Dual Classification

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One of the more curious (to me) stories about Emmett Wilson’s education centers around his attendance at West Florida Seminary in Tallahassee, Florida.

Sometime around 1899 (when he was about 17 years old), Emmett applied for admission to West Florida Seminary, minus a high school diploma. It wasn’t unheard of for a student to do this, if he or she was well prepared, but it was significantly more difficult minus that last year of secondary education. Emmett didn’t skip his senior year at Chipley High School because he was a prodigy (sorry, Emmett), but because there weren’t enough teachers at the school for that senior class.

On average, the public high schools in Washington County, Florida were in session for four months. The county wasn’t wealthy, and had neither the mandate nor the tax base to support public schools at that time. (This wasn’t always the situation in Washington County, Florida schools, but it happened during what was supposed to be Emmett’s last year in high school.)

Paul Carter, about 1900, from the WFS yearbook, The Argo. Source: FSU Archive

Emmett could have waited to graduate high school the following year, but he was impatient and ready to get on with his life, preferably in an urban area, to do something ‘big’ and important with himself. Emmett’s best friend, Paul Carter, would head off to Alabama Polytechnic (later Auburn University) in 1899. Paul was a year younger than Emmett, and there seems to have always been a bit of good-natured competitiveness between them — maybe also a bit of jealousy on Emmett’s part towards his best friend.

Without a high school diploma in hand, Emmett would have had to have passed an entrance exam, in addition to his application for admission to West Florida Seminary. Tuition was free to Florida residents, but students had to pay other fees, and the entrance (and final) exams were notoriously tough. Emmett may not have been ‘brilliant’ (as he was occasionally lauded in contemporary press), but he was smart, and made it past the testing gauntlet.

Although tuition was free, students still had to pay for expenses, $10 a month room, board, including sanitary plumbing! Source: Florida State University, Argo, 1902

Once in, Emmett had to doubly prove himself, as he was classified both as a high school senior and a Freshman:

From the 1899-1900 catalog of The Seminary West of the Suwannee (better known as West Florida Seminary). Source: FSU Digital Repository

Emmett’s dual classification continued into his second year at WFS:

“F.C.” stood for “Freshman Class — Classical Studies” and “S.C.” stood for “Sophomore Class — Classical Studies.” The end result after four years with this curriculum at WFS was the Bachelor of Arts degree. Source: FSU Digital Repository

Emmett’s name never appeared on the honor roll while at WFS; nor did he earn any awards for perfect attendance, or academic proficiency. He was most likely an average student, and he probably struggled mightily with some of the required courses (Latin AND Greek, for example). Emmett did not return to WFS after only half completing his Sophomore year.

What I think is interesting about this example of dual classification in Emmett’s early college career is that, on reflection, Emmett’s life always seemed to be pulled in two or more directions. For instance, in the research, I’ve noticed a sort-of tug-of-war between the Lawyer Emmett and the Politician Emmett. He loved the law, but hated the political part of it. He would have been content, I think, to hole up in a judge’s chambers and do research all day long, or write, even. Emmett was a loner most of his life, and it seems uncomfortable dealing with people outside of his immediate, tight, trusted circle of friends and family. Kind of odd for a man who chose to embrace a vocation that involved dealing with the public, and/or being a public servant for a large part of his career.

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Jerry Williams Carter, Serving Punch

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Jerry Williams Carter, also known as the “Old Campaigner,” was Emmett Wilson’s campaign manager in 1912.

Source: St. Petersburg Times, March 12, 1966, via Google Newspapers

Emmett and Carter had something in common: The 1912 Third District Congressional race was the first political campaign for both men. I’m curious how Emmett and Carter met, but I’m not surprised. Emmett was considered a rising star in early 20th century West Florida politics. Carter, a Singer sewing machine salesman who connected well with the general public, wanted to switch careers. Both young men were well known, motivated, ambitious. I can see why the Florida Democratic party leadership probably put Emmett and Carter together.

No one expected Emmett to do as well as he did against the incumbent Dannite Mays in the first primary (there were supposed to be two primary elections in 1912, with the two Democratic party winners facing off in June), but Mays withdrew from second primary only 48 hours after Emmett’s strong showing. Both Emmett and Carter’s hard work and ambition paid off.

Mays Withdraws. Source: The Pensacola Journal via Chronicling America.gov

Ambition and hard work did wonders for Carter, as he eventually ran for U.S. Senate and Governor, but successfully became a Public Service Commissioner, serving several terms.

Carter for Senator, 1926. Source: Florida Memory.com

Carter for Governor, 1932. Source: Florida Memory.com

Although Carter had a long and successful career as a public service commissioner, Carter’s family was his true pride and joy.

Jerry and Mary Frances Hope Holifield, on their wedding day, 1907. Source: Florida Memory.com

Jerry and Mary Frances Carter, 1925. Source: Florida Memory.com

The Carter family at home; Jerry and Mary Frances had seven boys! Source: Florida Memory.com

The Carter’s 50th wedding anniversary. Source: Florida Memory.com

Jerry enjoyed an active role in Florida politics throughout his busy, successful life.

Jerry, far right, in 1964. Source: Florida Memory.com

The best find about Jerry: He was a feisty, outspoken guy — someone you’d definitely want on your side, or running your campaign.

Jerry, age 74, serving punch. I wish I could have met him in person. Source: Find-a-grave.com

Carter’s descendants donated his papers to the Florida State University archive in Tallahassee. I’m dying to take a look at Carter’s letters and memorabilia. Perhaps there’s postcards from Emmett; maybe photos of the two men together after the Emmett was elected in November, 1912; perhaps there’s punchy dialog in the correspondence between Emmett and Jerry!

I can’t wait to look through the papers on my next visit to Florida!