Scandal Sidetrack

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For the past week, I’ve been working on the section of the book about Emmett’s graduation ceremony from Stetson University, and searching for Emmett’s valedictory speech.

While the archive has a few things from 1904, such as Emmett’s commencement program, Emmett’s speech isn’t there — and unless his Elusive Scrapbooks turn up, I doubt I’ll find it.

Emmett's law school commencement program. Source: Stetson University Archives

Emmett’s law school commencement program. Source: Stetson University Archives

I had a feeling that there was some media coverage of this event, as Stetson’s law school was the first of its kind in Florida — and, Stetson was considered a big deal in Deland/Volusia County. So, I next examined the local papers for May 23-24,1904, for any coverage of the Stetson commencement, and bingo! Two lengthy articles about the commencement by two different newspapers!

The first article, from the DeLand Weekly News provided only a complimentary overview of the entire week’s commencement celebrations. There was only general praise for Emmett, but no particulars, no transcript about his speech.

The second article was something else entirely.

The commencement coverage from The Volusia County Record, May 28, 1904 -- but the lead is about an unnamed 'scandal'. Source: The Volusia County Record, May 28, 1904

The commencement coverage from The Volusia County Record, May 28, 1904 — but the lead is about an unnamed ‘scandal’. Source: The Volusia County Record, May 28, 1904

Stetson’s graduation — the subject — is buried several inches down in the next column. What scandal does the writer mean?

Of course, I had to track this one down, and temporarily sidetrack Emmett’s graduation, especially if it was big enough to push a different subject out of its own news article!

The President and the Kindergarten Teacher

If you were a student on the Stetson campus, and you observed the married president of Stetson University climbing out of the women’s dorm window well past calling hours, you’d think it suspicious too. Right?

So did students and faculty members who witnessed this event (and others like it) during the summer of 1901. It was unseemly. It was scandalous, and students and faculty were outraged.

The scandal mentioned in the clip, above, is the story of a summertime hookup between Stetson President John Forbes and normal school instructor Lena B. Mathes, who lived in Chaudoin Hall, along with other women students and faculty members. See page 15 in the Ryan essay, at the link here, for one version of what happened. The Rupert Longstreet essay, which includes more details (including reported evidence of a botched abortion or a miscarriage), is particularly interesting. See page 18 for that version. Also, there’s Olga Bowen’s oral history of Stetson University, which includes a section on the Forbes-Mathes scandal. The transcript can be found here, beginning on page 50.

Additionally, the Stetson University Archive has the a collection of the documents related to the scandal available online. (The transcripts from the hearing are in the collection, but not online.) As Longstreet stated in his essay, “…it was naturally assumed that where there was so much smoke, there must at least be a small bonfire” (p. 18). It was clear, from the numerous witnesses’ testimony (which was graphic and corroborated), that there was something illicit between Forbes and Mathes. What was amazing was that many of the trustees still didn’t think Forbes was guilty despite the large amount of testimony.

From The Minneapolis Journal, January 30, 1903

From The Minneapolis Journal, January 30, 1903. Source: GenealogyBank.com

A hearing was held to remove Forbes. Forbes submitted his resignation in September, 1903; the board accepted it at their annual meeting in February 1904.

The trustees decided to ‘exonerate’ both Forbes and Mathes, to silence the gossip and to put the issue to rest as best they could.

Exonerated, but the damage was done. Source: The DeLand Weekly News, 1904.

Exonerated, but the damage was done. Source: The DeLand Weekly News, 1904.

The reputation of Stetson was in trouble at the start of 1904; the new president, Lincoln Hulley, had to dig the university out of a major economic hole, and to rebuild a relationship with John B. Stetson.

According to Ryan, Forbes left for New York, and, with colleagues, purchased the Rochester Business Institute, and spent the rest of his life at that institution.

Mathes had already left the university to ‘recover from an illness.’ She wouldn’t return.

Convalescent from what? Source: Stetson University Archives, March 1902

Convalescent from what? Source: Stetson Weekly Collegiate, Stetson University Archives, March 1902

Out of curiosity, I looked into her background, briefly. She was married to George McCown Mathes, who lived in Turkey Creek, Florida. The U.S. Census for 1900 lists George Mathes as a farmer. Lena, on the other hand, appears to have lived separately from George for quite some time, as she’s listed as faculty member at Stetson as of 1900, according to the Report of the Superintendent of Public Instruction for Florida, 1903 (the report includes faculty disbursements from 1900 up to 1903). In thinking about why she lived separately from her husband and family (it would be unusual in 1900), consider the fact that George was 62, and Lena was 38. The big age difference might have been a factor; that, plus she was considered a talented teacher who was active in her professional association. She probably liked teaching better than farm life, but I’m only guessing.

From The School Journal, January 26, 1901. Source: Google Books

From The School Journal, January 26, 1901. Lena was active in her professional societies. Source: Google Books

After the publicity in 1903, Lena didn’t return to Stetson; she went back to teach in Turkey Creek, but not without difficulty.

From the Tampa Tribune, September 29, 1905. Source: GenealogyBank.com

From the Tampa Tribune, September 29, 1905. Source: GenealogyBank.com

Life in Florida with this cloud of the scandal following her must have been difficult.

George Mathes died in 1906, in Turkey Creek, Florida.

Eventually, Lena moved to North Carolina, as she is listed in 1909 as the principal of Spencer High School in Spencer N.C.

The 1910 U.S. Census reports that she moved to Chicago and was listed as having her own income.

Lena Mathes died in 1951, in Baltimore, Maryland.


So, what did Emmett think about all of this as it unfolded?

Emmett signed the petition in support of Forbes and against John B. Stetson's attempts to denigrate Forbes. Source: Deland Weekly News 1903.

Emmett signed the petition in support of Forbes and against John B. Stetson’s attempts to denigrate Forbes. Forbes tendered his resignation in September, 1903, but left in February, 1904. Source: Deland Weekly News 1903.

Emmett sided with President Forbes against John B. Stetson and his attempts to denigrate Forbes. There’s mention of a pamphlet that John B. Stetson had published that outlined the details behind Forbes’ ousting; I wonder if Emmett read it, or, had a chance to read ALL of the testimony, or to hear ALL sides of the issue? He was a lawyer-in-training. Surely he and his fellow law students (and the law professors) were discussing this case.

Given what we know as we look at this case, 100 years later, it seems hard for me to believe that Emmett would have given Forbes a pass on what happened. It’s clear that Forbes acted dishonorably not only to his wife and family, but in his capacity as president.

But, Emmett and his colleagues who signed the petition may not have been privy to all of the testimony. I can see how, also, how Lena Mathes could have been made the fall person for this whole situation. We don’t know.


I should be back to posting more regularly — and back to writing Emmett’s chapters, now that summer is in full swing, and I’ve had a chance to step back from a few other projects that I was closing out at the start of June.

Spring Break at Ormond

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The research project about Emmett’s junior-year dorm-mates was not some big distracting side-adventure: I was going somewhere with it. Namely, Ormond Beach.

Two months before the essay about the Earls of East Hall appeared in The Stetson Collegiate, I came across this item:

The foursome took the train to Ormond Beach, likely skipping out on their classes Friday. Source: Deland Weekly News

The foursome took the train to Ormond Beach, likely skipping out on their classes Friday, March 27, 1903. Source: Deland Weekly News

Which of these guys had an automobile at that time? Answer: None of them. DeCottes and Carter came from families that might have provided an auto — maybe. In 1903, privately owned automobiles were around, but they were not common.

For example, an article from The Weekly Tallahassean for November 8, 1900 mentions that much excitement was caused when the first automobile was seen on the streets of Tallahassee. Only three years later, in November, 1903, it was still such a novelty that The Weekly Tallahassean reported a “locomobile” sighting downtown. These were the days that cars were oddities, attention-getters.

Funny. Nowadays, if I see a horse on K Street in downtown D.C. (the National Park Service still has mounted police that patrol downtown), I stop and gawk, whereas Emmett would think nothing of it.

An auto in 1903 was more trouble than a horse: The roads were mostly dirt, rutted, better suited for horses. And, you had to ‘feed’ the auto. In 1903, if you owned one of the two or three cars in Tallahassee, and ran out of gas, you might have to wait for help from a neighbor on a horse.

Also, autos were considered the playthings of the wealthy. In 1903, an $850 car costs about $22,970 in today’s dollars. That’s out of the price range for your typical family of four back then, when their average annual income was approximately $500.

The Fordmobile of 1903, $850. Source: www.adbranch.com

The Fordmobile of 1903, $850. Source: http://www.adbranch.com

The first person to own a car in Emmett's family was -- of course -- Cephas Love Wilson, bank president, judge, mayor of Marianna, and state senator. According to the Florida Secretary of State's archive, Cephas bought one if the first cars in Jackson County, Florida, between 1903-05. Cephas' first car was a Buick. Image Source: www.buick.com.

The first person to own a car in Emmett’s family was — of course — Cephas Love Wilson, bank president, judge, mayor of Marianna, and state senator. According to the Florida Secretary of State’s archive, Cephas bought one if the first cars in Jackson County, Florida, around 1909. Cephas’ first car was a Buick. Image Source: http://www.buick.com.

1903 Winton. An earlier model (1898) cost $1000. The 1904 model pricetag was $1500. Source: earlyamericanautomobiles.com

1903 Winton, only $2600. An earlier model (1898) cost $1000. Source: earlyamericanautomobiles.com

Back to the Ormond Beach race. This was a big deal, because it was considered the first unofficial Automobile Club of America (later, AAA) race — the first NASCAR before it was ever NASCAR!

The reason why it wasn’t official is told, below:

Source: The Auto, Vol. 8, 1903. Google Books

Source: The Auto, Vol. 8, 1903. Google Books

So, what did Emmett and his friends witness?

A land-speed record set by Alexander Winton, in his bright red “Bullet.” Winton set a record for a straightaway run down the beach: One mile in 52.5 seconds. Also, Oscar Hedstrom raced his Indian-brand motorcycle.

Source: The Automotor Journal, May 2, 1903. Google Books

Source: The Automotor Journal, May 2, 1903. Google Books

H.T. Thomas driving the "Pirate" along Ormond Beach at the races, March 26-28, 1903. Emmett and his friends would have seen this. Source: The Automotor Journal. Google Books

H.T. Thomas driving the “Pirate” along Ormond Beach at the races, March 26-28, 1903. Emmett and his friends would have seen this. Source: The Automotor Journal. Google Books

The thing about this race is that it wasn’t promoted very widely (despite the big bucks of Henry Flagler, Winton, and W.J. Morgan backing it). About 3,000 attended the race over three days, but there weren’t many reporters there. Ransom Olds (father of the Oldsmobile, and owner of the ‘Pirate’) wasn’t happy with the low press turnout; when the race was repeated in 1904, he made certain that the national press knew about the races at Ormond Beach.

But the boys of East Hall at Stetson University heard about the race. They had no idea that this was to be a historic event; they likely were thrilled with the idea of speed, riskiness, the adventure, all in a brand new invention that only a few years earlier was the stuff of dreams. Imagine what that must have been like, to be Emmett and his friends, to witness this thing?

Did Emmett and his friends get these guys’ autographs? I hope so, but perhaps the crowds prohibited it — it was reported that about 3,000 were on hand for the races over the three-day weekend in March.

Perhaps they brought their pocket Kodak cameras with them and took photos of the events. Emmett liked photography; perhaps he took snapshots and placed them in his scrapbooks.

A snapshot of the races at the beach, from 1907. Source: The Motor Way magazine, from Google Books.

A snapshot of the races at Ormond Beach, from 1907. The 1903 race might have looked like this, too. Source: The Motor Way magazine, from Google Books.

Emmett’s adventures in Ormond Beach on this historic weekend are featured in the second chapter of the book — which is coming along nicely.