Chapter 49: Following Clues

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September 10, 2016
University of Maryland Research Carrel
College Park, Maryland

If Emmett didn’t go back to WFS for the second half of the sophomore term (1901), what did he do? Knowing Emmett’s father, I doubt he  lounged around on the porch swing or his father’s hammock smoking cigars, contemplating his navel or whatever.

West Florida Seminary eventually became Florida State University, so I reached out to the Florida State University archive with questions.

First, did the West Florida Seminary have yearbooks or college catalogs going back as far as 1899-1901, so I could track him?

According to Burton Altman and Sandra Varry, professional archivists and researchers at Florida State University’s Special Collections Archive, they have both. Good news: The old catalogs were being scanned at the time I made the information request!

I started with the available yearbooks — and luckily —  WFS launched its very first yearbook, The Argo, while Emmett was enrolled.

Screenshot of the item online from the Florida State University Archives

Sure enough, there’s Emmett:

Platonic Debating Society, 1900-1901. Emmett is in the back row, in bowtie, fifth from left. Source: FSU archives

Also in the archive was a copy of the program where Emmett was in a debating contest.

 

Emmett participated in a debate for West Florida Seminary. This program is dated June 3, 1900.

Unfortunately, Emmett didn’t win; Francis Winthrop did. And, it seems that Emmett wasn’t very good at college debate — yet — according to the 1900-1901 yearbook:

We get a clue also that he may have been struggling in school. According to the WFS catalog for 1900-1901:

A screenshot from the 1899-1900 catalog of WFS. Note that Emmett is classified both as a third-year high school student AND a college freshman. Source: FSU Archives.

According to the archivists, some students were admitted provisionally (i.e., if they still hadn’t graduated high school). They had to maintain a certain grade point average and demonstrate other academic potential, such as active participation in literary or debate clubs. A dual classification meant more was expected academically, since these students were fulfilling two different curricula.

The 1900-1901 catalog shows this:

Screen shot of the 1900-1901 catalog, once again showing Emmett with a double classification. The catalog itself was issued in 1901, but may have been printed early that year, or in late 1900, when Emmett was still a student. Source: FSU archives.

In the next edition of The Argo (1901-1902), he’s neither photographed with his classmates, nor listed in the junior class.

From The Argo, 1901-1902, a list of the junior class members. Source: FSU Archives

From The Argo, 1901-1902; Photo of the junior class. Emmett’s not here. Source: FSU archive.

So, I retuned to scanning newspaper databases. Lo and behold, I found this, from The Chipley Banner, February 23, 1901:

Emmett is studying law with local attorney D.J. Jones.

We can confirm he didn’t return to WFS, and it was likely bassed on a combination of things: Frank’s alcoholism and hospitalization’s impact on the family; Emmett’s grades were likely average and not outstanding; but more so that he wanted law school, and as expeditiously as possible. He wouldn’t (and couldn’t) do any old job while he was starting in a new direction — he’d need to be groomed by clerking for a solid attorney. That makes sense.

But the clerkship with Jones didn’t last very long.

 

 

 

Platonically Yours

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Here’s something new that turned up in Emmett Wilson research:

Florida State Debate Team’s historic webpage. Emmett’s best friend, Paul Carter, was an all-star. And we’ve seen the photo on the right in an earlier Emmett Wilson post, here. Source: floridastatedebate.com

A page honoring The Platonic Debating Society, which was the founding body of today’s Florida State University Debate Team.

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

The photos come from the first yearbook published by the Florida Seminary West of the Suwannee River (which was FSU when Emmett attended in 1900-1901), The Argo.  In the center back row are Emmett and Paul, roommates and debate team members, looking in opposite directions. (Emmett was not a great debater in college, by the way; he was picked on in the yearbook for his lack of debate skills.)

The FSU page honoring the roots of the debate team has a lot of deep information, including articles from contemporary newspapers featuring Emmett, Paul, and other members of the Platonic Debating Society. There’s nothing new-to-me, which is a bit of a relief, because I hope by now (five-plus years into tracking down information on Emmett), I’ve been thorough.

I’ve got the minutes! Here’s a snippet from the minutes book of the Platonic Debating Society for 1901. Good old Emmett is right at the top!

What IS missing is a copy of the Platonic Debating Society’s minutes — lucky me, though — a copy of the pages featuring Emmett’s tenure in the Debating Society was kindly send to me by the Florida State University archivist a year or so ago. The minutes book is only a small volume; I believe I have everything I need from it relating to Emmett, but I still would like to read the entire book for complete perspective.

Perhaps it will be posted online one of these days!

Update: Emmett & the PDS

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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

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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.