A true trailblazer of her time, Deputy U.S. Marshal Emily Frances Douglas Padgett

Published 12:11 pm Friday, May 10, 2024

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Emily Frances Douglas Padgett was born on February 17, 1904, to Rhoda Elizabeth Cutler and James Crawford Douglas, near Douglas Crossroads just east of Washington in Beaufort County. Little did anyone know at the time what a trailblazer she would prove to be for women. Particularly during a time when women were expected to stay at home and raise the children. But such was not the case for Padgett. “She was a women’s libber back in those days,” said her daughter Emily Marsha Albera, with a big chuckle.

At the age of six, she attended school at Woodards’ Pond. At sixteen she attended and graduated from the Washington Collegiate Institute, which was located in what is now Washington Park. The school was conceived by the Board of Education of the Methodist Episcopal Church and was a true boarding school in every sense of the word as students studied and lived there. “A lot of the children in the 20’s went to the institute,” said Amy Alligood, the great-niece of Padgett. “Many of the students never even finished let alone graduate, so the fact that my great-aunt graduated from there and went on to college in the early 20s was an accomplishment in itself.”

Following her graduation, Padgett attended and graduated from Louisburg College, a private Methodist School located in Louisburg, North Carolina in 1926. “While at Louisburg, my mother was the editor-in-chief of the senior yearbook, “The Oak”, said Albera. “Voted most popular in her class, it was noted in the yearbook, “Even though Emily never allows work to interfere with her pleasure, she has attained an efficiency worth copying.”

Following her graduation, she moved to Raleigh in 1927 where she became a secretary at Kansas City Life Insurance and attended Kings’ Business College, where she took night classes and studied law for one year. “During that same time, she and a good friend decided to do some modeling for Hudson Belk in Raleigh,” said Albera. “It was a great way to bring in some money and furnish their wardrobes. Since the dresses they wore were then considered used they were able to purchase them for a significant discount. She certainly led a fun life back in those days.”

Having studied law and living in Raleigh, Padgett had made a lot of connections there. In 1933 she was commissioned as a Deputy United States Marshal. A role which she would serve in for the next two years. Something Albera said her mother never really talked that much about. “She shared very few stories with us about what she did as a Deputy U.S. Marshal,” said Albera. “However she did tell of the time she was escorting a female prisoner by train from Raleigh to Richmond. Since they were cuffed together the prisoner asked her, “What did they get you for?” “thinking she, too, was a prisoner since they were being accompanied by a male marshal. By the end of the trip, afraid that she might have to turn over some money she had to the authorities, the prisoner gave my mother the money and told her to get herself a nice negligee.”

Albera said she also found some old notes from a diary indicating her mother would often serve papers, take fingerprints, and testify in court. “We aren’t sure why she left,” Alligood. “We can only surmise at this point it was because of the dangers of the job and she might have been thinking about starting a family. In 1933 there was also a run on the Raleigh banks, and she may have been concerned about money.”

“Think about the time she was deputized,” said Brown Library historian Stephen Farrell. “It was at the high point of prohibition and violent crime. If nothing else, it shows her bravery and the challenges that she must have faced.”

Padgett would go on to marry in 1938 at the age of 34, which again was considered “old” for those days. “Being the strong-willed woman that she was, she had the word obey blocked from her wedding vows,” said Albera. She remained married for 14 years and had two daughters.

After her divorce, she returned to Beaufort County after being gone for 25 years and continued her trailblazing ways, doing things that other women weren’t doing at the time while still being a single mother of two. She operated the family store at Douglas Crossroads; owned two farms; went on to become the president of the Bath Parent Teachers Association in 1955; as president of the Women’s Auxiliary of Zion Episcopal Church she spearheaded the beautification project of the Beaufort County Hospital which included the planting of magnolia trees which are still there today; was a member of the Board of Directors of the Beaufort County Cancer Society; she was active in leadership with the Beaufort County Farm Bureau Womens’ organization, and also worked as the accountant at the Bank of Washington for 20 years. “It is monumental for us to have connected with Emily and Amy, and to now be able, with the addition of pictures, to share this remarkable story with others,” said Farrell. “What a rarity to have a woman from Douglas Crossroads be deputized at the federal level. And to learn how she focused on her education and worked hard to advance her career and focus on her family. Having these stories and photos allows us to preserve and share our diverse history and give people another insight into our past and how far we have come.”

In 2003 at the age of 99 years and 9 months, Padgett passed away at the family home at Douglas Crossroads after an 18-year battle with Alzheimers and colon cancer. “Following the service on the day of her funeral, we all walked outside,” said Alligood. “It was the middle of the afternoon and we heard a rooster cock-a-doodle-do. My mother said, “There she goes. She has spoken and it is time to go home.” “Everyone started laughing.”

“That is the way she would have wanted it, people laughing at her funeral,” said Albera.