Whoa, Nellie!

Standard

Nellie Browning Mills (1876-1964) was never Emmett’s official secretary, but she did work for Emmett as she was the main stenographer and typist at the San Carlos Hotel in Pensacola, Florida from 1910 to at least 1917.

Nellie’s ad that ran in The Pensacola Journal, April 19, 1917. The San Carlos Hotel promoted itself as a ‘home away from home,’ which included top-notch administrative services to its customers. Emmett used her secretarial services when he stayed there between 1914-1916. Source: ChroniclingAmerica.gov

Emmett used Nellie’s shorthand and typing services when he stayed at the San Carlos Hotel during the years 1914-1916, while he was was home from Washington, D.C. During this time, his ‘home address’ was actually the J. Walter Kehoe residence. But, Kehoe had decided to run for Emmett’s congressional seat when Emmett ‘decided’ in early 1915 not to run for a third term — so to avoid conflict of interest, Emmett stayed at the San Carlos.

I found three different business letters that Emmett sent to his private secretary in Washington, Jefferson Davis Stephens, with stenographer’s initials “NBM” on the lower left hand side of the page. It wasn’t difficult to track down the person with the initials “NBM”; I confirmed that Nellie was “NBM” by reading several copies of the Pensacola City Directory, and she was, indeed, the only professional stenographer in Pensacola with those initials.

You’ll find this next article really interesting:

Notice who officiated at the wedding — and the witnesses! Source: ChroniclingAmerica.gov

This became newsworthy — and garnered a story in Colliers!

Source: Colliers Magazine, July 25, 1916, via Google Books.

Isn’t this great?

So, who was Nellie Mills?

Here’s the article I found on Nellie when she moved from Meridian, Mississippi to Pensacola in 1910:

Nellie arrives in Pensacola, and it makes news! Source: ChroniclingAmerica.gov

Nellie was born and raised in Montgomery, Alabama, and attended Massey Business College. She apparently was one of their star students, because she remained after graduation to teach typing and shorthand (eventually running the shorthand department) for about six years.

An historic postcard featuring the typing class at Massey Business College, 1920. Nellie is not in this photo, alas. Source: Digital Archives of Alabama.gov

Apparently, Nellie was not just a popular secretary at the San Carlos; she was liked and well respected enough to have been nominated for Mardi Gras Queen in 1915!

The Pensacola Journal, January 17, 1915. Source: GenealogyBank.com

It was a tight race, according to The Pensacola Journal:

Source: ChroniclingAmerica.gov

Alas, Nellie didn’t win — Gladys Pierce did. But the fact Nellie was nominated and supported by so many locals speaks volumes of the esteem in which she was held.

Also, alas, I have not found much more about Nellie beyond 1917 in the news. According to U.S. Census records, she moved to Miami-Dade County sometime after 1920, and the last official record I have on Nellie is her address at a boarding house in Dade County:

Apparently, she was retired and keeping house at the boarding house in 1945. Source: Florida Census for 1945

The last record I have for her is the Florida Death Index listing, which indicates she died in May, 1964.

I’d love to know more about this interesting person who used to work with Emmett.

Advertisements

Emmett’s Secretaries: B.A. Murphy

Standard

When I started tracking down Emmett’s secretaries, I didn’t know what to expect. Mostly I started looking for Emmett’s secretaries because I hit a brick wall with Emmett himself (there’s very little primary information from him). At present, I’ve found as much as I can about and from Emmett’s siblings and their descendants, and I’ve tracked down as many of Emmett’s close friends and their descendants as I can to-date.

Still, I feel like there may be more to find about Emmett’s personal story — so what better source than Emmett’s support staff? The tricky part would be finding them. But if Emmett’s secretarial staff were good, they’d have kept attorney’s day books and office journals. It’s a long shot, but worth it to track these folks down. Where to start? Public records.

Who Was B.A. Murphy?

If you recall from an earlier post, Emmett moved to Pensacola in September 1906, after his disappointing tenure as Nick Van Sant’s law partner in Sterling, Illinois. At this point, Emmett was starting his career over, for the third time in as many years. But because Emmett was well connected, he didn’t have to wait long to find a good job.

Emmett didn’t even apply for the position, yet he got it. Surprise? Source: The Montgomery Advertiser, September 14, 1907, from GenealogyBank.com

This good job came with administrative help. Because Emmett was basically given the job, he’d have been advised about whom to bring along as his top administrative assistant. According to the Annual Report of the Attorney General of the United States for 1909, Emmett’s administrative assistant was B.A. Murphy.

Source: Annual Report of the Attorney General of the United States, 1909. Published by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of the Attorney General. Source: Google Books

But to be perfectly candid, when I first saw the secretary’s name, I immediately thought: Youngish fellow, probably didn’t go to college, wearing a dark suit. Despite my best intentions, I dug into the research with dreaded preconceived notions.

And boy, was I ever WRONG!

Meet B.A. Murphy

Youngish fellow? Oh hell no — although — granted, I was initially thrown off with my first information from the obituary/cemetery search:

How many women in 1908 used a male-sounding name? Bertha went by “Bert”. Bert Murphy. Photo by Earth Angel of Find-a-grave.com

 

Rather, this is a portrait of an interesting, ambitious young woman who overcame major social and economic barriers that I take for granted in the 21st century to become a successful, independent woman.

Meet Bertha A. “Bert” Murphy, 1876-1967.

Bertha was lived and was educated in Roberts, Escambia County, Florida public schools. She graduated from high school (probably in Roberts, although I have not officially confirmed that to date), and went right into one of the few available/acceptable job markets for single young women in 1900: Education.

The U.S. Census for 1900 lists Bertha, age 23, as a teacher in Roberts, Escambia County, Florida, and living in her parent’s home along with her siblings Gerald (a log-scaler), Pearl (in school at present, but who would later become a nurse-anesthesiologist), Clifford (a stenographer) and Ruby. Bertha’s father, W.H. Murphy, was a saw mill owner.

Roberts, Florida is in the blue oval; a bit of a schlep to Pensacola back in the day of dirt roads and horse-drawn wagons. Source: University of South Florida

Bertha was probably thankful she lived at home with her family, as public school teachers in Florida earned (on average) $5-10 a month in 1900, but Bertha had bigger plans for herself. She was smart and ambitious; there were bigger fish to fry in Pensacola, and that’s where we find her next, in 1906.

Bertha is a notary public and a stenographer, working in the law offices of Maxwell and Reeves. Source: The Pensacola Journal, October 27, 1906, via ChroniclingAmerica.gov

Yep — that’s Maxwell and Reeves, as in, Emmett’s uncle, Judge Evelyn C. Maxwell. The same uncle who offered Emmett a job (or, at least a desk) in late September, 1906, when he moved back to Florida after the Illinois experiment. Emmett and Bertha, then, knew each other and worked together. She must have been a pretty damn good stenographer, then, for Maxwell to have (most likely) recommended Emmett offer Bertha a second job as his clerk when Emmett was made assistant district attorney in 1907. Bertha held down that second position as a clerk in the district attorney’s office until 1909.

Additionally, per the Pensacola City Directories, Bertha continued to work as a stenographer for Judge Maxwell until 1910, biding her time, building her experience, making important connections.

B.A. Murphy, in partnership with Minnie Kehoe, running a school!  Source: The Pensacola Journal, June 16, 1912, via ChroniclingAmerica.gov

And Bertha was never, ever, what one would call a slacker:

Bertha consistently maintains her notary public bond most of her life She’s definitely self-sufficient. Source: The Pensacola Journal, March 1911, via chroniclingamerica.gov

and, she dabbled in real estate.

Bertha owes back taxes on property in Pensacola. But I don’t believe she was in trouble. Source: The Pensacola Journal, 1911, via chroniclingamerica.gov

Here’s the reason why I don’t believe Bertha was in any kind of financial trouble:

Bertha made a personal $50 cash donation to this cause. Source: The Pensacola Journal, 1911, via chroniclingamerica.gov

If Bertha made a $50 donation towards an important charitable cause (which is something she did for most of her life, by the way), she was able to pay the delinquent taxes on her property  ($50 in 1911 is equivalent to $1,221 today). She was doing quite well for herself, thankyouverymuch.

[Meanwhile, our Emmett was working in Walter Kehoe’s office (he and Walter weren’t law partners yet; rather, Emmett was ‘renting’ or borrowing space in Walter’s office, and had been appointed States’ Attorney in 1911. Emmett appeared to be working hard (and I believe he was), but when I think about how Bertha was literally building her professional foundation brick-by-brick, solid, it feels like Emmett’s foundation was flimsy and ‘temporary,’ based on the fact that pretty much all of his opportunities were given to him. Nothing was ‘given’ to Bertha, really, or to Minnie Kehoe, which is why I admire these two women so much. But I digress.]

Fast forward eight years to May 18, 1919.

Emmett has been dead almost a year.

And Bertha?

Bertha is in the Big Apple. Source: The Pensacola Journal, May 18, 1919, via chroniclingamerica.gov

Bertha eventually moved back to Pensacola between 1924 and 1927, a full-fledged realtor. It’s unclear if she had much success in the lumber business, but she appears to have done well with real-estate. Bertha shows up in the U.S. Censi for 1930, 1935, and 1940 as a realtor, and residing with her mother and siblings at 1906 E. Strong Street.

Here’s the last available census information on Bertha, the 1945 Florida State Census:

Bertha and her siblings in 1945. She’s still a realtor. Brother Gerald is a salesperson and divorced; Pearl is an anesthesiologist, Stella (a sister-in-law; widow of Clifford) keeps house, and Askin (a nephew; son of Clifford) is a clerk. Source: Ancestry.com

That’s all I was able to find about Bertha. She died in 1967, and is buried in St. John’s Cemetery in Pensacola, along with her siblings.

I would love to find a photo of Bertha, or read one of her letters or journals — and I would love to find out if she had ever written anything in a journal or letter about her experiences working with Emmett.

 

Emmett, Texter

Standard

Did you know that Emmett got his professional start texting (of sorts) for a living?

True. And if you think about it, telegraph operators were early ‘texters.’ (Here’s a great history of telegraphing — see the first half of the article for details about the importance of the telegraph in our society.

Emmett Wilson’s first “official” job was as a general, all-around assistant at the Chipley, Florida Pensacola & Atlantic train depot, sometime around 1894. Working for the railroad was not just a family tradition among the Wilson men; it was today’s equivalent of a kid interested in space working for NASA.

And Emmett was a kid, starting out at the bottom of the railroad depot job hierarchy, at about the same age as his older brothers Frank Jr. and Meade. Working for the railroad was important; and, if Emmett was willing, he’d rise up the ranks to a professional position, as did Frank Jr. and Meade, who were now conductors. (Emmett once told a reporter that he once dreamed about working for the railroad so that he could run along the tops of the cars while they were in motion, en route to faraway, more interesting places than Chipley. Early on, Emmett probably saw working for the railroad as a means to an end.)

Emmett was more than willing. He was super ambitious from the get-go — his eye was on the telegrapher’s job — a coveted and critical communication position that served not only the messaging for the community, but the telegrapher often conveyed critical transportation data up and down the rails.

After a year or two proving himself capable around the depot, Emmett eventually became expert with Morse code, and was tapped to train as a telegrapher, and by age 17, was managing small depots along the P&A line.

Emmett was 17 when he was dispatched to run small-town train stations on his own, which included the telegraph. Source: The Chipley Banner, December 2, 1899, in ChroniclingAmerica.gov

Emmett’s full-time career with the railroad was over within a year, as he would enroll at West Florida Seminary in 1900, to pursue a college degree. He’d fill in at both the Chipley and Marianna train depots now and again, when home from WFS on vacations or weekend visits to supplement his school funds.

 

 

 

In Search of Himself

Standard

Continuing our story about Cephas Love Wilson, Jr. from here:

We next find Cephas Jr. and his father, Cephas Love Wilson Sr., visiting Emmett in Pensacola:

The roster of the San Carlos for May 11, 1911. From The Pensacola Journal, in ChroniclingAmerica.gov

Another clue of what’s going on, as reported on page 3 of the May 11, 1911 issue of The Pensacola Journal, from ChroniclingAmerica.gov

Cephas Jr., age 17, should still be enrolled at Marianna High School, but he appears to be clerking in his father’s law firm. It’s a logical leap — at this point, Cephas Sr. still has dreams of living in the Governor’s mansion, and of building a Wilson-family political dynasty. Cephas Sr. and the Florida Democratic party are in the process of moving potential candidates for U.S. Congress around on their chess board. Emmett is being groomed for a Congressional run; and so, why wouldn’t Cephas Sr. decide to groom his namesake for further Wilson family prominence?

But what were Cephas Jr.’s dreams?

Without any of his actual letters or anecdotes from family members, it is hard to tell, but if we observe his actions as they were written about in contemporary media, we see that he loved music, he loved photography, and he was a gifted artist (much like his mother, Lula). We get the picture (no pun intended).

Here’s why I believe Cephas Jr. was clerking for his father (keep in mind by this point, 1912, Cephas Jr. is 18 years old):

Catalog of the University of Florida, 1912-1913. From Archive.org

Cephas Jr. is a junior in the College of Law at the University of Florida in Gainesville — an upperclassman. So, when did he finish high school?

I don’t doubt Cephas Jr. was intelligent. But it is dubious that he’d go right from high school into advanced academic standing that quickly. There were definitely several strings pulled for Cephas Jr., by his father. Cephas Sr. only wanted the very best for his son, and he knew what it took to get there in 1912 — a law degree. It’s natural he’d want his son and namesake to have similar aspirations, and at least similar professional success.

But law school? I sense that was Cephas Sr’s dream, not his son’s, because otherwise, why wouldn’t Cephas Sr. encourage a vocation in the fine arts?

Cephas Jr.’s definitely there, ready or not. Here’s another source listing Cephas Jr. in the junior law class of The Seminole for 1913. Source: University of Florida archive

Cephas Jr. threw himself into campus social activities, also likely at the encouragement of his father. Source: 1913 Seminole; University of Florida archive.

Source: 1913 Seminole, University of Florida archive

Cephas Love Wilson, Jr. Source: 1913 Seminole, University of Florida archive.

Compare this photo of Cephas Jr. to his father, below. Striking resemblance, isn’t it?

Cephas Love Wilson Sr., about 1910. Striking resemblance between father and son, down to the bow tie.

As I go through the clips, I get the feeling that Cephas Jr. wasn’t happy at The University of Florida. I don’t believe it had anything to do with his intelligence, or ability to do the work: He just didn’t want to be a lawyer. Cephas Jr. was being pushed to do something he wasn’t ready or willing to do — similar to what happened with Uncle Emmett.

Fast forward to April 1913:

Cephas Jr. is home. Is this when he told his father he wasn’t cut out for law school? April 13, 1913 issue of The Pensacola Journal. Source: ChroniclingAmerica.gov

Cephas Jr. moved back home at the end of the Spring, 1913 semester, and apparently got a job with the local newspaper as a photographer. He never finished his degree at the University of Florida, and he spent the next few years in search of a way to market his talents:

Cartoonists Magazine, Volume 2, 1916. Source: Archive.org

And an article in the Marianna Times-Courier for 1917 mentioned that he had a job playing the piano in the local movie theatre. Cephas Jr. is clearly not sitting around twiddling his thumbs; but, he was working in a variety of different jobs to earn a living. It is unlikely he went back to work for his father.

Then — the U.S. entered World War I, and things changed for Cephas Jr.

I’ll continue with his story in a few days.

“…to accept the things I cannot change…”

Standard

Two weeks ago, the realization that it was time to accept things I cannot change arrived at the door, around 11:15, courtesy of our mail carrier Jesse, of the United States Postal Service.

 

 

My dear friend Nancy’s cousin had written earlier that week, asking for my address, because Nancy had gifts for me.

Christmas gifts.

This was unexpected: Nancy was still in the hospital a few days before Christmas without any discharge date in sight. Also, she and I had a deal where we didn’t exchange Christmas gifts. Just corny holiday cards. Thing was, I didn’t know Nancy’s condition was precarious. Had I known, I would have gone to visit her, and I’ve regretted it ever since. I said as much to her cousin.

“Nancy was an extremely private person. She didn’t want anyone to know. You were on her mind even as she was failing,” she wrote to me. “She wanted you to stay strong and she was proud of your accomplishments.”

The box arrived.

The box sat on my desk for several days.

Now, I admit, I haven’t completely processed Nancy’s death, and I don’t expect to ‘process’ Nancy out of my life, ever. I’ve grieved on and off outwardly, but I’ve put her death aside mostly because I don’t like to wallow in sadness. I’ve come to understand the addictive nature of my personality. I would latch onto that grief; use it as a way to defer action on Emmett’s book, for example, or to hide behind it as an excuse to eat mint chocolate chip ice cream every day. I know Nancy wouldn’t like that one bit. She’d give me holy hell for shelving Emmett, and/or for using her death as a crutch to not get on living life, to not face life on life’s terms.

So, why delay opening the box?

If I opened it, it meant I was acknowledging she was gone, that life continues on, even though she’s not physically there.

I miss Nancy. I miss talking to her. I miss her counsel and her god-awful jokes, and her nutty sense of humor, and her abrupt, direct way of telling me that I could do better with a certain paragraph, or section of Emmett’s story. She got me and I got her. We were friends.

Yesterday, I opened the box.

 

Three things — the first was the Mississippi State University official cowbell that I sent her for her birthday last October. Nancy had come to love my alma mater’s often inconsistent football team. She’d watch the games on Saturday afternoon, and ring the cowbell, surprised and delighted at how loud and deafening it was!

Nancy’s cowbell will hold a special place in my office, next to my own old, beat-up cowbell that I was given during my Freshman year decades ago; both will definitely get used!

The long blue box held a pewter house blessing, that reminded me of another dear friend of mine who died a few years back, Chris.

I meet Chris in the rooms of AA. He was one of the first people who saw the emotionally fragile, spiritually brittle person I was in the early days of recovery. I remember telling Nancy that whenever I saw Chris and asked how he was doing, he’d always say, “I’m blessed.” When I first met him and he said that to me, my first reaction was to take his inventory — to judge him. This guy was a nut, I thought.

And then, I slowly got to know Chris. I realized he truly was blessed, and lived his life like a loose garment. He was sober, serene. Unfettered.

I wanted what he had. And because Chris saw through the facade I put up when attending those early meetings, and extended the hand of friendship, things got better.

Finally, there was this.

Nancy knew well how difficult it has been to conduct Emmett’s research, then find a way to tell his story.

There have been days when I just wanted to (and did) say to hell with Emmett and his story. I questioned both my sanity and the purpose of doing a project on a long-dead, obscure man who drank himself to death. Why bother, I remember asking Nancy a long time ago, when I was going through a particularly frustrating period in Emmett’s research?

“Because his life was relevant. His life had meaning, and a message. And because he picked you to tell his story,” she’d said, in an email message to me. “It’s worth it. I think you know that, too.”

Indeed, one of the most precious gifts I’ve received from doing Emmett’s story is friendship. I’d never have had the privilege of becoming friends with Nancy if it weren’t for Emmett.

Emmett’s story has definitely been worth it so far. And I will see it through.

Rebirth & Eclipse

Standard

I haven’t been much in the mood to write over the past few weeks. It has something to do with it being August and the feeling of things coming to an end, as it always does to me at this time each year. For most folks, the feeling of Auld Lang Syne, and the ritual of reflecting on things accomplished over the past year and planning for the next year takes place on December 31.

My ritual of reflection and rebirth for a New Year always takes place at the start of the new school year. Right about now.  And I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting over the past few weeks.

First, I took a break from Emmett’s book. This was, really, the first true break of any significance from the writing. It was both difficult and necessary to break out of the daily — and I do mean daily — routine of writing about Emmett, because I was resenting it. It wasn’t that I was making a lot of progress, but that I was looking for distractions so that I didn’t have to write at that moment. I was forcing myself to write, and it showed.

Next, I’ve also come to realize that the approach to Emmett’s story wasn’t working out. Fact is, this is a biography with gaps in the data. I’ve invested four years collecting the details about Emmett’s life, which is fine, but the real story here is my relationship with Emmett and the process of researching an obscure man’s life. It’s not as dry as it sounds: You see, I’ve come to understand that the real work of research involves building relationships with other people, which, honestly, is something I’ve not been all that great about in my life. I’m coming through this process richer in friendships; certainly richer in the understanding of what it is that connects people.

And, it turns out I’ve been actively writing this book from day one, via my research journals, my correspondence, my blog posts, and the draft chapters. I’m not starting over by any stretch of the imagination. Rethinking the approach has given me a new energy; the presentation will be unique, something that I find exciting and energizing. This new approach feels absolutely right. I can’t explain it, but it makes sense: Most major writing projects involve starts and stops as the writer ‘tries on’ the story, or the chapter in progress.

I’ll restart writing Emmett’s story on the day my kids head back to school (Tuesday after Labor Day).

I don’t find it ironic at all that this epiphany took place during the month of the eclipse. And speaking of eclipses, we spent ours in Charleston, South Carolina.

The 2017 eclipse, during 100 percent totality, in Charleston, South Carolina, at the South Carolina Aquarium.

I’m looking forward to September, and to a fresh start with Emmett’s chapters.

 

Congressional Baseball Game

Standard

The annual Congressional Baseball Game was played last night at the Washington Nationals stadium.

I know Emmett Wilson loved the game — he played baseball for his college team (West Florida Seminary, now Florida State University), and for his town baseball team (the Red, White and Blues of Chipley).

But did he play during his two terms as a U.S. Congressman between 1913 and 1917?

Congressional baseball games from 1913-1917. Source: Wikipedia and U.S. House of Representatives Archives

It took a little fancy digging to tease out the rosters for three of the games; unfortunately, I haven’t yet located a 1915 roster — but here is what I found:

July 15,1913 article on the Congressional baseball game. Source: ChroniclingAmerica.gov

August 1, 1914 article on the Congressional baseball game. Source: The Washington Times, ChroniclingAmerica.gov

July 28,1916 article on the Congressional baseball team. Source: The Washington Times and ChromiclingAmerica.gov

Emmett’s name did not appear on any of the Democratic team rosters for 1913, 1914, and 1916. Given Emmett’s precarious health in 1915 (he had full-blown cirrhosis, and had nearly died from alcohol poisoning earlier that year), it is questionable that he’d have played, though he might have attended the games at Boundary Field (also known as American League Park II, then National Park); today, the site of Howard University Hospital.

According to Pensacola newspapers and other reports, Emmett was in Florida from late April until September,1915; therefore, he’d not have attended the game that year.

Emmett left office March 4, 1917, and immediately moved back to Pensacola.There is no evidence he ever returned to Washington after his second term as U.S. Congressman was up, even to attend a baseball game.