History of Florida, Past & Present

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In 1923, Harry Gardner Cutler published a ginormous compendium of Florida biographies, complete with similarly sized title History of Florida: Past and Present, Historical and Biographical.

Three volumes complete the set, and today, it is available via Google Books at this link.

Nancy. I miss her every day.

It’s an interesting and informative resource; in fact, this massive resource is how I met my dear friend Nancy five years ago. Nancy owned an original set of Cutler’s History of Florida; she’d transcribed a biography of one of Emmett’s friends and posted it to a genealogical database. I found the bio and the email link in that database, wrote to her for permission to use the information, we struck up a correspondence, and the rest is history (no pun intended).

History of Florida, Volume 2, includes the biography of Emmett’s brother, Cephas L. Wilson, beginning on page 348. The bio reads much like the man himself: A bit pompous and overblown. See the snippet from the bio, below:

I wonder if Cephas wrote some of the copy for the bio. Snippet is from page 348, lower right hand column. Source: Google Books

The biography includes a lot of interesting family details. For example:

Snippet is from page 349 of History of Florida. Source: Google Books.

The biography goes on to include information about Cephas’ law practice, political aspirations, Emmett and Cephas’ parents, even a lengthy paragraph about Cephas’ marriage to Lula Wiselogel (spelled Wiseloyel in the biography; Lula’s cousin Nannett told me that spelling was not unusual).

But not a word about Cephas’ brother, the U.S. Congressman, even though Emmett had been dead five years by the publication date.

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that which is most familiar

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“We seek out what is familiar and comfortable emotionally, even though what is familiar and comfortable may not be healthy.” — Carolyn Hax, The Washington Post, June 2018

Everyone does this, alcoholic or not.

“Fixing” Emmett’s unhealthy drinking habit would have been possible if he’d had help with a competent therapist, and, if he’d been willing to hear the truth about his disease (and not just what he’d want to hear about it). Physicians and therapists back in Emmett’s day (psychiatrists were called ‘alienists’, which probably didn’t help further the notion that talking to a therapist was socially acceptable — it’s still an uncomfortable notion even in the enlightened 21st century) understood alcoholism about as much as modern physicians and therapists do.

Alcoholics in Emmett’s day were considered outcasts, both mentally and morally deficit. The idea that alcoholism was a disease, like diabetes, was new in the early 20th century. Source: Psychology Today

True, we have more pharmaceuticals available today to address the symptoms, but no one knows the cure to alcohol addiction, other than complete abstinence.

Two questions that keep coming back about Emmett, five years into the research: Did he realize he had a drinking problem? and, Did Emmett want to stop drinking?

Re the first question: He definitely realized there was a problem as of December, 1914. But it wasn’t rheumatism, as his PR posse informed the press:

Rheumatism. Really? Source: Ocala Banner, Dec 22, 1914.

Re the second question: Emmett might have liked drinking, liked the taste of alcohol. Perhaps he didn’t want to stop drinking, but I’m sure he wanted to stop being an alcoholic. Nobody wants to be an ‘alcoholic’.

The only way I’d really know is to ask Emmett directly, which, of course, can’t happen. There’s his elusive scrapbooks or journals to consult (if I ever find them), but still, even with that information, I’d probably not understand Emmett completely.

One important thing I have is a copy of Emmett’s will, in his own words, complete with typos and edits. From that, we can tell that above all else, Emmett had integrity, was trying to do the next right thing, and, that Emmett knew he was a hopeless case — well, maybe not hopeless. But by June 1917, I’m sure Emmett knew he didn’t have long.

Emmett’s will, as it appears in the Florida probate documents. Filed June 1, 1918 by his brother, Cephas Love Wilson, executor. He left the bulk of his estate to Jennie Jenkins Kehoe, who was, essentially, a surrogate mother to Emmett. Source: Ancestry.com

“We seek out what is familiar and comfortable emotionally, even though what is familiar and comfortable may not be healthy.”

To Emmett: Booze was comfortable, living with the Kehoes (instead of his own family) was comfortable, being a loner was comfortable, being a workaholic was comfortable, remaining unattached was comfortable. With most people, none of these ‘comforts’ would be considered negatives unless taken to excess, and with Emmett, all of these were taken to excess, particularly the alcohol.

I wish I knew what it was Emmett was trying to soothe with these different kinds of comforts.

Henry Lee Bell Photograph Collection

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In the University of West Florida Archives, there’s a wonderful collection of more than 20,000 photographs of everyday Pensacolians between 1911 and 1949.

Henry Lee Bell opened photography studio in 1911 in Pensacola Florida. Used to be partnered with George Turton. Was Turton & Bell around 1900 to about 1911, when they separated into their own businesses. Bell’s studio operated until around 1949. Both considered excellent photographers, ability to capture the real person on film.

And, surprise, I found these photographs:

Francis C. Wilson Jr. Source: Bell Photograph Collection, University of West Florida Archives

Francis C. Wilson Jr. Source: Bell Photograph Collection, University of West Florida Archives

May McKinnon Wilson. Source: Bell Photograph Collection, University of West Florida Archives

Two separate poses of Emmett’s older brother, Frank Jr., and one of his wife, May McKinnon Wilson, of Pensacola. There’s a strong resemblance between Frank Jr. and Emmett, if you compare their photos.

I have a few photographs of Emmett’s father, as well as Emmett’s twin brother Julian in his later years. There’s strong resemblance among the Wilson menfolk, and so we get a hint of what Emmett might have looked like as an older man.

So, in five years of compiling research and artifacts to tell Emmett’s story, the only family member I don’t have a photograph of is Emmett’s older brother Percy Brockenbrough Wilson. Percy was a physician who lived in Sneads, Jackson County, Florida. I have reached out to a few of Percy’s descendants, but unfortunately, they do not have any photographs of him. Perhaps one may turn up as the search (and the writing) continues!

Life Expectancy

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As I write Emmett’s story, I always wonder how long he would have lived had he not drank himself to death. Several of the men in his family, particularly his twin brother Julian, were long lived. Emmett was 35 when he died of uremia on May 29, 1918.

The website, Our World in Data, has an interesting interactive chart mapping life expectancy rates starting from the year 1543 to 2015.

Emmett was born in 1882. According to Our World in Data, his life expectancy, had mortality rates remained the same throughout his life, would have been 39.41 years.

The chart shows data for the years 1881 and 1882. If you hover over the U.S., a box pops up with the life expectancy for that country. Source: Our World in Data

Emmett just about made it to his projected life expectancy. Emmett’s illness as reported on his death certificate, uremia, eventually came about via cirrhosis of the liver (according to my colleague Donna the Nephrologist).

Jule & Emmett’s brother, Julian A. Wilson, about 1940.

Emmett’s twin brother, Julian, died in 1963, age 80. His daughter, Jule and granddaughter, Carol, have told me that Julian rarely, if ever, took a drink, and was in good health most of his life. Julian died from complications resulting from an automobile accident.

Emmett’s father, Dr. Francis C. Wilson, was born in 1841. Unfortunately, the chart doesn’t have information going back that far for the United States. The first year reporting life expectancy statistics from this source is 1870; 39.4 years seems to be the average age also for 1870.

 

 

Why Everything is Not Digitized

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Of course, I’d love to have had everything available about Emmett Wilson to be accessible via the Internet. It would have certainly made my life easier as I dug around for primary sources in a variety of libraries and archives, both near and far, over the past five years!

Two tables worth of research materials, when I was at the University of West Florida. About half of the artifacts I handled were in good condition. None of these artifacts are digitized.

But even if Emmett’s primary sources were available or extant in a library archive, here is an excellent discussion about why everything in an archive is not always or necessarily digitized.

Emmett’s Secretaries: B.A. Murphy

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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.