Secretarial Musings

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I often wonder what kind of employee or boss Emmett was?

Was he considerate and competent? Quiet and hardworking?

A lunch-stealing backstabbing jerk, perhaps?

An excellent source of information on Emmett-as-colleague would be the office records — a desk calendar, case files, or even an office journal. I don’t doubt that Emmett kept records such as these himself. Unfortunately, Emmett’s office records do not exist anymore.

But what if one of his secretaries kept those records?

And what if they exist?

Tracking down office secretaries were with not much to go on was a real challenge — but guess what? I’ve identified five secretaries who either worked with Emmett directly, or as part of Emmett’s law practice!

Here’s the list of secretaries who worked with Emmett while he was a lawyer, district attorney, state’s attorney, and U.S. Congressman:

Bertha A (Bert) Murphy — 1905-08 — Maxwell & Wilson, Clerk for Asst. U.S. Attorney

Minnie Kehoe — 1906-1908 — Kehoe & Smithwick

Nellie Mills — 1914-1915 — Stenographer at the San Carlos Hotel (Emmett lived there on and off between 1914-1915 when Congress was out of session, et cetera)

Jefferson Davis Stephens — 1913-1917 — U.S. Congress

Hilda Dahlstrom Beall — 1910-1914 — Kehoe & Wilson; U.S. Congress (temporary)

Alas, this is not yet a complete list: I haven’t yet identified the secretary for Judge Daniel J. Jones (Emmett was Jones’ clerk in 1902), the secretary for Cephas’ office (Emmett was a junior partner at Wilson & Wilson between 1904 and 1905), or the secretary for Van Sant and Wilson (1905-1906).

It is possible that Emmett might have been the secretary for Jones’ or Cephas’ law offices while he was just starting out, but I don’t think so.

Nicholas Van Sant. Source: Ancestry.com

I know Emmett did clerical work for Judge Jones, but it wasn’t consistent, and Emmett didn’t know shorthand.  He had little experience as a law clerk, and Judge Jones has a busy and thriving practice in Washington County, Florida. In fact, it was after a six-month stint at Jones’ office that Emmett was sent to Pensacola to take stenography courses at Meux’s Business College.

And while Cephas loved and supported his brother, he was not fool enough to trust his established law firm records to a younger sibling with an inconsistent work and academic record, who was just starting out.

I’ll introduce the secretaries over the next several posts.

Meanwhile, I’ll continue to dig around for information on who may have been the secretaries for Judge Jones and Cephas Wilson between 1900 and 1905. I have a few leads on the Van Sant & Wilson secretary that I want to explore. (Spoiler Alert: One of the secretaries DID keep a journal! And yeah — I have a copy of it!)

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A Galaxy of Stars

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Who Was Who in Florida, by Henry S. Marks, 1973, published by The Strode Publishers, Huntsville, Alabama.

I found this book on Alibris, a book reseller website. I like to check back for obscure Florida texts and anything that has Emmett’s name listed. This one’s been out of print for awhile.

Poor unloved thing. Who trashes books?

It was purged from the Dickinson Memorial Library in Orange City, Florida. It was cheap. Oh well. Some one else’s trash, as the old saying goes….

Charlton W. Tebeau, author of A History of Florida who wrote the foreword for this book, asked:

“Who are Florida’s notables who have left their marks on the state’s history? What did they do to earn a place in such a galaxy of stars?” (Foreword)

Tebeau admitted that there were countless others who probably should have been included in the book, and Marks’ book was not intended to be a complete work. The biographies are brief, mostly no more than six or seven lines. (Some biographies are longer; for example, Henry Flagler’s covers an entire page). References such as Marks’ book are often, at best, snapshots of those deserving of recognition at that particular place and time.

But it is interested to see who is listed and who is not, through the lens of Emmett Wilson’s research.

Who’s In:

  • Robert Anderson (he delivered Emmett’s Elk Club eulogy) p. 20
  • William Henry Brockenbrough, p. 46 (Emmett’s great-grandfather)
  • N.P. Broward, p. 47
  • N.P. Bryan, p. 50 (Bryan’s secretary helped Emmett in D.C. after his first medical crisis)
  • Frank Clark, p. 66 (Advised Emmett when he was in D.C., and after his first medical crisis)
  • Duncan Fletcher, p. 102 (A friend of Emmett’s father)
  • Albert Gilchrist, p.111 (Emmett and Cephas were on friendly terms with him)
  • Walter Kehoe, p. 147
  • William Bailey Lamar, p. 152 (Emmett’s best friend, Paul Carter, was his private secretary)
  • B.S. Liddon, p. 163 (Cephas’ law partner)
  • Scott Loftin, p. 164 (A law colleague of Emmett’s)
  • Augustus E. Maxwell and Evelyn Croom Maxwell, p. 175 (Emmett’s grandfather and uncle)
  • Dannite Mays, p. 176 (Emmett defeated Mays in 1912 for the Third Congressional seat)
  • John and W.H. Milton, p. 186
  • John H. Smithwick, p. 230
  • John Stokes, p. 235 (unsuccessfully challenged Emmett for his second congressional term in 1914)

And, of course, Emmett, on page 264:

One error stands out: “….failed of reelection.” No. The state Democratic party told Emmett he was no longer useful, and forced his resignation. His name was not on the ballot for a third term.

What’s interesting are the names of men and women I’ve discovered via Emmett’s research, who were important in state politics and journalism during the early 1900s, who were not included in the book:

I think it is ironic given the animus that Frank Mayes, Chipley Jones, and certainly Cephas had for Emmett, especially towards the end of his life, that their names were not selected for inclusion in this reference.

I don’t doubt for a minute this would eat at Frank Mayes and Chipley Jones, if they had any way of knowing Emmett got in, and they didn’t.

Heh, heh.

Why This Is Taking So Long, Part IV

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Want to know why writing Emmett’s book has been taking so long?

I submit:

This. The newspaper is filed under the wrong ‘state.’ If you do a state-specific search (as I have been doing), this source would not show up. Doh. Source: http://www.chroniclingamerica.gov

I found this during my ‘go back and check databases for updates’ routine. Something I do every other month or so.

The Chronicling America database is huge, which is why one would want to limit the searches to states, or specific newspapers.

It isn’t that I haven’t done an entire sweep of the database this size before, but it can be overwhelming to see thousands of items returned in a large sweep.  I’m glad the database is there — and I’m thrilled to have found this extra source of information. Emmett’s uncles and cousins, and his sister, Katie Wilson Meade, lived in Alexandria and were community/church leaders — there’s wonderful new articles to read about Emmett’s family in this paper!

My concern, as always, is missing or overlooking information that’s out there, but information I’d never find because it is misfiled or mislabeled, or has typos. This is one of the reasons I do regular checks of databases. The effort is completely worth it, but I’d never considered the idea that the newspaper in this particular database would have been filed under the wrong state.

And, of course, this will mean going back into the databases to consider that variable.

Commencing rolling up the sleeves and digging in….

 

 

 

 

Rebirth & Eclipse

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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.

 

Spring Cleaning

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On Tuesday, I posted final grades for the spring semester of my classes. Typically, I take the week in between spring and summer semesters to clean out files, finish last minute prep work, and and prepare for the next set of classes.

In addition, I decided to do some Emmett Wilson spring cleaning. I’m going through ALL of the articles, resources, references, images, and notes collected over the past four years. It’s great re-acquainting myself with what I’ve collected.

My organization strategy has been twofold: First, because most of the information about Emmett comes from specific sources, I organized each item by year and title of publication or name of source. Second, I created a timeline for Emmett’s life, and broke it down into four different time periods. In each timeline entry, I note the date, the event, and the location in my files of my source. There’s over 6,000 entries to-date. Booyah!

Reviewing the files also gives me a great sense of relief and control, especially since this has turned out to be a much larger — and incredibly more rewarding! — project than originally anticipated in 2013. It is easy to feel overwhelmed by the scope of it.

Another great benefit of going through the files is finding interesting oddball things I saved when I first started Emmett’s project —

This, for example:

D-I_V-O-R-C-E, 1916-style. Source: University of West Florida Archives

Source: University of West Florida Archives

This letter wasn’t written by Emmett or Cephas Wilson; I’m not sure who wrote it; I found it as a loose document in the Blount family archive records at the University of West Florida.

I saved it because during this time Lula Wiselogel Wilson filed divorce papers against her husband, Cephas Wilson, according to a family genealogy. The genealogy did not say why the papers were filed against Cephas, but a quote in the genealogy from Berta Daniel Wilson (no relation to Emmett Wilson, but a neighbor of Dr. Francis C. Wilson family in Chipley) was interviewed about it and was quoted in the genealogy saying that Lula had filed the papers and, “…the gossip was terrible at the time.”

For what it is worth: Lula never went through with the divorce, but knowing that Lula was a force to be reckoned with, she probably could prove items #3 and #4!

 

Heirlooms United

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Here is an absolutely wonderful treasure trove of vintage autograph albums, photo albums, calling cards, journals — everything I would love to have about Emmett Wilson or any other of Emmett’s friends.

I stumbled across it in search of information on one of Emmett’s roommates for his second book — and it has many wonderful personal artifacts.

The search for Emmett’s elusive scrapbooks continues…

Patchwork, Progress, Petersburg!

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young-frankenstein

I could have used an extra brain last week. Image source: http://www.borg.com

It has been a crazy, patchwork kind of existence in Emmett Wilson Land over the past two weeks — a lot of writing, a lot of teaching, a lot of deadlines. My writing life has felt cobbled together, much like Dr. Frankenstein’s creature: It works, but it looks (and feels) scary and out of control.

As mentioned in the previous post, I submitted an Emmett Wilson essay to The Ponder Review, a literary journal published by the Mississippi University for Women, with only 15 minutes to spare on Monday night. It was the first essay about Emmett to a professional journal; so, I was angsty about it.  And I have to tell you — I’m not super thrilled with the final product, even after eight drafts, and significant editing. It went from a first draft of more than 6,000 words to about 2,800 words, well within the required maximum word count of 3,000.
The editing helped, but I don’t feel as good about it as I did with the little essay that went to Saw Palm.  I was well into the second draft when I realized my problem:  I wanted to get an article submitted to a literary journal so I could check a box off my bucket list.
Sure, I could have picked another journal with a later deadline; I could have planned the writing project better, definitely. I could have tried to do this article when I didn’t have two other writing deadlines to meet all within the same week! But I felt I HAD to prove to myself I could write under a tight deadline like in the old days, when I used to work for The Commercial Appeal and the Vicksburg Evening Post (now The Vicksburg News).
Now I remember why I changed from covering the education and police beats at the newspapers to a career in education:  The daily deadlines (three or more stories a day) drove me crazy.

Regardless, I’m glad for the experience. I will continue to write for literary journals, but with realistic writing plans in hand. Live and learn! And write!

This week, I’m reading the third chapter of Emmett’s manuscript this week. It is in fairly good shape; I’ve rediscovered some interesting facts about Emmett’s relationship with Frank L. Mayes, one of the protagonists in this biography.

mayes73gbs

Frank L. Mayes of The Pensacola Journal. Champion grudge holder. And a jerk.

For instance, Emmett met Mayes at his family home in Chipley, only two days after graduating from Stetson University’s Law School. Why was the editor and publisher of West Florida’s largest newspaper at Emmett’s house in 1904? It wasn’t to laud Emmett; he was a virtual unknown.

It was, however, an important meeting for Emmett: Frank Mayes was visiting Chipley with Walter Kehoe, a friend of both Mayes and the Wilsons. Mayes was interested in building his connections in Washington County; Kehoe knew that Emmett’s father, Dr. F.C. Wilson, was one of the most important citizens in the community — and the timing was coincidental.
Mayes took note of Emmett, his achievements, his ambition, and mentally filed them away. He’d find a way to use Emmett to further his own professional goals. Emmett may not have realized at the time that Mayes was a master manipulator; I do have the impression that Emmett did not like Mayes after this first meeting.
Hmmm… Frank L. Mayes as an essay subject. Now that may be worth exploring!

Finally — I have purchased train tickets to Petersburg for an Emmett Wilson field trip!
Last summer, I posted a story about Emmett dedicating a Tiffany window at the Old Blandford Church in Petersburg, Virginia. I will be visiting Old Blandford Church and Petersburg on March 29-31 with my wonderful writing friend, Ann!
I’m also hoping to visit the Historic Petersburg Society archive — there’s old newspapers to see, specifically the one about the dedication ceremony. The ceremony was a very big deal in the community, and Emmett gave a speech. I haven’t found a transcript or text from that speech in any of the Richmond or Florida papers; I’m hoping the text of that speech was reproduced in one of the Petersburg papers. I don’t think the newspapers from 1912 have been digitized — but I will find that out this week.