New Information on Percy Brockenbrough Wilson

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It’s the Wilson family members I don’t have much information about that intrigue me the most. Over the past few days, I’ve been filling in the blanks of background information for Emmett’s second oldest brother, Percy Brockenbrough Wilson. (I’ve written about him before; you can check back here and here.)

From family genealogy and other background information, we know:

  • Katie referred to him as the ‘angelic’ brother (the overall good kid who could not lie to his parents when asked questions directly as a child)
  • He was the first Wilson sibling to attend college, the Medical College of Alabama in Mobile. He graduated after completing the required three years in 1895.
  • His first wife, Lulie Butler Wilson, was 17 when they married; alas, she died less than four months later from complications either from a miscarriage or in childbirth in 1897.
  • Percy remarried in 1900 to Bonnie Bessie Stapleton. They lived in Sneads, Florida, and had several children; Percy served Sneads and most of Jackson County, Florida much like his own father, Dr. F.C. Wilson, in Chipley and Washington County, Florida.
  • Percy died of tuberculosis in July, 1914.

Some of the items I found going back through different databases were items added since my last check-in; they basically are second- and third-confirmation sources for the research. For instance:

A confirmation of Percy’s graduation from the Medical College of Alabama in Mobile, 1895. The school closed in the 1920s, and records were transferred to the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Source: Louisiana State Medical Society Bulletin, 1895, via Google Books

There’s nothing located yet in the University of Alabama-Tuscaloosa archives about Percy or his class at the MCA-Mobile, but I found an image of the school at a great blog on Alabama history:

An image of Percy’s alma mater in Mobile. Source: Alabama Yesterdays blog.

And, an 1899 photo of surgical instruction from MCA-Mobile from the University of Alabama-Tuscaloosa archives:

Medical students in a surgical training class, 1899. Even though this is dated five years after Percy was a student, medical history colleagues tell me this was what Percy’s class would have resembled four years earlier. Source: The University of Alabama Archives, Tuscaloosa

This was not inexpensive for Percy or his family. Tuition for MCA-Mobile was modeled similarly to a sister institution, the Birmingham (Alabama) Medical College. According to their 1895 school catalog, tuition costs were as follows:

Source: Birmingham Medical College Bulletin, 1895, from the University of Alabama-Birmingham archives.

Finally, I came across an obituary for one of Percy’s sons, Robert Wilson, dated 2005:

Obituary of Robert Wilson, son of Percy Wilson. Source: Legacy, via Atlanta Journal-Constitution

I wonder if Robert looked like Percy. I’d love to find a photograph or any other information about Dr. Percy Brockenbrough Wilson to include in Emmett’s biography.

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One-Shot at a Free Ride

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I’ve been thinking about the vocational/educational breakdown of Emmett’s immediate family:

  • Two physicians; one on-the-job training, one college-educated (Dr. Francis Wilson and his second eldest son, Percy Brockenbrough Wilson)
  • Two lawyers; one on-the-job training, one college-educated (Cephas Love Wilson and Emmett Wilson)
  • Four railroad professionals; high school diploma only, mostly on-the-job training (Frank Jr., Meade, Julian, Walker)
  • Two state-certified teachers; high school diploma only (Dora and Katie)
  • One musician/pharmacist/editor; high school diploma only (Max)

Emmett’s education was a bit unusual because he was the only Wilson child with two chances to go to college — he either failed out or dropped out of West Florida Seminary (now Florida State University) in 1900, and two years later, enrolled at Stetson University, graduating in 1904.

Frankly, this surprises me, given that

  • higher education was expensive, even for an upper middle class family like the Wilsons, and
  • there was little if any extra money available for things other than necessities. And:
  • the Wilson family genealogy sent to me from Walker Wilson’s descendants indicated resentment among Emmett’s siblings that the younger Wilsons had to contribute funds to brothers and sisters attending college — a opportunity either not extended nor available to the younger Wilsons once they became old enough.

It seems like the family helped Emmett pay for the first college (West Florida Seminary) tuition, but the second time, I believe Emmett was on his own financially. It just doesn’t make sense to me that the family would put up two college tuitions for one child, and not do the same for the other younger children. Emmett had one shot at a ‘free’ tuition ride — and when it didn’t work out for him at WFS, he knew he’d have to pay his own way if he ever wanted to go to college again.

Ad from The Chipley Banner, 1894. DJ Jones was a well-established attorney and judge for many years. Source: Chronicling America.com

After Emmett came home from WFS in January, 1901, he immediate started clerking for Judge Daniel J. Jones, one of the most important lawyers in West Florida, with the idea that he would do as his brother Cephas: Clerk for a prominent jurist for a few years, take the bar exam, and begin his practice.  But times were changing for the legal profession around 1900, as more states were requiring law school and official degrees as proper credentials over old-school apprenticeship training.

 

Emmett and Judge Jones must have discussed the future of the profession, and I am certain Judge Jones would have encouraged Emmett earn a law degree at a college or university, to ensure his best possible professional opportunities.

Advertisement from August 30, 1901 edition of The (Pensacola) Daily News. Emmett had been clerking for Judge D.J. Jones, during this time — but he could only do so much without knowledge of shorthand. It is likely Jones recommended Emmett obtain shorthand training. Emmett was visiting family during the summer of 1901, and this advertisement got his attention. Source: The (Pensacola) Daily News, August 30, 1901.

Emmett remained with Jones as a clerk for about six months, before he left to take a shorthand course at Meux’s Business School in Pensacola, returning in 1902 to clerk for Cephas in Marianna for several months, earning enough money to attend Stetson University in September, 1902.

 

Family Disease

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My sponsor cornered me after a meeting a few days ago. She hadn’t seen me in awhile — weeks — which isn’t a good thing for alcoholics in recovery. “Where have you been? What’s up?” She asked. Demanded, actually.

So we sat down together in a coffee shop, and talked. She eventually got the truth out of me — I’d stalled out in writing about Emmett, and more critically, in my program. I didn’t realize it was happening until it just happened, I said.

My sponsor (a no-nonsense Sister of Notre Dame and psychotherapist) basically called bullshit on me. “The isolating and the procrastination with Emmett’s writing are symptoms of something else. And the problem is that something else could ultimately be a drinking trigger.”

My sponsor then told me just to start talking about whatever I thought was the beginning, and not think about it.

Here’s the paraphrased version:

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From January to May, managing Dad’s affairs because of his serious health problems and his resistance/outright refusal to take care of himself took over my life. It was damn near impossible to write when I was in the thick of everything for five months, and I hardly was able to get to meetings because of all the travel back and forth, and then, catching up on work and my family’s obligations when I was finally back home.

(Today, Dad’s health is better than it was before he was hospitalized and he’s on his own in an assisted living senior residence, as much as he can be. He hates it, but that’s a story for another time.)

By the time June rolled around, I figured I’d be back into serious work on Emmett’s chapters, and life would settle back down into normalcy. But I picked Emmett’s research up sparingly, and always with some weird dread, and when I did work on his story, it definitely was not with the same spirit and dedication.

More to the point, I wasn’t picking up anything with the same energy, feeling and spirit. I told my sponsor that I felt like I had turned into another person altogether — I snapped at everyone over things that used to never bother me, picking fights even with loved ones and friends, over inconsequential and illogical things. For instance, I got into a terrible argument with my husband, a non-Catholic, because he’s non-Catholic. We’ve been married 28 years. I dated him for 10 years before that. I’ve always KNOWN he’s non-Catholic, and it has never bothered me. But I digress.

My sponsor listened carefully — then told me to talk to my doctor because she said it sounded as if I was going through a kind-of PTSD after all the stress of my Dad’s situation — having to keep it together for so long, without really talking about it, and certainly not talking about it in meetings, since I hadn’t been to any in awhile.

I didn’t debate her or argue about her suggestion — I got my ass to my therapist two days later. Diagnosis: Anxiety post the family drama. Totally understandable, the therapist said. Talking about it has helped me calm down tremendously.

But something else that came out in the therapy that I had forgotten about — and stuffed down — which really is at the heart of all this:

In January, I’d had a conference with one of Dad’s doctors about his condition, and the doctor revealed that all the stuff that happened to my Dad is related to alcoholism.

Although Dad says he’s not drinking, the doctor said the previous drinking history was linked to his bouts with colon cancer, as alcoholism IS a factor in the disease. And, oh yeah, something else I didn’t know until this conference January: He has cirrhosis of the liver. So, in addition to the anxiety, I’m angry.

Deep down furious.

F.U.R.I.O.U.S.

Dad’s lack of care for himself, or for anyone else, has seriously, negatively, affected me and my immediate family. And he frankly doesn’t really care. He just wants to escape whatever it is that is bothering him, regardless. It’s easy to feel sorry for someone like that, but when the alcoholic behavior affects how I’m able to care for my children and be a supportive member of my own family…..

Yeah.

F.U.R.I.O.U.S.

When the AA literature calls alcoholism a ‘family disease,’ it’s the truth. The alcoholic doesn’t think what he or she is doing bothers anyone else but themselves. That’s the key — the alcoholic isn’t THINKING, and certainly, the alcoholic isn’t in his or her right mind.

Anyway. I’m here to report that I’ve held all this shit in since January. A true constipation of the brain. No wonder I haven’t been able to write anything, or function like my old self.

But thanks to a good therapist, a good sponsor, and a good program, things are headed back to normal in Emmett Wilson book land.

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One good thing that has come out of this experience is a better  understanding about Emmett’s biography —  it isn’t just a biography of a long-dead distant ancestor. It’s also about my — our — family relationship with booze, and what we’ve done to live with it, for better or worse.

When I first started learning about Emmett and his relationships with his family members, I remember thinking rather tough thoughts about them — especially his brother Cephas and Emmett’s father, Dr. Francis C. Wilson. If you love your brother and son, and see that he is struggling, why didn’t they do something to help him? Something MORE?

And towards the end of Emmett’s life, most of his friends and almost all of his family members pretty much distanced themselves from Emmett, because he kept on drinking, even though I’m SURE both Emmett’s father, and Emmett’s personal physician advised him to stop drinking years before he died of alcoholism.

I’m sure Emmett’s family and friends were furiously angry and frustrated with Emmett, too. Emmett would always choose booze over every single opportunity that came his way.

The situation with Emmett and his drinking/health outcome is similar to the one I’m experiencing with my Dad today, 100 years later. The time away from writing about Emmett has given me a more objective view of his story, a better understanding of why family and friends acted/behaved/distanced themselves when they did. I feel as if I will be able to present Emmett’s family and friends with more understanding of the situation.

It’s not an easy situation to be in today; it wasn’t easy 100 years ago, either.

I’m sorry I’ve had this experience with Dad, but I’m also glad I’ve had it. I’ve learned a lot from it.

Not Quite the MOC

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I found this brief article about Emmett while doing a periodic database check last week:

Source: The Richmond Times-Dispatch, Friday, June 21, 1912.

It is another piece related to the dedication of the Florida window, in the Old Blandford Church in Petersburg, Virginia. (More details about Emmett and the Florida window can be found here.)

What’s interesting is that the reporter calls Emmett a “…member of Congress from that State (Florida) …”, which really isn’t true. Emmett won the Democratic party nomination for the Third Congressional District of Florida only three weeks earlier.

He still had to win the general election in November. But in 1912, Florida was primarily a one-party state, and Emmett, the neophyte politician, would win the seat with more than 90 percent of the vote.

Dual Classification

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One of the more curious (to me) stories about Emmett Wilson’s education centers around his attendance at West Florida Seminary in Tallahassee, Florida.

Sometime around 1899 (when he was about 17 years old), Emmett applied for admission to West Florida Seminary, minus a high school diploma. It wasn’t unheard of for a student to do this, if he or she was well prepared, but it was significantly more difficult minus that last year of secondary education. Emmett didn’t skip his senior year at Chipley High School because he was a prodigy (sorry, Emmett), but because there weren’t enough teachers at the school for that senior class.

On average, the public high schools in Washington County, Florida were in session for four months. The county wasn’t wealthy, and had neither the mandate nor the tax base to support public schools at that time. (This wasn’t always the situation in Washington County, Florida schools, but it happened during what was supposed to be Emmett’s last year in high school.)

Paul Carter, about 1900, from the WFS yearbook, The Argo. Source: FSU Archive

Emmett could have waited to graduate high school the following year, but he was impatient and ready to get on with his life, preferably in an urban area, to do something ‘big’ and important with himself. Emmett’s best friend, Paul Carter, would head off to Alabama Polytechnic (later Auburn University) in 1899. Paul was a year younger than Emmett, and there seems to have always been a bit of good-natured competitiveness between them — maybe also a bit of jealousy on Emmett’s part towards his best friend.

Without a high school diploma in hand, Emmett would have had to have passed an entrance exam, in addition to his application for admission to West Florida Seminary. Tuition was free to Florida residents, but students had to pay other fees, and the entrance (and final) exams were notoriously tough. Emmett may not have been ‘brilliant’ (as he was occasionally lauded in contemporary press), but he was smart, and made it past the testing gauntlet.

Although tuition was free, students still had to pay for expenses, $10 a month room, board, including sanitary plumbing! Source: Florida State University, Argo, 1902

Once in, Emmett had to doubly prove himself, as he was classified both as a high school senior and a Freshman:

From the 1899-1900 catalog of The Seminary West of the Suwannee (better known as West Florida Seminary). Source: FSU Digital Repository

Emmett’s dual classification continued into his second year at WFS:

“F.C.” stood for “Freshman Class — Classical Studies” and “S.C.” stood for “Sophomore Class — Classical Studies.” The end result after four years with this curriculum at WFS was the Bachelor of Arts degree. Source: FSU Digital Repository

Emmett’s name never appeared on the honor roll while at WFS; nor did he earn any awards for perfect attendance, or academic proficiency. He was most likely an average student, and he probably struggled mightily with some of the required courses (Latin AND Greek, for example). Emmett did not return to WFS after only half completing his Sophomore year.

What I think is interesting about this example of dual classification in Emmett’s early college career is that, on reflection, Emmett’s life always seemed to be pulled in two or more directions. For instance, in the research, I’ve noticed a sort-of tug-of-war between the Lawyer Emmett and the Politician Emmett. He loved the law, but hated the political part of it. He would have been content, I think, to hole up in a judge’s chambers and do research all day long, or write, even. Emmett was a loner most of his life, and it seems uncomfortable dealing with people outside of his immediate, tight, trusted circle of friends and family. Kind of odd for a man who chose to embrace a vocation that involved dealing with the public, and/or being a public servant for a large part of his career.

Wilson Tradition

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In keeping with Emmett’s family tradition, I’m headed off to my precinct in five minutes:

Only the Wilson men were eligible to serve in their precincts before women’s suffrage; I’d love to know if any of the Wilson women served as officials or voting judges after 1919. Regardless, it’s interesting (you learn a lot about the voting process and elections in general), and you meet great people.

If you have a primary today, vote!

And if you are in my precinct, see you between 7 am and 8 pm!

Hospital College of Medicine, Louisville Kentucky

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Here’s an interesting find in recent days:

The bulletin of the Hospital College of Medicine, 1880-1881. Source: AAMC archival holdings

This is an image of the medical school attended by Dr. Francis C. Wilson in 1891. Unfortunately, I have not been able to find the bulletin for the year Emmett’s father attended, but this one offers a nice rendering of the actual facility where Dr. Wilson took classes between February and June, 1891.

What’s also interesting is that he wasn’t the ONLY Dr. Francis C. Wilson on campus:

Doppelganger! Maybe. Maybe not. Source: AAMC archival holdings.

I imagine that Dr. Francis Wilson of Florida was in at least one of Dr. Francis Wilson of Kentucky’s classes. I can’t prove it yet. But these two men were at this institution at the same time, in 1891, when Dr. Francis Wilson of Florida was enrolled. I can imagine also Emmett’s father writing humorous letters to his mother, Elizabeth, about the coincidence.