Chapter 48: She Wore a White Ribbon

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January 12, 2020
Chevy Chase, Maryland

I’ve been thinking deeply about this new article on Emmett’s mother that I located during one of my regular database re-check activities two days ago, and wishing I’d been able to find it at the start of Emmett Wilson’s research project.

But then, the ancient hard-copy newspaper (The Pensacola News from 1891) was unaccessible to everyday researchers because of its frailty, and, it takes time to scan precious pages into a database without destroying the artifact.

Better late than never, though.

Without further ado, here’s what I found:

Source: The Pensacola News, from June 26, 1891, via Newspapers.com

If you’ve been following the Emmett Wilson story so far, then you’ll remember a few earlier posts I wrote about the death of Emmett’s mother, and its impact on Emmett and his family. Also, this news item supports/confirms much of the first-person narrative of Elizabeth Maxwell Wilson’s death as told by Emmett’s older sister, Katie Wilson Meade.

With the info from those earlier posts in mind, I’d like to focus on several new things that enlighten our understanding of Elizabeth Maxwell Wilson.

In 2016, I wrote about Katie Wilson Meade’s reflections on the death of her mother, that she had stopped by the drug store for a soft drink. The Pensacola News article from 1891 confirms this, stating the ‘drink threw her into convulsions….’ 

The soda isn’t identified, but it most likely was a fountain version of Coca-Cola or something similar, and it wouldn’t have been bottled, but mixed by a soda jerk behind a counter. [Coca-Cola wasn’t bottled until 1894, at the Biedenharn Candy Company in Vicksburg, Mississippi.] Was there something wrong with Elizabeth’s drink? We don’t know, because there isn’t any information that the drink was the problem. Or, that anyone examined the components of the soda.

…which caused a hemorrhage of the brain.’ A brain hemorrhage is also known as a stroke. Could the drink have caused the stroke? Maybe; but another explanation could be that Elizabeth had undiagnosed high blood pressure. Katie makes no mention of problems with her mother’s health leading up to this event, but Elizabeth herself may have brushed off the symptoms (headache, stiff neck, numbness, and so forth), or perhaps had no symptoms. We know it came on suddenly, without warning, as the paper reported that Elizabeth appeared to be ‘in perfect health’ leading up to the stroke.

The Horns’ residence was Katherine and Richard Carey Horne‘s home, which was located over their business, adjacent to the drug store. [Katherine and Richard’s daughter, Mary Baltzell Horne, was a lifelong friend of Emmett Wilson; Mary would later wed Emmett’s best friend, Paul Carter in 1912.]

This section indicates that all Wilson children, except Max, were present at their mother’s death. Imagine Emmett and his twin brother Julian, bewildered eight-year-olds, holding their mother’s warm but lifeless hand, perhaps thinking ‘she might wake up,’ and yet everyone is saying goodbye. No one was prepared for this; no one knew how to handle it. Perhaps the young fellows were told to ‘be men’ now since their father would need them. Oy.

One final item of note from the article is this:

Elizabeth was a member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. That means she went to meetings; she read the literature about the problems of booze on individuals and families; she wore a white ribbon in support of abstinence from alcohol.

Source: ebay.com

I found out that members of the WCTU also had a White Ribbon Recruit ceremony, where members would bring their babies to dedicate them to the cause of temperance. At the ceremony, the parent-sponsors would pledge to help their children lead a life free of alcohol; a white ribbon was also tied around the baby’s wrist at the ceremony. I wonder if Elizabeth brought any of her children to such a ceremony, and if she took that pledge to help her children live sober lives.

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Elizabeth Wilson may not have drank alcohol, but the men in her family did. That’s a fact; also, there is documentation that alcohol was a problem (for at least) the Wilson side of the family. Was booze a problem for the Maxwells? I’m not sure; but a letter from A.E. Maxwell’s son, Judge Evelyn C. Maxwell to a historian relates the story about how A.E. Maxwell loved toddies and during the Civil War regularly carried his own private trunk of sugar (a rare commodity) wherever he went to ensure he had his favorite drink whenever possible.

Could that be indicative of a drinking problem for Elizabeth’s father? Maybe.

Did Elizabeth understand that some of the men in her life were using alcohol as a means to escape discomfort, unease in their lives? Did she understand that drinking to avoid the demons in people lives was futile, because everyone has a demon of some sort on their backs, and drinking only made it worse?

Did Elizabeth see and understand Emmett’s demon before anyone else ever did, and she was, in fact, modeling how to live with that demon, not run from it, but to own it, because acknowledging it was the first step to being free of it?

And perhaps, this is the main reason why Emmett never really got over the loss of his mother during his brief life?

I wish we knew for sure.

 

The More Things Stay the Same

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In Sunday’s online edition of The Washington Post, we find this interesting item:

Emmett would probably say, 'well, duh.' Source: The Washington Post

Emmett would probably say, ‘well, duh.’ Source: The Washington Post

The survey doesn’t go back to Emmett’s time, but from what I’ve observed in the contemporary literature and media from his day, social drinking among those in his profession was ‘normal’, expected, typical. A man had a few drinks in his club, or at dinner, with his friends and fellows. A ‘few’ was subjective.

I’ve found several articles from Emmett’s time that were quite honest about the importance of social drinking: If you didn’t drink among your fellows, at your clubs, or at your parties, or at any social gathering where alcohol was served, it stuck out, and not in a good way.

This could be a problem, if you were a freshly minted lawyer wanting to make friends, impress higher-ups, and get accepted into the important social and political circles of the time, and you couldn’t handle the booze safely.

Like Emmett.

Emmett could not drink safely at all, at any time.

From McClure's Magazine, August, 1915. Back then, even without AA (which didn't exist until 1935), the man in this article understood that stopping drinking was the easy part. The hard part was staying sober. Source: Google Books; McClure's Magazine.

From McClure’s Magazine, August, 1915. The man in this article understood that stopping drinking was the easy part. The hard part was staying sober. Source: Google Books; McClure’s Magazine.

But, Emmett knew it was important to be a member of the Pensacola elite, the social select. He knew that was the route to professional success. I don’t know if he liked playing social games all that much; he wasn’t what you’d call ‘the life of the party.’ Emmett was more of a background kind-of guy.

But you can’t stay in the background if you want a career with political prominence.

A.E. Maxwell, who also went by "Emmett;" our Emmett's role model & hero.

A.E. Maxwell, who also went by “Emmett;” our Emmett’s role model & hero. Source: Florida Memory

I am convinced that most of the underlying reasons why he drank had to do with ambition. It was very important for Emmett to make it to the Florida Supreme Court bench; to make his father proud; to best his successful judge-senator-gubernatorial-hopeful big brother (who was always one-up on him); to follow in his beloved Grandfather Maxwell’s footsteps.

But to get there, he had to withstand enormous pressure to succeed. Failure wasn’t something he was comfortable with; so, he threw himself into his ambition. He had poor coping skills when it came to stress and pressure, according to an interview given one of Emmett’s frenemies, who was also a prominent lawyer. So, to deal with the incredible pressures to reach his goals, Emmett drank.


Finally, what I think is interesting in The Washington Post article are the findings that lawyers appear to be mostly pessimists (sometimes by training), tend to be more depressed than the average worker, and, more frequently have ‘pervasive fears surrounding their reputation’ that may stand in the way of getting help with mental health and/or substance abuse issues.

In Emmett’s day (just as today), drunkenness or instability, whether factual or rumor, could derail a promising career.

The Washington Post article has given me a lot to think about with regard to Emmett and how he tried to handle the stressors in his life.

Mostly, though, it makes me realize that things have not changed much in 100 years.

 

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.