The More Things Stay the Same


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.



You Go, Girl


In honor of Minnie Kehoe and Minnie Neal, two strong women I’ve uncovered in Emmett Wilson’s biography, I want to see this movie. It is due out in October. The link to the movie trailer is here.

Suffragette. Source:

Suffragette. Meryl Streep (L); Carey Mulligan (R). Source:

Of course, no one alive is around to vet the details in this movie that the women who won suffrage endured, but I think Minnie would be pleased.

Does Minnie not resemble Meryl a slight bit?

Does Minnie not resemble Meryl a slight bit? Maybe if she wore a hat.

As mentioned in an earlier post, Emmett was an 11th hour supporter of suffrage. He was the sole member of the Florida congressional delegation to vote in support of suffrage in 1917 — as he was leaving office. He died before the 19th Amendment became law. I think Emmett would be pleased, too.

The 19th Amendment.

The 19th Amendment.



Minnie Kehoe, Femtor Extraordinaire

Minnie Kehoe, passport photo, 1924. Source:

Minnie Kehoe, passport photo, 1924. Source:

Readers, I must admit, I have great admiration for one of the femtors (female mentors) in Emmett Wilson’s life: Minnie Eloise Kehoe.

I’ve mentioned her before in an earlier post. When I think about Minnie, I’m struck and awed by what she was able to achieve during her lifetime — not that I would ever have doubted her abilities or intelligence, mind you. She was all that, and then some.

Minnie Kehoe was a pioneer of women’s suffrage in Florida, as well as a founder of what is now the National Court Reporter’s Association (back in the early 1900s, it was called the National Shorthand Reporter’s Association). Minnie was an officer of the national organization, in addition to authoring the legislation that created official court reporters in Florida.

She got her start working at her brother’s law firm, and then served as a state court reporter for many years. She also opened her own shorthand and reporting school in Pensacola — and if that wasn’t enough, sat for the bar exam in 1912 and passed, becoming the first woman attorney in Pensacola. All of this, “while still retaining her femininity,” according to an article in The Pensacola Journal). Seriously. I wonder if some folks actually thought Minnie might get broad shouldered, grow chest hair and her voice would drop a few octaves because she took the bar exam.

The fact she was the only woman taking the exam actually made this a 'special.' Source: The Pensacola Journal, 1912.

The fact she was the only woman taking the exam actually made this a Page One ‘special.’ Source: The Pensacola Journal, 1912.

The thing about Minnie, according to my sources, is that she lived her life with the view that what other people thought of her was none of her business. Minnie did what she wanted to do because she liked and understood the law, she was experienced and good with the law, and it was her calling. Period. It didn’t matter (in her view) that she happened to be a woman.

Minnie also knew that people would be watching her closely, once she made it to the Florida Bar. You know that must have been hard on her; her closest role model and mentor was probably her brother Walter, and for all his qualities, Walter likely could not empathize with some of the struggles his sister encountered on her way up the legal ladder.

As such, she probably also felt that in carving out her niche this way, she didn’t really completely fit in anywhere. Not that I think she didn’t have support from friends and family — she did — but she was the only woman lawyer in Pensacola for years. She was the sole member of her club. She still would not be allowed into the clubs where other male lawyers would gather, smoke cigars, perhaps sip a glass of brandy or coffee, to discuss cases, make deals, and so forth. She would be on the outside looking in on that for a long time. I wonder if this bothered her? If it did, she’d never let on, at least publicly.

Minnie was all that. Source: The Pensacola Journal, 1912.

Minnie was all that. Source: The Pensacola Journal, 1912.

Minnie may have started out as the Della Street in the Pensacola legal world, but she was really more Perry Mason than Della. I could never see Della empaneling a jury; but Minnie did. In fact, when Minnie empaneled her first jury and won the case, it merited coverage in The Pensacola Journal! The patronizing tone of the article is just cringe-worthy, but the locals at the time had to admit, with that article, Minnie had ‘made it.’

So, this amazing woman attorney, Minnie Kehoe — in reflecting on her, it struck me that she must have had some kind of mentoring — femtoring — effect on Emmett Wilson.

Minnie was in the same law offices with Emmett and her brother Walter, all working together, for years. Obviously, Minnie was not just relegated to pouring coffee and taking dictation for the lawyers in that office. She was contributing to cases. She was voicing her opinion — and a well informed opinion, at that — every day, engaging in animated, heated discussions with Emmett and Walter on their client’s cases.

Minnie had at least 10 years’ experience, plus the official court reporter legislation under her belt  when Emmett showed up, freshly graduated from Stetson, bar admission in hand, ready to practice law. Obviously, Minnie was able to teach him a thing or three. I don’t believe Emmett was ever patronizing towards Minnie, but you can bet your life that if it happened, it happened only once.

The Kehoe family made a strong impression on Emmett. Eighteen months after Emmett had graduated and started working in his brother’s law firm in Marianna, he followed the Kehoes to Pensacola to establish his own law practice. (Minnie, Walter and Walter’s family had moved to Pensacola to set up a law practice.) The first thing Emmett did upon arrival was board with the Kehoe family — Minnie, Fannie and their father, John Kehoe, on West Cervantes Street, and Emmett took Walter’s advice as he learned Pensacola’s local and political ropes. The Kehoes were family to Emmett; and Minnie regarded Emmett as a beloved younger brother.

The relationship Emmett had with the Kehoes was important in shaping his career, but I believe it went much deeper than that for Emmett. That’s why I’m I’ve been on a big quest for the past two weeks to find Minnie or Walter’s papers. I’m checking with historical societies and archives to see if they were donated. I would think that Minnie’s papers, at least, would be held in some law school or university archive. Minnie’s papers certainly have historic value, in my view.

For the record, if anyone out there knows of Emmett Wilson or Minnie Kehoe’s papers, journals, writings, or other documents that may exist out there, somewhere, contact me. Meanwhile, I’ve been working with a lot of great new contacts this past week. I’ll let you know if something turns up.



So Damn Irritating!


Readers, I just finished the second Brand Whitlock book, Her Infinite Variety, in two days. It was a quick read (only 185 pages), and thank God for that. It made me seethe, it was so damn irritating! Argh!

Her Infinite Variety, by Brand Whitlock. 1904. Free via Google Books.

Her Infinite Variety, by Brand Whitlock. 1904. Free via Google Books.

In a nutshell:

  • Busy Chicago state senator finds himself languishing and bored in his career.
  • Clingy, whiny fiancee thinks politics is for less evolved species, but if he could only get to Washington, and make a big difference in the world, their (ahem, her) life would be a socially wonderful thing.
  • State senator goes to Springfield, meets classy, smart woman lawyer genteely pushing suffrage legislation.
  • State senator fully champions her cause, finding new life in his career, only to meet the wrath of Chicago anti-suffrage society matrons (and the fiancee), who connive and scheme to stop him (and they do)
  • State senator, now completely whipped by society matrons and fiancee, grovels; smart woman lawyer leaves Springfield in defeat, oppressive society matrons save womanhood from unsexing themselves via suffrage.

Folks, I’ve never been what one would call a uber-feminist, but the way the anti-suffrage women and the clingy fiancee comport themselves in this book is just obnoxious. As I finished it, I thought that no self-respecting woman or man would allow themselves to be bullied and manipulated in this way — but the reality is, there are people out there who are treated this way, and take it. I only wish the state senator would have told clingy fiancee to grow up. Whitlock had other ideas with this book, though.

"But dear, if I get to vote, I'll grow hair on my chest and become a man. Then what will become of me? Wahhh."

“But dear, if I get to vote, I’ll grow hair on my chest and become a man. Then what will become of me? Wahhh.”

On reflection, given the year this book was published, the actions of the women and the senator aren’t that surprising. Did you know that one of the biggest hurdles to women’s suffrage was convincing women, themselves, that having the vote was a good idea? Whitlock illustrates this very clearly in the arguments made by the woman lawyer pushing for the legislation, along with her male supporters, in the dialog. Because I’m anal retentive about proving data, I looked it up, and amazingly enough, it’s true.

Surely the women of 1904 did not think that upon gaining suffrage, that their voices would immediately lower and they would grow chest or back hair? What were they afraid of? I’m still not really sure why women fought it.

While the characters were irritating (well, except the woman lawyer fighting for suffrage), Whitlock depicts the mindset of women (and men) in general in 1904 towards suffrage. If the 19th Amendment was going to become a reality, those supporting women’s suffrage had a long, tough battle ahead of them, and I’m sure that was Whitlock’s underlying message.

By the time Emmett Wilson got into politics, less than 10 years later, the view of suffrage had changed, and was now a national issue of importance. While he did vote against suffrage at the beginning of his congressional career, by 1916 Emmett eventually became a supporter of women’s suffrage, and was actually the only member of the Florida delegation at the end of the 64th Congress to publicly state his support of the legislation. Of course, he was also on his way out of office; but I believe he realized by this time that it was, indeed, only right that if women were paying taxes and earning their own salaries (as many were at this point) that they should have a say in elections.

I dare you to read this book. It does irritate, but Whitlock does educate, in an oddball way.


In the Public Eye


Readers, one thing I’ve noticed in doing Emmett’s research is that back in the early 1900s, if your lifestyle or behavior was even the least little bit out of the ordinary, you can be sure that it would at least make it into the local newspapers.

Imagine! A Kardashian-free world!

Imagine! A Kardashian-free world!

Nowadays, for instance, our reality-TV-mainstream world does not bat an eye at anything outrageous. I think Emmett and his friends would be shocked at some of the things that go for ‘acceptable behavior’ these days — but then, he and his friends lived in a Kardashian-free, Honey-Boo-Boo-free world. What was mostly shocking to Emmett and his friends back in the early-1900s could be considered acceptable behavior today.

For example, most people do not notice if a woman wears pants to the office, but it was not that long ago that ‘generally approved and accepted’ office attire for women was a dress or skirt-and-jacket.  Anything else was looked upon as out of the ordinary, or ‘unacceptable.’

True story: Not that many years ago, a female colleague of mine wore a suit to the office — a very nice suit that happened to be a jacket-and-pants ensemble — and I remember that colleague was told to go home and change because the pants part of the suit was ‘too distracting’.

Did you know that in the early 1900s, Pensacola had a law on the books where women could be arrested for wearing pants in public? This was considered cross-dressing, and it was illegal. I found at least three separate articles in The Pensacola Journal between 1910 and 1915 featuring these arrests!

Not only that, but these women could be sent to the asylum at Chattahoochee (today known as the Florida State Hospital) for such behavior. (An aside — no one thought attempting to walk in a hobble skirt was insane back then?)

Anything out of the ‘ordinary’ — and in my interpretation, that means any non-conservative, socially approved behavior — could result in negative attention — or worse — incarceration. For instance, women’s suffrage, a growing national issue by 1912, was reported as a negative issue in many communities (and marriages) at this point in history. One unfortunate aspect  at this point in history was that women could be (and often were) institutionalized in mental hospitals by their husbands, and this institutionalization often did not require a doctor’s order — a husband would only need a few ‘sworn statements’ by friends and neighbors, and he could have his wife put away.

This, in fact, happened to my great-grandmother. Briefly: She was interested in women’s suffrage; my great-grandfather told her to get interested in something less controversial; she said no; he had several friends provide sworn statements to a judge that she was ‘insane’ because she disobeyed him. Based on these sworn statements, he had her institutionalized, and she stayed in the asylum until her death.

My point is, regardless of whether you were a private citizen or in the public eye, one had to toe the behavior line. Emmett’s Pensacola in 1910 was a small, Southern town with conservative views of what passed for socially acceptable behavior. I’m sure no one was claiming to be perfect, or a candidate for sainthood, but locals whose names were printed in the news, and certainly, those whose names appeared on the Society page, had high standards to uphold and maintain. Any slips meant social suicide. Emmett and his friends had to toe that behavior line carefully.

Yesterday, I found an interesting list of reasons for admission to the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum. What’s interesting is that I believe most of these issues are behaviors that were fairly common in the early 20th century, and yet, check out what might have gotten you a first-class ticket to a mental institution:

Source: Pinterest.

Novel reading? Salvation Army? How many of us would be left on the outside if this list was still widely used by other asylums? Or would that be asyli? Source: Pinterest.

I can rule out several things on this list that did not apply to Emmett: Emmett was never kicked in the head by a horse. His parents weren’t cousins. He was neither a member of the Salvation Army, nor did he aspire to stand next to a kettle and ring a bell. Also, anything to do with menstruation can probably be eliminated.

I haven’t yet found proof that he ate snuff for two years; I can’t yet comment on whether he was a ‘hard study’ or not. Emmett certainly would have experienced business nerves, and political excitement (after all, he was a U.S. Congressman), but I don’t know if his particular combination would have qualified him for a stint at Chattahoochie, for that matter.

I do know he had several friends and a brother who arguably were some of the biggest egotists of the day. Also, he had a friend who was, indeed, kicked in the head by a horse. None of these people were institutionalized; I’m not sure if that was a good or bad thing.






1916 Democratic National Convention


Gang, today’s research has me tracking down whether or not Emmett attended the the 1916 Democratic National Convention, which was held in St. Louis, Missouri from June 14-16.

Source: The Pensacola Journal, June 5, 1916.

Source: The Pensacola Journal, June 5, 1916.

According to an article in the June 5, 1916 edition of The Pensacola Journal, he may have attended, since there wasn’t much business going on in Congress at this time.

With Congress taking an unofficial break, though, he could have gone home during this time, instead of attending the DNC. The Florida primary election for Emmett’s successor took place on June 6; if you recall from previous posts, Emmett had ‘voluntarily retired’, so his last day on the job for the Third Congressional District would be March 4, 1917.

Even so, it doesn’t seem likely he’d go home to vote. It wasn’t just because I think it would have been a bittersweet kind of thing for him: By June, 1916, Emmett’s health was on the decline again, and indications were that he was keeping to himself, and staying local. A two-day trip by train would have been hard on him.

Also, Congress was still ‘officially’ in session, despite the unofficial break. Even if Emmett did go home, or, to the convention, he’d have to return to D.C. quickly. Woodrow Wilson was interested in getting legislation tied up before any official recess could take place.

A little background: The 1916 convention was completely different than the one held in Baltimore back in 1912, which ran from June 26 to July 2, resulting in Woodrow Wilson’s nomination after 46 ballots — a record even to this day. Emmett was an alternate to the 1912 convention that year, and his visit to Baltimore (as well as a side visit to Washington on his way back to Pensacola) was part of his indoctrination into national politics.

The video clip of the 1916 DNC included below has some interesting footage and narration.

Footage from the 1916 Democratic National Convention in St. Louis, Missouri. Source: YouTube,

Footage from the 1916 Democratic National Convention in St. Louis, Missouri. Source: YouTube

I haven’t found anything specific that says Emmett was at the 1916 DNC, but what is interesting is that Emmett has changed his position on women’s suffrage. I found several interviews that reveal he supports it, and plans to vote for it while he is still in office, because, he said, ‘it was the sensible thing to do.’

By the way, he is, as of 1916, the only member of the national Florida congressional delegation who has come out in favor of women’s suffrage. I’m proud of him — but I’m now curious as to why and how he changed his mind!

Ah yes. Another query to track down. Welcome to my world! 🙂

I’ll keep looking for this over the weekend. Meanwhile, have a Happy Fourth, everyone!

Child-as-Liberty, 1916. Photo: Harris & Ewing, Library of Congress

Child-as-Liberty, Washington, D.C., 1916. Photo: Harris & Ewing, Library of Congress