Modeste Sierra Hargis


I have new information to share on Modeste Hargis, entrepreneur, professional whistler, and Emmett’s pharmacist!

It’s the obituary for Modeste Hargis‘ mother, Modeste Sierra Hargis, from the Pensacola Daily News, Friday, January 22, 1904, page 1:

Obituary for Modeste Sierra Hargis. Source: Pensacola Daily News, Jan 22, 1904.

I love finding these old obituaries; they often include a sentimental (and perhaps charitable!) description of the deceased’s personality, plus clues about their lives and other family relationships.

At the time of Modeste Sierra’s death, she was about 68 years old. Her husband, Dr. Robert Bell Smith Hargis, who was about 15 years older than Modeste Sierra, died eleven years earlier, in 1893.

One other item I’ve discovered is that Modeste the Younger had a half-brother, Dr. Robert Whitmore Hargis. Robert is not mentioned in the above obituary; he was the son of Dr. Robert Bell Smith Hargis and Susan Catherine Horton, who died in 1852. (Modeste Sierra and Dr. Robert Bell Smith Hargis were married in 1854.) He would have been about two or three years old when his father married Modeste Sierra, effectively being the only mother he would have remembered. Perhaps he wasn’t listed in the obituary because Robert Whitmore died in 1899, yet Modeste Sierra’s deceased sister is listed. Perhaps it was an oversight, perhaps not; I’m just curious about it.

Anyway — what’s interesting about the information at the link on Dr. Robert Whitmore Hargis is that it identifies the name of one of his descendants who possesses the family Bible! I’d love to see that precious primary source in person!

Modeste’s License


The excellent Jacki Wilson, archivist at the University of West Florida Historic Trust, sent the following:

Modeste Hartgis’ pharmacy license! Source: UWF Historic Trust

If you are just now joining the Emmett Wilson Program, Modeste was Emmett’s pharmacist while he lived in Pensacola. Last year, I did a short essay about her here. I reached out to Jacki about two weeks ago with a query about Modeste and her family, and Jacki sent the image of Modeste’s pharmacy license, along with a few short articles. Isn’t that great?

Here’s a transcript of the license:

Board of Pharmacy for the State of Florida

This is to certify that Modeste Hargis is a registered pharmacist in conformity with the Act of the Florida Legislature, entitled

“An Act to regulate the Practice of Pharmacies in Cities and Towns of more than two hundred inhabitants and the Sale of Poisons in the State of Florida and to affix Penalties,”

Approved May 30, 1889. In testimony whereof, witness our Signatures and the Seal of the Board, Ocala, this 3rd day of August in the Year of Our Lord 1893.

Dabney Palmer, President

Sydney B. Leonard (?)


Modeste Hargis, on the day she graduated from pharmacy school, 1893. Source: womenofhistoricpcola

Jacki also mentioned that the photo of Modeste in the earlier post was taken of her on the day she graduated from pharmacy school.

A researcher interested in historic pharmacy of Pensacola found the essay. Long story short, I agree with the researcher that Modeste is deserving of recognition as the first and youngest female pharmacist in Pensacola. I am hopeful we can work together to do something about it!


In Emmett Wilson book news — I am down to the last 30 pages in the read-through of the rough draft. The read-through has been stop-and-go all week; I’ve been doing it in-between grading papers and client projects.

The real work will begin next week, when I plan the second draft, and assemble the notes and bibliography pages.

Election Judgment


I’m a little behind filing my report on working as an Election Judge at my precinct’s polling station. Apologies for that; one (of two) outcomes of the day that I didn’t expect was to develop a major cold, which I’m sure was exacerbated by interacting with literally hundreds of neighbors who live in my precinct.

Rollingwood Elementary School, my voting precinct. Source:

Rollingwood Elementary School, my voting precinct. Source:

I wish I had taken photos of the polling station setup, the crowd, and the election judges in action to share, but the Board of Elections expressly forbade election judges from using cell phones or other technology at any time they were on duty — including lunch breaks. The chief judges were allowed cell phones; they had to communicate with the Board of Elections offices from time to time and to deal with emergency situations, such as when one of the three electronic poll books stopped working right at 6:57 a.m. — three minutes before the polls opened. I was one of the three judges running the poll books — and there was a long line out the door. Thankfully, we were able to get the third poll book up and running within the hour.

The polls opened promptly at 7 a.m. — I remember looking up at the clock. The next time I looked up at the clock (when the line had finally dispersed), it was 9:15 a.m. No kidding. I checked the number of Voter Access Cards I issued at that point — 402.

The chief judges had a giant bag of these lozenges going around the room. Thank goodness.

The chief judges had a giant bag of these lozenges going around the room. Thank goodness.

One of the chief judges came around offering throat lozenges. I took several. My spiel consisted of the following 402 times:

  1. Good morning. May I have your first and last name?
  2. Would you confirm your address?
  3. Would you confirm your day and month of birth?

We weren’t allowed to ask for the year, although most would automatically offered it. Maryland does not check voter identification, unless it is specifically noted on the voter’s registration record.

Then, I’d print out the electronic Voter Access Card, and send the voter on his/her way to the ballot table.

Several of my neighbors and friends showed up in my line. Most of them said hello; we visited for a few minutes, but we couldn’t get too chummy: At least twice while I was there poll watchers were hanging out behind me, watching as I checked voters in, and then, an observer from the Board of Elections visited to make sure everything was running smoothly.

After three hours at the poll books, I rotated to the ballot table, where I assembled the paper ballots and folders for the voters. Yeah, Maryland used paper ballots this time, which were presented to voters in legal-sized folders. The spiel went as follows:

  1. Maryland is using a paper ballot this election.
  2. It is two pages, with selections for you to review on both sides.
  3. Fill in the oval completely, no stray marks, or the scanner will not be able to read your choices, and will reject the ballot.
  4. When you’ve made your choices, return the ballot to the folder, and take the folder to the scanner.

I assembled and distributed about 200 ballots for the hour and a half I was at the station.

My last station was the scanner. There were two scanners set up near the exit of the polling station. My job was to stand next to the scanner and instruct the voter how to insert their ballot into the device, and to instruct the voter that if the ballot was rejected, then he or she would have to cast their ballot again (there’s a whole ballot spoiling process, which includes special forms and handling).

The only drama at our precinct was when an Election Judge at the scanner got cursed out by a voter because his ballot was rejected, and he had to redo it.

Personal observations:

This is a program that is entirely citizen-run, citizen-led, and I never understood or fully appreciated that before. One gentleman who accompanied a poll watcher was from the United Kingdom. He asked the chief judges how our political parties appointed the election judges at precincts — and the chief judge said, ‘We don’t. Our election judges are volunteers.’ After the UK visitor left, the chief judge turned to me and said, “it makes your really appreciate what we have here in the U.S.”

I read that about 47 percent of registered voters didn’t vote at all this year. That’s about 90 million voters. I understand that this was a contentious election; to be honest, neither major candidate was my first choice, but I would never just throw away a chance to speak up. Voting is precious. You think Minnie Kehoe would have thrown away a chance to vote? You think Modeste Hargis or Minnie Neal would have thrown it away, too? Hell no.

About three hours after the polls opened, my oldest daughter walked down to the polling station by herself, to look around. She’s 14, and pushing back against me and her dad (as teenagers will), and definitely keeping her distance from us, as she is of the age where it is ‘not cool’ to be seen with your parents. So, when I looked up from the poll books to see her standing in the doorway, a little hesitant, it warmed my heart.

i-voted-stickerI motioned her over to me, and introduced her to the other election judges. We weren’t busy, so I walked her through the voting process, step-by-step. She watched me check a few voters in, and help one or two voters with the scanning device. One of the chief judges gave her an “I Voted” sticker, with a wink and an admonition to be sure to register as soon as she was old enough, because it was important.

Before she left, she thanked me for showing her around because it was interesting — and, under her breath, she told me she was proud of me for working the polls.

Then she ran home.


Update: Emmett’s Pharmacy


Earlier today, a reader emailed me about a photo of pharmacy bottles embossed “Hargis Pharmacy”.


These are the Hargis Pharmacy bottles that got the reader’s attention. Would love to help this reader find more of them. Source:

The photo originated from a historic bottle collection website,; unfortunately, the website hasn’t been updated in awhile.

So, I referred the reader to my colleague, the excellent archivist Jacki Wilson, of the Pensacola Historical Society. The PHS has a treasure trove of artifacts; there may be a Hargis Pharmacy bottle in her collection.

But the email message got me interested in checking back into different databases — I’ve learned over the past three years in Emmett’s research that new things can and do show up as databases are updated.

So, I did a brief search — lo and behold — look at what I found:

The Hargis Pharmacy, brand new, located in the brand new American National Bank Building. Note the multiple brass spittoons on the floor. Source: The Bulletin of Pharmacy, Volume 24, published by E.G. Swift, 1910, page 131.

The brand new Hargis Pharmacy, located in the also-brand new American National Bank Building. Note the multiple brass spittoons on the floor. Source: The Bulletin of Pharmacy, Volume 24, published by E.G. Swift, 1910, page 131.

I just wish I could find the original photograph of this room. There are so many details I’d love to examine — the tiles. The merchandise cases. The products on the shelves. I really wonder what Emmett bought in this pharmacy — also, did he have a credit line? Did he use the spittoons? (I tend to think he would have had a charge account (he used a lot of pomade); and no, I don’t think he’d use the spittoons (he was more of a cigar guy than a chewing tobacco guy.)

The American National Bank Building, now Seville Tower, today. Source:

The American National Bank Building, now Seville Tower, today. Modeste’s pharmacy would have been on the right side of the building, facing Government Street. Her office was on the mezzanine level. Source:

The photo provides excellent information. The detailed description of this pharmacy tells us that Modeste must have been doing fairly well for herself — after all, the ANBB was the tallest, most prestigious building in Pensacola when it opened in 1910.

I’m sure there were plenty of businessmen competing for the prime space in the building — and here was Modeste with her pharmacy right there.

It makes me feel good knowing that Modeste was doing quite well for herself, at a time when women were not expected to be successful in a male-dominated business world.

Modeste Hargis, Whistling Pharmacist


I’m pleased to report that not only have I located Emmett’s doctors (both in Pensacola and Washington, D.C.), but I’ve also located his pharmacist. Pretty damn good History Detective work, huh?

I’ll have more on the doctors in another post, but I thought I’d introduce you to the pharmacist first, because she’s REMARKABLE.


Meet Modeste Hargis. The first (and youngest) woman pharmacist in Pensacola.

Modeste Hargis, about 1900. Source: womenofhistoricpcola

Modeste Hargis, about 1900. Source: womenofhistoricpcola

Modeste was born August 1875 in Pensacola, the daughter of Dr. Robert Bell Smith Hargis. She had four sisters and two older brothers, Robert and John, who also were physicians.

Modeste decided early that she wanted a medical career, too.  According to a feature about Modeste in a 1909 issue of The Pensacola Journal, she accompanied her father every day on house calls and appointments, and he taught her everything he knew. She couldn’t have had a better teacher, either — Dr. Hargis was not only a yellow fever expert, he, along with Dr. J.C. Whiting, established the Pensacola Hospital in 1868. He was well respected, well known, and considered one of the top physicians in West Florida. It is quite likely that Emmett’s father, Dr. Francis C. Wilson, at least knew of Dr. Hargis, if he didn’t actually practice with him on occasion.

Modeste was interested in pharmacy, and Dr. Hargis encouraged and supported his daughter’s plans, even though it was still highly unusual for a young woman to enter a profession dominated by men.

In the 1909 article, Modeste said:

“I simply loved anything connected with medicine and after my father’s health failed, I commenced the study of pharmacy though I did not know then it would ever be the means of my support.”

Modeste’s turning point came in 1893, at 18, when she passed the state pharmacy examination and was the youngest (and only) female pharmacist in Florida.

Source: American Druggist & Pharmaceutical Record, Vol. 26, September 14, 1893.

Source: American Druggist & Pharmaceutical Record, Vol. 26, September 14, 1893.

And less than three months later, Modeste’s father died. It is unclear what was the cause of Dr. Hargis’ death, but he died at home, at 109 E. Romana Street. Modeste’s quote gives us a clue that he was likely ill for a long time, and so his death was not unexpected.

It is not clear when Modeste opened her first pharmacy. However, records from the Pensacola City Directory for 1898 (the earliest one available for now) indicate that she was on her own:

Pensacola City Directory for 1898. Source:

Pensacola City Directory for 1898. J. Whiting Hargis was one of Modeste’s older brothers. Source:

Just for kicks, I looked at Google Earth to see if the original house or buildings are still at 107-109 E. Romana. Alas, no — only a few modern box-shaped offices and an empty lot.

The Hargis Pharmacy moved around a few times: In 1911, it was located at 8 E. Government Street — the location of Emmett’s office — in the American National Bank Building. I can imagine Emmett stepping out of the office, taking the elevator down to the first floor, to pick up a bottle of Bromo-Seltzer, and his brand of pomade (which I have not been able to figure out yet, but give me time). He could also pick up a bottle of beer or wine there too! Did you know the Hargis Pharmacy also made and bottled beer and wine? It’s true. Pharmacies could do that back then.


A variety of bottles (contents unknown) bearing the Hargis Pharmacy embossment. Source:

By 1916, The Hargis Pharmacy had moved down the street from 8 E. Government, to 203-205 S. Palafox. Still, only a few blocks’ stroll for Emmett, should he need to pick up toiletries, or whatnot.

Pensacola City Directory for 1916. Modeste's pharmacy delivered, too! Source:

Pensacola City Directory for 1916. Modeste’s pharmacy delivered, too! 203 S. Palafox, by the way, is still standing. Source:

Not surprisingly, Modeste was a friend of Minnie Kehoe’s, and, a supporter of women’s suffrage. Both were successful women business owners, too. I can well imagine those two getting together and having quite interesting conversations.

Modeste’s house at 611 N. Barcelona is still standing, too:

611 North Barcelona, Pensacola, Florida. Source:

611 North Barcelona, Pensacola, Florida. Source:

Modeste spent most of her life as a pharmacist. It is unclear when she sold or retired from business. In 1934, at age 54, she was likely retired at that point, because she is simply listed in the Pensacola City Directory at home.

But she wasn’t idle.

Zora Neale Hurston. Source: Library of Congress

Zora Neale Hurston. Could Modeste have known her? it’s possible! Source: Library of Congress

Modeste signed on with the Federal Writers Project of the Work Projects Administration (WPA) for the state of Florida. She co-wrote a series of articles that appeared in a variety of publications, including the Florida Historical Quarterly. Interesting — she was probably a colleague of Zora Neale Hurston!

Modeste’s most prolific year was 1939, according to She had NINE articles on a variety of topics, including Don Francesco Moreno, and an intensive study of Greek culture in Pensacola.

By 1942, Modeste was out of retirement and the director of the WPA Writer's Department in Pensacola. From the 1942 Pensacola City Directory. Source:

By 1942, Modeste was out of retirement and the director of the WPA Writer’s Department in Pensacola. From the 1942 Pensacola City Directory. Source:

Modeste lived with her sister Palmire in the 1940s. Palmire died in 1946; Modeste died in 1948.

That’s a pretty decent sketch of Modeste for now; but there’s still a lot I don’t know about her. I wanted to search in the Library of Congress’ database this afternoon, but it is offline for annual maintenance until August 1.

One reason I want to dig around and discover more about Modeste was this interesting comment by the interviewer in the 1909 article: She was described as a violinist, and a ‘genius in the art of whistling.’

She must have been good at it too, because in 1927, Modeste had her own radio program about whistling!

Source: The Greensboro (N.C.) Record; February 21, 1927.

I wonder what was included in her show! Did she do all the whistling? Source: The Greensboro (N.C.) Record; February 21, 1927.

Emmett definitely had some interesting friends in his life, and which says a lot about Emmett. Getting to know his friends and what they were like helps fill in the blanks about his personal life somewhat — at least until I get my hands on his scrapbooks.