details of the wedding (location, what people wore, decorations, that Stella was the maid of honor, that Emmett as best man), is in The Pensacola Journal at this link. Source: ChroniclingAmerica.gov

After the wedding, the Richardsons honeymooned, then moved to Boston in May, which was the plan all along. There were a few clues in the contemporary articles that Richardson’s interests in Pensacola were not permanent.

Edna and Shelley moved to Malden, Massachusetts; Richardson became a poultry farmer; Edna was active in women’s clubs and the local congregational church. Other interesting details about the couple from the historic newspapers: Richardson was a tenor in community choirs; he took part in the occasional community play; he enjoyed public service, he was elected to public works offices (one year terms) in Malden.

Poultry demonstration at Shelley Richardson’s poultry farm in Malden, Massachusetts, November 1, 1926. Source: Newspapers.com

Edna and Shelley had two sons; Shelley Graham Richardson, Jr., and John Avery Richardson.

Shelley Graham Richardson, Jr., the youngest son, born in 1919, died after a lengthy (unspecified) illness in 1930.

John Avery Richardson was educated at Georgia Tech as an engineer. He married Mary McDonald in Lexington, Kentucky in 1940; the information trail is cold except that John Richardson died in 2000, and is buried in the family plot in Malden, Massachusetts.

Obituary of Shelley Graham Richardson, Jr., youngest son of Shelley and Edna Avery Richardson. November 17, 1930. He was about 12 years old. Source: Newspapers.com

There’s another sad story about the Richardsons: Edna Lord Avery Richardson died in 1936, apparently of medical malpractice. The obituary and subsequent news articles provide some detail, but nothing about the original diagnosis of Edna’s final illness, or what happened, exactly.

Edna Lord Avery Richardson’s obituary, May 1, 1936, via Newspapers.com
On May 15, 1936, this article reported Edna Richardson’s medical treatment by John W. Abrams was not specific, but a medical examiner recorded heart trouble on her death certificate. It is also unfortunate that we don’t know if Abrams’ treatment brought about the ‘heart trouble.’ Source: Newspapers.com.

It would be great to have found a journal of Shelley Richardson from those days, if he kept one. It would be nice to read about what they thought about the dating scene, how Richardson liked or disliked Pensacola, his thoughts about his family… his thoughts about his friendship with Emmett. Perhaps some of this primary data exists. But even without the letters or journals, we know that Shelley and Emmett were good friends; he thought enough of Emmett to ask him to stand up for him at his wedding. That’s a gesture typically reserved for the closest of friends.

Categories: Book Congressman Family Florida History Interesting & Odd

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jsmith532

Professor
The University of Maryland Global Campus

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