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All’s Well That Ends Well

all well that ends well

785 york avenue

739 south fourth st


Emilie’s diaries end with these words on the inside cover of the 1865 volume. We can find faint traces of her in the records after 1865.

Emilie married George Bustill White on December 13, 1866. George, son of Jacob C. White, a prominent black businessman, was also the brother of Jacob, Jr., or Jake, who co-founded the Pythians, a black baseball team, and who became principal of the all-black Vaux elementary school. Careful readers of the diary will note that Emilie first mentions George attending a wedding with his brother, Jacob, Jr. or Jake, on January 28, 1863, and on March 10, 1863, “gorge” was “very gallant.” According to an 1866 city directory, George and his brother Jacob Jr. lived at 485 York Avenue, their father, Jacob C. White, Sr.’s home. In 1867, George—and now Emilie—lived with Jacob Sr. at 439 North Fourth Street. On the marriage registry, George’s occupation is listed as “barber,” but he was also very involved in the family business – politics. George was active in the Pennsylvania Equal Rights League, a group that lobbied successfully in Harrisburg for state support for federal civil rights amendments and for a variety of state level measures, such as integration of Philadelphia’s streetcars in 1867. Emilie’s name is spelled “Emily” on the marriage registry.

Later records suggest that Emilie embraced the new spelling, as she appears in both the 1870 and 1880 census as Emily F. White. (We learn on the 1866 marriage registry that Emilie’s middle name was Frances.) The young couple wasted no time beginning their own family. Jacob C. White (b. 1867) was born the year after they were married and likely named for George’s father. When Jacob was two, his mother gave birth to a girl they named Maria. Maria was followed by Emilie (b. 1873). Little Emilie’s name was misspelled on the 1880 census as “Emily,” but at birth she was registered as “Emilie,” just like her mother. After Emilie came George (b. 1875) Carry (b. 1877), and Julia (b. 1881)—this last girl named, perhaps, for Emilie’s friend in the diary. We do not know if more children followed, but at forty-two (in 1881), perhaps Emilie decided that Julia would be her last child. In the 1880 census, Emilie’s occupation was listed as “housekeeper,” indicating that she had achieved the status of the women for whom she used to work those long, lonely summers in Germantown and East Falls. With five young children at home, Emilie might have hired her own help – at least with the sewing.

In later years, Emilie contributed money to her church and rented a pew under her own name and not George’s – additional indications of status that she had not enjoyed when on July 5, 1863, she was more concerned that someone in her boarding house had taken $7 from her than she was impressed by news reports announcing the Union’s twin victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg. Emilie’s marriage to George Bustill White cemented her connections to Philadelphia’s remarkably stable and successful black middle class.

Emilie died on December 26, 1889, the day after Christmas and just two weeks after the couple’s 23rd anniversary. Although her death certificate lists her age as fifty two, Emilie died about two months shy of her fifty-first birthday (February 18, 1890). Emilie was buried at Lebanon Cemetery, the burial place of Octavius Catto and other civil rights luminaries of her generation. Ten years later, George joined Emilie there, when he died on June 1, 1899.

The Editors