January 9, 2021
Chevy Chase, Maryland
Full disclosure: I don’t know for sure if Lila Delp was the stenographer/secretary for Van Sant & Wilson; but, she might have been. She certainly has an interesting back story that would fit the timeline and circumstances around Emmett’s time in Sterling.
When I researched names of stenographers and secretaries associated with the Van Sant & Wilson law firm, for the period 1905-1906, I used the Sterling-Rock Falls, Illinois city directories, which provided a wealth of information on the community. It wasn’t hard to identify those who were stenographers or secretaries; several listings included firm names. But the Van Sant & Wilson firm was established in fall of 1905; perhaps Van Sant didn’t have a secretary or stenographer selected by publication time for the directory.
In the Sterling-Rock Creek city directory for the years 1904-1906, there were several individuals listed as secretaries or stenographers who might have fit the bill for the Van Sant & Wilson law firm. It was time consuming looking up the different individuals who might have been the Van Sant & Wilson secretary. I checked them out against newspaper articles, professional histories, family archives, and other stories. Again, I’m not sure Lila Delp was the secretary, but I’m also not sure she wasn’t. After all that digging around, let’s just say she seems a likely candidate for the creative telling of Emmett’s time in Sterling.
It makes total sense that there would be a reliable secretary employed for the new law firm, particularly since only one partner would be there full time, and himself a stranger to Sterling. Knowing Nicholas Van Sant, the secretary would need to be someone utterly reliable, responsible, no-nonsense.
Nicholas Van Sant also was not a fool: He surely could discern that Emmett looked to him as a father figure; perhaps someone needing guidance as he was only two years out of law school, and with little business/professional experience, despite the plaudits in the January, 1906 newspaper article introducing Emmett to the community.
That said, Van Sant would have someone working alongside Emmett who was vetted and stable. Why not Lila Delp?
She was, by almost all accounts, a fine, upstanding young woman who contributed to support her family.
Lila was hardworking, dedicated to her family and her faith (according to the obituary), and a reliable, self-sufficient businesswoman — very reminiscent of Emmett’s friend Minnie Kehoe. Just the kind of support staff that Emmett would require for the nascent law firm of Van Sant & Wilson.
I know it is a stretch to base my theory that Lila Delp was the Van Sant & Wilson secretary from what data I’ve assembled, but I don’t think it is an impossibility. She was solid; she was reliable; she was the kind of person the Van Sants would have selected to help Emmett get the law firm off the ground.
Communication, Arts, and the Humanities
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