Chapter 61: The goal

Standard

January 4, 1903
East Hall Men’s Dormitory
Stetson University
DeLand, Florida

I love where I am at this moment.

Emmett was classified as a junior his first year at Stetson; administrators credited his two years’ work at WFS. Source: Stetson University College Catalog, 1901-02, http://digital.archives.stetson.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/Unidocs/id/2865/rec/4

This is different than the Seminary, and the Business College; this is about joining in active discussions with my professors about something I am entirely interested in, and this all makes perfect sense — the work I did for Cephas, the drudge work I did for Judge Jones. Ceph had been right: The work I did last summer for him turned out to be some of the most valuable practical experience in preparation for law school. In fact, the required Elementary Law class has been nothing but repetitive information I learned in Cephas’ law office this summer.

Law school feels natural to me. I work hard; but I take nothing for granted. I feel like I had a real chance to shine  because it all feel right, being here at Stetson. 

The first week here, Paul and I immediately joined the debate club, and helped inaugurate the Kent Club, a law school organization. We are regular attendees of both groups.

For the first time, I feel like I belong completely, without reservation. I love it. I feel at home. More so than in my actual home in Chipley, for what it is worth. This has been my first time living away from family members and with my two closest friends at East House — Paul Carter and Billy Crawford — and we have a great time! 

We play pranks on each other (one of which actually caused a small fire last week), we roughhouse, we smoke, we relax by playing checkers or chess on the front porch. Some of us even get up a game of baseball with the underclassmen on occasion.

There are 13 of us fellows living in the dorm, and two or three of us share a room. In the fall, we had 14, but one fellow got fed up with us and our pranks, and moved out. The straw that broke the camel’s back was the evening he came home from studying in the Law Library, and discovered his room was completely devoid of furniture. (We’d simply stashed it in the attic.)

We are a fun, cohesive group. We often pool our food together for giant feasts (some of which was taken surreptitiously from the women’s dorms); Crawford has a chafing dish, and we add whatever we have on hand: Hot dogs, apples, random vegetables to make up a stew of sorts. Most of the time, we eat at the stag table at Chaudoin Hall, the large women’s dormitory, which features the biggest dining room on campus. The dining is segregated by gender; there is also a ‘training table’ where the football and baseball players eat separated from the rest of us.

Most of the fellows, like myself, go on outings with a few of the girls on campus now and then; these are chaperoned affairs, but now and then, you can get alone with a girl, which is pleasant, especially if you are out with one of the girls who is ‘accommodating’ . You have to be careful; all of us do. One slip, and you’d be married, then out of school, and off to a drudge job, drudge life. I feel comfortable saying that none of us in our group expect or want anything serious with a girl at this point.

Paul Carter was popular among the girls at Stetson. Because one-on-one meetings were mostly chaperoned between men and women, the men would climb through the womens’ dorm windows to visit. The Stetson Collegiate. http://digital.archives.stetson.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/Newspapers/ p. 7, December, 1902.

I haven’t met anyone at Stetson who interests me, though I am friendly with a lot of the girls on campus. I attend parties and functions at the dorms, as most of the fellows,  but none of it is serious to me. I don’t want it to be serious.

Honestly, I feel like most of the girls here are in it to find a husband, the way they skip classes, and carry on in their dorms with fellows who sneak in through windows at night. Some of the fellows don’t come home until almost sunrise sometimes.

It’s not as if I am not tempted. I am. I know what girls do and do not at Hamilton Hall — the girl’s dorm — for instance, but I also know I absolutely cannot screw up my chances here at Stetson, so my personal needs are met off campus when necessary.

===

Emmett’s dorm, East Hall, is in the upper right hand corner. Hamilton is right below it. Source: Stetson University Archives

Last evening, while sitting on the front porch, smoking with a few of the fellows, Crawford, who is always nosing into my nonexistent love life, asked:

“Met anyone lately who looks interesting, Wilson?” 

“No. Not really.”

“There’s dancing lessons to be offered at Chaudoin Hall on Fridays by a Mrs. Spaulding.”

“She has two rather good looking daughters, doesn’t she?” one of the fellows at the checkers game on the other side of the porch said.

“That’s the one,” said Crawford, lighting a cigarette. “Might be worth checking out over there, to see what’s what, Em. Her daughters are quite outgoing.”

“I already know how to dance,” I said.

“Maybe this Spaulding woman knows newer steps. I understand she promotes herself and her daughters as quite the life of the party where they are from, Massachusetts, I think. Or New York,” Crawford said, as he exhaled smoke, and eased back in his chair.

I really wasn’t interested in going to the dance; I had a debate coming up next week, and there was a case I was preparing in my Contracts class that needed attention.

For the past few weeks, I’d been getting later and later starts with my homework, often I wasn’t starting to read until around 10 o’clock each night. Sometimes I pull a few all-nighters, especially if I let myself get talked into a social over at Chaudoin Hall, which I honestly don’t enjoy that much. I go mostly so I don’t get a reputation of being anti-social.

The girls are nice enough, but they all seem as if they are trying too hard, if you know what I mean. The more standoffish I am, the harder some of them try, and I was not brought up to be rude to young ladies.

“No,” I told the fellows, as I stood up to go upstairs. “I really have to hit the books, fellas. It took me almost two years to get back to college; I worked too hard to return to school and if I don’t get to it, Professor Brierly will chew me out in Contracts.”

They left me alone after that.

But what I didn’t say to them: “This is my last and only chance to become someone more than who I am at present, and I’m not going to screw it up.”

I think maybe some of them know that about me already, though.

 

 

Chapter 51: Inauguration Blues

Standard

January 7, 1901
The Leon Hotel
Tallahassee, Florida

The lobby of The Leon Hotel, Tallahassee, Florida; 1905-1910. Source: State Archives of Florida

Cephas and I met his friend and former law partner, Walter Kehoe, in the lobby of The Leon Hotel right before supper. Walter had come to Tallahassee ahead of us by a day or so. “Legal business with the Governor-elect,” he said mysteriously, as he shook hands with me, and exchanging a glance with Cephas, who smiled conspiratorially in response. “I’m glad you’re here, Emmett,” he said to me. “This is an important occasion, something you wouldn’t have wanted to miss.”

From the 1901 Jennings Inauguration Scrapbook, from the Florida State University archives. Cephas and Walter Kehoe were invited to participate in the inauguration festivities; Emmett likely stayed with his brother as they were reported to be at the Leon Hotel in the Tallahassee newspapers. Source: Florida State University Archives.

After we checked in, the three of us ate in the hotel dining room. And after dinner, Cephas and Walter walked outside to the porch to smoke cigars. I told them that I wanted to walk over to campus for a bit. Cephas said it was fine with him, but not to stay out too late.

“Remember, you’ve got a full day tomorrow. We’ll need to start early,” Cephas said.

“I haven’t forgotten,” I said.

Truthfully, I didn’t want to attend the events. I didn’t want to be seen by anyone I knew, but I couldn’t stay cooped up in the hotel with Cephas, feeling as if I were constantly under his thumb.  I had been feeling claustrophobic for the past few days, always being watched by family members or people who knew me in Marianna, planning my life for me since I wasn’t coming back to WFS.

Being in Tallahassee meant I could be anonymous for a little while.

I could lose myself in a crowd, I could walk around the town with less of a chance of being recognized.

By now, it was dusk; the city was full of visitors and crowded.  As I walked away from the hotel, I noticed that there were a lot more prostitutes hanging around than usual. Ceph didn’t say anything about not availing myself in that direction — I instinctively felt for my pocketbook — I knew I didn’t have much money with me; probably not enough for a prostitute —

It was six blocks from the Leon Hotel to the campus; I kept my head down, my face out of the light of street lamps. I wasn’t going to walk too near my old dormitory in case some of the fellows would be sitting on the front porch, smoking, playing checkers or chess, or just shooting the breeze.

The main WFS building, also known as College Hall. It was 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

As I neared College Hall, I noticed the entire building was lit up, and groups of people — faculty, students, alumni — all in formal dress. I was about 75 feet away from the arched entrance, in the shadows of the large oak trees nearby. I saw Dr. Murphree was hosting a gathering in honor of the inauguration in the parlors and the recitation rooms; there was quite a large crowd there. And in there, shaking hands with men in tuxedos, laughing and smoking cigars, one turned and I saw it was Paul Carter. Paul. I instinctively stepped behind the oak tree I was next to.

So. My friends were in there, hobnobbing with important looking people.

At that moment, I realized the irony of all of this: If I were truly honest, I’ve always been on the outside, on the periphery here at the Seminary, and on the periphery of my family. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to succeed, or to be accepted; I realized that I didn’t fit in anywhere.

And ironically, this understanding about myself felt simultaneously relieving and depressing at the same time. It felt true, and logical. But what was I supposed to do with this new knowledge? What if I never found the right place for myself? What if I never succeeded? What if I ended up just an obscure, unknown…a failure? I couldn’t tell anyone about this —

And then, knowing I had to keep this to myself: Would I always feel this lonely?

I felt for the silver flask down in my coat pocket. I took it out. If I took a small drink, no one would know, and I would feel some immediate relief.

But I had promised Ceph I wouldn’t drink anything while I was in Tallahassee, because I had to be above reproach, and circumspect about my behavior at all times. I could not take a chance on anything. “We’re all on display in Tallahassee,” Cephas told me while we were on the train this afternoon. “Act the part for it to be believable, and don’t take any stupid chances.”

I agreed to it.

But I was feeling the worst kind of tension and anxiety. I wanted relief, and knew I would get it almost instantly with a quick drink, but I knew I couldn’t take the chance here, on campus, even though I was standing in the shadows — so, I turned, and started to walk out from behind the massive oak, towards the sidewalk, away from College Hall.

 

Chapter 50: A curious notation in The Argo

Standard

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

Before I move on with Emmett’s story post-WFS, one thing that popped out at me when I was looking through Emmett’s old college yearbook was this:

An essay on Inauguration Day for Governor William Sherman Jennings; Emmett and some of his friends from WFS attended. Emmett attended with his brother, Cephas Love Wilson, who was a Florida State Senator. Source: FSU Archives

Emmett is mentioned on this page as having attended — and his friends ate his supper for him. Curious. Source: FSU Archives

The Jennings inauguration ceremonies ran from January 6-9, 1901 — and by this account, Emmett was there, and, likely in attendance with his brother Cephas, and Walter Kehoe.

So, I’m wondering if that’s when Emmett told his friends he was leaving school — and what he told them?

I wonder if Emmett was embarrassed about it, or maybe he felt at peace, because he was finally figuring out what he wanted to do with himself?

Chapter 49: Following Clues

Standard

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.

 

 

 

Dual Classification

Standard

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.

The Sporting Emmett

Standard

In celebration of Opening Day, we’ll take a look at Emmett Wilson through the lens of his pastimes: Sports.

Emmett appears to have been both athletic and a sports fan. He owned and rode a bicycle to and from classes while attending Stetson University Law School in 1903.

“He failed utterly.” So, Emmett was an average rider. Source: Stetson Weekly Collegiate, Dec. 5, 1903.

He attended a wide variety of sporting events with his friends, including the very first NASCAR race (before NASCAR existed) at Ormond Beach, Florida.

The foursome took the train to Ormond Beach, likely skipping out on their classes Friday. Source: Deland Weekly News

He loved to go fishing (enjoying not only the thrill of the catch, but also the solitude and quiet away from his hectic political life), and went on annual trips without fail, always during the first two weeks in August to St. Andrews Florida.

Emmett on the steamer Manteo, August 1908. Source: The Pensacola Journal

He played both football and baseball while at West Florida Seminary (photo below).

Kicker? Tight End? Wide Receiver? It’s impossible to know his position, but Emmett’s on the far left, first row. West Florida Seminary, now Florida State University. 1899-1900. Source: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/152050

But he seemed to prefer baseball, as he played not only for West Florida Seminary, but also for the local Chipley baseball team, and on occasion in pick-up games at Stetson University (juniors versus seniors, for instance).

Emmett, back row, far left. Source: The Argo, 1900-1901, Florida State University Archives.

It is interesting to compare Emmett with his peers in the group photos. Notice that Emmett sits on the end in both photos. In the football photo, he’s a bit separated from the group. This is a relaxed group; Emmett seems at ease here, sitting cross legged on the bottom step, his hands resting on his knees, but he isn’t sprawled like most of the boys on the bottom step.

Notice also how Emmett poses in the baseball photograph. He stares intently at the camera whereas several of his teammates are bored looking away, at ease. The two fellows in suits were the managers.

Maybe the photo was take right after a game and the boys are tired, as they seem a big disheveled, worn out, but Emmett doesn’t look tired or disheveled. Emmett, and the boy sitting next to him were the team substitutes, not regular players.

Emmett seems to be scowling, maybe smirking, at the camera. Notice Emmett’s body language compared to the other boys: He’s tense, as he sits perched on the edge of the bench, shoulders hunched, hands gripping his knees. I wish there were more details about this picture, and when it was taken. (Unfortunately that information doesn’t exist.)

Although Emmett may not have been the most valuable player on the West Florida Seminary team, he was certainly not a bench warmer on the Chipley town team.

Emmett played on the Chipley team on and off before attending West Florida Seminary, as his work schedule would allow. (In 1899, when Emmett was 15, he was already an expert telegrapher, and managing small railroad depots on the P&A line of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad.)

Emmett was likely one of the boys who couldn’t make the game. Source: The Chipley Banner, June 10, 1899.

After graduating from Stetson in 1904, there aren’t any more articles about Emmett playing for either the Chipley team or the Marianna team (he moved to Marianna after graduation to form a law partnership with his brother, Cephas). We know Emmett attended games and exhibitions; he probably also played a few games here and there, as did Cephas, who played the occasional exhibition baseball game in Marianna.

Cephas L. Wilson as baseball player for the Fats vs. Leans game, complaining about Lula. Go figure. Cephas was on the “Fats” team. Source: Marianna Times-Courier, July 18, 1912,

It is likely Emmett attended this game in Marianna. There were several important Florida politicians on both the the Fats team and the Leans team. Emmett had just returned home from the Democratic National Convention in Baltimore, Maryland, and was taking a break in preparation for the general election in November; it is reasonable to believe these heavy hitters in Florida politics, all in one place on a hot, summer day, would want to talk to Emmett after the game.

 

 

 

Groundhog prescient

Standard

That’s my neighbor’s forsythia bush this morning, the first full day of Spring.

That groundhog knew what he or she was doing on February 2. The snow is predicted to fall all day today in Emmett Wilson land.

It is a good day to write about another snowy day, about 118 years ago, when Emmett was a college Freshman, who looked out his dorm window at West Florida Seminary in Tallahassee and saw a rare snowfall!

Snowball fight on the steps of the Florida capital building, February 13, 1899. Source: Florida Memory

No one is identified in this photograph, but we can imagine Emmett and his best friend, Paul Carter, engaging in this snowball fight!