Update: Emmett & the PDS


A few weeks ago, I mentioned that the archive at Florida State University had a new item listed in their holdings related to Emmett Wilson, namely, the minutes book of the Platonic Debating Society.

I contacted their excellent archivist, Sandra, and asked if it was possible for someone to take a look at the book, and if there was anything with Emmett’s name on it, could someone copy the page, and to please let me know how much they would need for the job.

Well, she got back to me the same day, said, yes, there are some pages that mention him, yes, we can prepare a .pdf of the pages for you, and no, there’s no charge.

They sent me the file the SAME DAY.

Aren’t archivists the most awesome people? God bless them!


So, I looked at the pages, and at first glance, there isn’t a lot of content about Emmett, but, there is some very useful information here, anyway.

For instance, the minutes provide the dates where Emmett was attending meetings of the society, and, information about  his dues (his standing in the society was dictated by the amount he had to pay). So, this helps me track where he was at certain points during the year.

Also, there was this interesting little item about his membership in 1901 — apparently, he was supposed to be an active member that year, but, he didn’t return to school in January, 1901, for a variety of reasons out of his control. This information confirms a clue I had about why Emmett, who was gung-ho to get going in a legal career, would leave college when he was only a year into the curriculum. Yeah!

I have not had much time to work on Emmett’s story for about a week. The kids have been home a lot more lately — schools were closed for President’s Day, and then, we got hit with a lot of slush (snow and rain mixed) the next day — which meant no writing time.

And, my oldest daughter will be confirmed this weekend, and several family members will be staying with us over the next several days. It will be very busy around here; no time for writing, alas.

However I do have something interesting that I found in the latest research dig to share with you. I’ll be back in a day or so!

Cold Facts


All together, we have about 30 inches of snow on the ground at my house. My husband has dug a path down the driveway to the street … which probably won’t be shoveled by the county until Wednesday.

The view of my driveway to the street -- as if we could drive anywhere. That's 30 inches of snow at the end of my driveway.

The view of my driveway to the street — as if we could drive anywhere. That’s 30 inches of snow at the end of my driveway. No plows through the subdivision yet. We’re usually last because our street isn’t near a major route.

Looking back at my house.

Looking back at my house.

My neighbor's house is behind that big pile of snow, which is over my head.

My neighbor’s house is behind that big pile of snow, which is over my head.

I’m not going anywhere for a few days. Thankfully, we have plenty of provisions and firewood, and PEPCO has been on its toes — no lack of power.

The kids will be out of school until (most likely) Thursday. I can work from here except for actual writing on the book; unfortunately, with the young kids in and out all day, it is too distracting. So, I decided to spend time checking back with archives, checking in with sources, revisiting outlines, organizing information. And just out of curiosity, I checked, and yes, Mercury is in retrograde. Ironic?

Checking back in with sources is often the step that gets overlooked or forgotten, so I don’t consider this negative, or as if I’m spinning my wheels.

It’s been productive over the last few days, too.

  • On Friday, I checked into Florida State University’s Heritage Protocol & University Archives, and discovered they’ve added the Platonic Debating Society Book, 1897-1904. The book includes meeting minutes, debates, assignment of officers and debate contestants. According to the collection note:
    Platonic Debating Society, 1900. Emmett is in the back row, fifth from left. Source: FSU archives

    Platonic Debating Society, 1900. Emmett is in the back row, fifth from left. Source: FSU archives

    “The order of business for regular meetings included such proceedings as regular debate, decision of judges, irregular debate, decision by the house, and the appointment of debaters, officers and committees. During regular debates, each speaker was given fifteen minutes to make his argument and five minutes for a rejoinder.”  This is where Emmett would have practiced his early debates, and gained debating skills and feedback! Imagine — finding text of some of his early speeches! I’ve asked for a copy of anything relating to him from this book. I can’t wait to hear back from the archivist!

  • And heeerrreeee's Bryan! Third row, third from the right. Source: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory

    Wynter Elijah Bryan Smith. Source: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory

    The excellent Sue Tindel over at the Jackson (Florida) County Clerk’s office found contact information for the grandson of Eudora (‘Dora’) Neely Wilson Smith. Dora was the oldest daughter of Dr. FC and Elizabeth Wilson; she was about four years older than Katie Wilson Meade. I have no photos of Dora, or anything else other than a few clippings from various newspapers about her life. Her husband was Wynter Elijah Bryan Smith, a lawyer and state representative. They had one child, a daughter. That daughter had one child, a son. I have written a letter to the gentleman, and I hope to hear back from him.

  • Yesterday, I spent most of the day tracking down Meade Wilson’s descendants. He had two sons, Meade Jr. and Francis M. Wilson. Both are deceased; Meade Jr. did not have children. Unfortunately, I’ve found out that Francis M. Wilson and his son, Francis Jr., are also now deceased. The last known address of the family was Lakeland, Florida.

The challenge: Once you get into the third generation (great-grandchildren) and beyond, the likelihood that memorabilia, letters, and so forth about any of the original Wilson siblings is greatly reduced.

However, it would seem to me that if a member of a family held national- or state-elected office, that information would be worth keeping, or, donating to a library or historical society.

My next task will be to check in with state and local libraries and historical societies, for new additions.




What’s it worth?


I’m sitting at the desk, the office is perfectly quiet, I have a draft in front of me to start hacking away at…

…and I manage, once again, to get distracted from the writing, and to track down the minutiae of the little thing that piqued my interest!

Here’s what it was:

$10 a month room, board, including sanitary plumbing! Source: Florida State University, Argo, 1902

$10 a month room, board, including sanitary plumbing! Source: Florida State University, Argo, 1902

This little snippet comes from the 1902 Argo, which was the yearbook of the West Florida Seminary, now Florida State College in 1902 (later, to become FSU). It was in the back of the book, with the advertisements; a little promotional piece on the merits of a degree from FSC.

Notice that this doesn’t include the cost of tuition, incidentals, transportation — which, all together, would mean about $30 a month for a student attending FSC in 1902.

Emmett and his family were certainly what I’d consider upper middle class; but never ‘wealthy’ by any stretch (as everyone was expected to pitch into the family expenditures when old enough to work). Everyone chipped in to help out; Emmett earned some of the money to attend college, but he definitely couldn’t have done it on his own.

How much of a financial stretch on the family was it for Emmett to attend college?

Here’s an interesting application called Inflation Calculator 2015. I typed in $30 to see what it really cost back in 1899 (when Emmett was enrolled as a sophomore at West Florida Seminary (now FSU):

Do the math: $30 times eight months = Expensive education in 1899.

Do the math: $30 times eight months = Expensive education in 1899.

$857.14 x 8 = $6,857.12 for an entire sophomore year at WFS in 1899.

The average family income in the United States in 1899 (according to a publication from the National Bureau of Economic Research) was $1,004. Average income for families in Florida may have been less than that (an average family was defined as two adults, two children; the Wilsons has 10 children, but according to the 1900 census, there were five children enumerated in the Wilson household).

For the record, Emmett only attended half of his sophomore year; there were a combination of reasons why he didn’t return to Florida State College (which I save for the book, because they are pretty interesting); but, if he had, then he wouldn’t have become a lawyer, then a U.S. Congressman.

All right.

Back to regularly scheduled work.




Circle of Friends: Paul Hayne Carter


Today’s post is about unconditional friendship.

I believe that everyone has a friend in their lives who you know that no matter where you are, or how much time has gone by, the relationship is there. This is the person who knows you best, maybe better than your spouse knows you. It doesn’t matter that it has been a year or more that you were in same room together; when you are together, it is as if you saw each other only the day before.

Me and Blanche, graduation, 1981.

Me and Blanche, graduation, 1981.

I’m blessed to have that kind of friend in my life. Her name is Blanche. We were 13 when we met each other during summer basketball practice at St. Joseph High School.

We lived only a block away from each other, so we grew up in each other’s houses. We argued, we held each other up when our hearts were broken, we stood up for each other as Maid/Matron of Honor at each other’s weddings.

We’ve always ‘gotten’ each other. We’ve always been completely comfortable telling each other anything, even the hard stuff neither of us would listen to from another person, such as, “Look at yourself. I think you drink too much.” Or, “That guy you say you are in love with? He doesn’t deserve you. Here’s why.”

We’ve had our share of ups and downs, and awkward moments after a disagreement or three. None of that has ever mattered. Today, we live hundreds of miles away from each other, but that distance doesn’t matter, either. If she asked me, I’d hop on a plane to be there with her today. No questions asked.

Everyone should be this lucky to have a Blanche in their lives.

Unconditional friendship. This was the relationship Emmett had with his best friend, Paul Hayne Carter.

Paul Carter, from the 1899 Argo, the yearbook of the West Florida Seminary (now Florida State University).

Paul Carter, from the 1900 Argo, the yearbook of the West Florida Seminary (now Florida State University).

Emmett and Paul grew up together in Chipley; Emmett lived on 6th Street, and Paul just a block over, on 5th. The houses were close, the properties almost backing up to each other. I like to think that as boys, these two would go back and forth to each others’ houses all day long, plotting and planning fishing trips, or pranks to play on their siblings, or just daydreaming about what they wanted to do once they were free of parental bondage.

Bottom line, it seems both boys wanted something bigger than what Chipley had to offer, and so, they’d eventually need to leave their home town to find out what that was. Paul wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps (Paul Sr. was a successful lawyer and judge); Emmett wanted adventure.

Paul was a year younger than Emmett, but he was a year ahead of him academically. Paul advanced quickly through the Chipley public schools, but because he wasn’t challenged enough academically transferred to Auburn University in Fall of 1898 (when it was known as the Mechanical College of Alabama from 1872-99) while still a junior in high school. Emmett, on the other hand, was still enrolled in Chipley’s high school while working as a railroad telegrapher at the local train depot in between school terms. Emmett had to help support the family, and he wanted to earn his way up the ladder with the Pensacola & Atlantic Railroad. Back then, working for the railroad was a great job for young boys; it was the equivalent of working for NASA today. It offered employment, travel, adventure. It offered Emmett a route out of Chipley.

Paul H. Carter, Sr. in Chipley, Florida.

Paul H. Carter, Sr. in Chipley, Florida.

On about January 3, 1899, after Christmas break, Paul went back to Auburn to start the second semester of his freshman year.  Several days later, on January 8, 1899, Paul’s father, Judge Paul H. Carter, Sr., was shot and killed in downtown Chipley. Paul was called back to Chipley immediately.

The man who shot Judge Carter, R.U. Harrell, was charged with manslaughter and eventually sent to prison to serve approximately five years.

The whole episode devastated Paul, who had been very close to his father.

Inscription on the side of Paul Carter, Sr.'s tombstone.

Inscription on the side of Paul Carter, Sr.’s tombstone.

One difference between Paul’s family and Emmett’s family was money. Paul did not have to stay home to support his widowed mother and siblings; Judge Carter had left the family financially sound. After the funeral and trial had passed, and life settled back down, Paul went back to college in Fall of 1899, this time to the West Florida Seminary (now Florida State University) in Tallahassee. Emmett, on the other hand, had to earn money to help support the Wilson family; also, if he planned to go to college, he had to earn at least part of the money himself.

At this point, Emmett had discovered that that working for the railroad was often more tedious and administrative rather than adventurous. He was not sure what he wanted to do; he did know, however, that he wanted something else besides a railroad career.

Emmett (R) and Paul. Roommates, friends, sometimes debate rivals. Source: FSU archive.

Emmett (L) and Paul. Roommates, friends, sometimes debate rivals. Source: FSU archive.

Paul encouraged Emmett to follow him to WFS. If Emmett had any qualms about the tough curriculum, Paul would be there for Emmett, and they could coach each other as necessary. Emmett saved his money and by spring of 1900, enrolled in WFS, classified as both a third-year high school student and a freshman (the dual classification was because he had to make up academic deficiencies). Emmett managed to catch up academically, and by the end of their freshman year, both Paul and Emmett were classified as sophomores for the 1900-01 academic year.

Platonic Debating Society. 1900-01 Argo. Source: FSU archives

Platonic Debating Society. 1900-01 Argo. Source: FSU archives

Paul and Emmett were roommates. They joined clubs together, including the Platonic Debating Society. Both Paul and Emmett would eventually earn honors in their debates at WFS; the instruction Emmett earned in public speaking at WFS served him well for his entire career. But, before he earned those honors, it was a struggle for Emmett at the beginning:

Emmett's debating skills were still in transition. Source: FSU archive

Emmett’s debating skills were still in transition, as he is lampooned in the student yearbook. Source: FSU archive

As I think about Paul and Emmett’s friendship, I can see how Paul probably ‘mentored’ Emmett, especially in the debate/oratorical work. Paul won several awards for his debating skills; I can easily imagine them practicing together. Paul was definitely the top debater at WFS; Emmett had the best mentor, hands down.

Paul and Emmett stuck it out at WFS through their sophomore year; they did not return for their junior year, either because money ran out or they simply did not pass the mandatory entrance exams, which were held in September, 1901.

I definitely don’t think money was the issue with either Paul or Emmett in this case, because Paul did have the tuition, and Emmett had worked all summer to earn his tuition for the following year. In fact, I lean more toward the idea that it was because neither Paul nor Emmett were able to pass the entrance exams, which were notoriously difficult. They definitely weren’t alone, though: For example, the senior class of 1901 started out with 48 students — but only three actually made it to graduation.

A feature from 1951 about the difficult entrance exams at WFS. Source: Florida Flambeau.

A feature from 1951 about the difficult entrance exams at WFS. Source: Florida Flambeau.

What happened after Emmett and Paul’s sophomore year? Stay tuned. I’ll continue the story tomorrow.

Oh Hell Yeah!


It was a productive day! I worked on Emmett’s book this afternoon, watched this outstanding contest…

Source: espn.com

Source: espn.com

…and, converted an FSU fan to MSU! Yeah, baby! Productive!


Emmett went to West Florida Seminary, which later became Florida State. But now, he’s cheering for the SEC!

I’ll report back on the writing progress (it is going well)! Hail State!


Gratitude and Buckram Binding


This morning, the archivist at Florida State University library let me know they had found a text I’d been seeking (and thinking did not exist anymore) for about three or four months.


What’s more, the archivist advised that they are having to disbind the book in order to digitize it — hopefully, not just for my research.

Why buckram's not a good idea. Source: The Changing Role of Book Repair in ARL Libraries, Issue 190, p. 40, 1993.

Why buckram’s not a good idea. Source: The Changing Role of Book Repair in ARL Libraries, Issue 190, p. 40, 1993.

It looks like I’m the first one to use this text in a very long time. The archivist said it was bound in buckram; taking it apart is time consuming. I’ll say.

What’s more — they aren’t charging me. Can you believe it? It is because they are putting it on their historic document database. It will be absolutely useful in historic research about Florida State’s early years, and what’s great, that information will now be accessible to more researchers.

I have such great appreciation for the archivists, researchers, and librarians who have been so helpful over the past several months. Of course, all of these folks will be mentioned in the acknowledgements section of Emmett’s book. I wish I could do more for them.

An appreciation meme for librarians everywhere. Source:  memegenerator.net

An appreciation meme for librarians everywhere. Source: memegenerator.net

The Comeback Kid


I believe that everyone deserves the occasional mulligan.

Because second chances are rare, if you’re smart, you use that opportunity to your best advantage. That’s what happened with Emmett when he was about 20 years old, and had basically flunked out of West Florida Seminary (what is now Florida State University) in Tallahassee, in the Fall of 1901.

The main WFS building, constructed in 1891; it was then replaced by Westcott Hall in 1909. Source: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/11572

The main WFS building, constructed in 1891; it was replaced by Westcott Hall in 1909. Source: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/11572

Tuition at WFS was free, but you had to pay your living expenses, and the fact that it was free learnin’ did not equate to “cheap educational experience” AT ALL. This was one tough school. The curriculum was decidedly not for suckers or folks who wanted to get a college degree as quickly and effortlessly as humanly possible. Students today would balk at the high expectations of student assignments, as well as the behavior requirements expected of undergraduates. Those were the days, my friends.

Emmett’s class at WFS started out with 45 students (the class cohort formed several years earlier, in what we’d call junior high or middle school today). Emmett and his best friend Paul Carter attended Chipley public schools, but were definitely enrolled at WFS for their Freshman year for the 1899-1900 session.

Emmett's in there somewhere! WFS student body, 1901. Source: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/25064

Emmett’s in there somewhere! WFS student body, 1901. Source: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/25064

I don’t know what Emmett’s major was at the time, but it wasn’t law. The WFS Law School was discontinued in 1885. However, one could earn a BA in Greek or Latin; a BS in modern languages or physical sciences; or, a BL (Bachelor of Letters) in English, German, or the romance languages. It seems logical that he would have been enrolled in the classical curriculum.

Let’s say he was working on the basic Bachelor of Arts degree, classical studies. Here’s what his Freshman year would have looked like:

I don't know about you, but my Freshman year BA general curriculum was nothing like this.  Source: http://digitalcollections.net.ucf.edu/cdm/ref/collection/CFM/id/91626

Note: Although this was the basic Freshman curriculum from Stetson University (Emmett’s alma mater), it was a model of the typical classical curriculum for a collegiate Freshman in 1901. Source: http://digitalcollections.net.ucf.edu/cdm/ref/collection/CFM/id/91626

At the end of Emmett and Paul’s Sophomore year, only about 12 students were left. In two more years, there would only be four students. WFS had notoriously rigorous placement exams, which were given in September (at the beginning of the academic year). If you didn’t pass (and many didn’t), you were out.

Cephas Love Wilson, 1906. Source: http://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/143975

Cephas Love Wilson, 1906. Source: http://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/143975

Apparently, that’s what happened with Emmett and Paul, because neither were enrolled at WFS according to the October, 1901 records. Additionally, I think it is pretty safe to say that Emmett had a tough time at WFS: Not only did he bomb out on his junior year placement exams, the poor guy was was lampooned in the school yearbook for his less-than-stellar oratory skills. Emmett was soon back home in Marianna in the fall of 1901, working for Cephas at Kehoe & Wilson.

During that year, Emmett regrouped. He saved money, and he found his direction — a law career. If Emmett looked back on this time a few years later, I’m sure he saw that the rough experience at WFS was actually the best thing that could have happened to him.

The one-on-one OJT training with Cephas made a huge difference for Emmett. After a year of apprenticeship with the legal shark, er, Cephas, Emmett tried college again in October, 1902, and this time, was a success. The pressure to do well the second time was there; this time, though, he was better able to handle it. That, plus he hadn’t discovered booze just yet. If he’d have been drinking at Stetson, he’d have been out PDQ. QED.

Emmett at moot court. He's either arguing the case or sitting in as the court reporter. Source: Stetson.edu

Emmett at moot court. He’s either arguing the case or sitting in as the court reporter. Source: Stetson.edu

Emmett was only at Stetson for about 18 months, but in that time, according to my colleagues at Stetson’s archive, he definitely left a positive mark. He was the valedictorian of the law school, he won the university’s top award for oratory (so there, WFS yearbook staff!), he distinguished himself in moot court and served as president of the Kent Club, which was the law school aggregate.

Emmett had a do-over, and he did well with it. Given his success — and the fact that he obviously worked hard and overcame whatever issue it was that held him back academically at WFS — I believe that if he hadn’t been addicted to alcohol and crashed midway through his tenure in Congress, he would have been able to redeem himself and his career, and come back twice as strong — just like he did at Stetson.