A Dream About DeLand

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All this Fall and Back-to-School activity around me showed up in my unconscious last night. I dreamed that I went to Emmett’s alma mater, Stetson University in DeLand, Florida!

DeLand is, unfortunately, way out of my way on this next research trip down to Florida, but I’d love to see it, especially the old town area. The head archivist at Stetson told me that much of it is the same as during Emmett’s enrollment there, from 1902-04.

Anyway, the dream went like this:

I was in the University of Maryland bookstore at noon on Monday, which would be the height of first day of school. A bad place to be. Students who put off getting their books and paraphernalia until after their first few classes are in there, desperate, panicky and wild-eyed, because they have 100 pages to read, as well as written exercises, in three classes by Wednesday.

It is only a dream. Source: Barnes & Noble.com

It is only a dream. Source: Barnes & Noble.com

I’m standing in the midst of all this chaos, when I see what I would call a small time portal open up over in the Terrapin sweatshirt and sporting goods aisle, across from the books and school supplies.

It is just a thin sliver of light, about my height. It attracts and beckons. I go over, and touch it. My hand passes through the thin beam of light to nothing. The beam opens up to allow me to walk through it, and, looking back at the chaotic scene, Freshmen pummelling each other over used copies of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style (oh how I wish), I walk on through.

Here, I find myself in a college bookstore of about 1902. Students well dressed. Neat, orderly stacks of books, and bookstore staff are not surly, uneven whiskered overgrown kids wearing earphones, unresponsive even when asked how they are doing that day.

A handsome young man in suit-minus-jacket, comes over and asks if he could help me. I notice his high collar. I ask, isn’t that uncomfortable? He steps back, I asked too personal a question. Sorry, me in my 21st century behavior, I say. He looks at me curiously. Again, he asks politely, can I help you?

I tell him I’m a faculty member transferred from Maryland, and I need the teachers’ editions of a few books. He’s immediately helpful, walks me over to a counter, where he pulls the needed supplies down for me, into a neat pile. He asks, when did I arrive in DeLand.

Just today…say, did you say DeLand? I said. Stetson University?

Uh, yes, ma’am, the clerk said, looking at me a little oddly.

Say, do you know Emmett Wilson?

Yes, indeed I do. He was just in here buying his lawbooks. Set him back about $40, all the money he had for two months.

Amazing, I said.

How long will you be here, the clerk asked, solicitously.

I don’t know, I answered. It depends on how good your football team is. Do you have one?

He looked at me strangely, then I awoke.

Priorities. Even in my dreams.

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Two Steel Magnolias

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Today’s post isn’t an homage to one of my all-time favorite movies; rather, it is an interesting side story that I might try to work on once I finish Emmett’s biography.

While reading through an archive of Emmett’s student newspaper, I found information that indicates Emmett and his fellow graduating law students had a group portrait made. I didn’t know this existed!

Magnolia Studios was run by Miss Emma Neal -- a woman-run business in what was then a cutting-edge profession. Source: Stetson University Archives

Magnolia Studios was run by Miss Minnie E. Neal — a woman-run business in what was then a cutting-edge profession. Her partner was Marian A. Freeman. Source: Stetson University Archives

I have a class photo of him (one that was replicated in the newspapers, so it is grainy at best), but I would love to see him with the entire graduating law class of Stetson University. There were only eight students in the class, so Emmett would be easily identifiable (compared to a graduating class with 50 or 60 in the photo).

I contacted the Stetson archivist on this, but they don’t have any record of class portraits for this group. There also wasn’t a yearbook for 1904 (Stetson’s first yearbook was published in 1908), so, I can’t check that for the group photo.

Ad from the 1905 Stetson Weekly Collegiate, February 15, 1905.

Ad from the 1905 Stetson Weekly Collegiate, February 15, 1905.

All I had been able to turn up about Magnolia Studios were a few advertisements in the Stetson Weekly Collegiate (the student-run newspaper).

So, I next contacted the local historical society in Deland for any records of this business. They weren’t familiar with it; also, there wasn’t a city directory for Deland in 1904.

Next, I turned to the U.S. Census, and that’s where I lucked out. I found out that Minnie had moved on to Jacksonville — it is unclear when she did — and became president of the WCTU for Florida.

Minnie Neal, bottom row, last photo on the left. She was a State Regent for the American Woman's League. I had a feeling Minnie was a woman ahead of her time. Source: history.ucpl.lib.mo.us/

Minnie Neal, bottom row, last photo on the right. She was a State Regent for the American Woman’s League. I had a feeling Minnie was a woman ahead of her time. Source: history.ucpl.lib.mo.us/

Not only were Minnie and her business partner Marian Freeman also still working as professional photographers, but they were also sharing a home. Interesting: Two women in a cutting-edge profession, on their own, doing just fine. “Acceptable” women’s jobs were mostly limited to teaching, nursing, and secretarial work in the early 1900s, so discovering these two with a successful photography business was a pleasant surprise.

My curiosity piqued, I dug a little further: In the 1935 Florida State Census, Minnie is 65 and she’s again listed as state president of the WCTU. Marian is 61, and working as an editor.

In the 1940 census, Minnie and Marian are still sharing a house. Her relationship to the head of the house (Marian) is listed as ‘partner.’  In the other census documents, there’s no relationship stated between Minnie and Marian. Back in 1940, that is probably all Minnie could say about their relationship. By this point, they had been together for at least 30 years.

I would love to know what happened to their photographic collection, and if perhaps I can find another photo of Emmett in that collection.

Also, I’d love to know what happened to Minnie and Marian. The more I think about these two, the more respect I have for the women trailblazers from the gilded age.

Now that I know they moved to Jacksonville, I’ll follow up with the historic society there, after the holidays, for more information. I’ll keep you posted.