Secretarial Musings


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:

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!)

Modeste Hargis, Whistling Pharmacist


I’m pleased to report that not only have I located Emmett’s doctors (both in Pensacola and Washington, D.C.), but I’ve also located his pharmacist. Pretty damn good History Detective work, huh?

I’ll have more on the doctors in another post, but I thought I’d introduce you to the pharmacist first, because she’s REMARKABLE.


Meet Modeste Hargis. The first (and youngest) woman pharmacist in Pensacola.

Modeste Hargis, about 1900. Source: womenofhistoricpcola

Modeste Hargis, about 1900. Source: womenofhistoricpcola

Modeste was born August 1875 in Pensacola, the daughter of Dr. Robert Bell Smith Hargis. She had four sisters and two older brothers, Robert and John, who also were physicians.

Modeste decided early that she wanted a medical career, too.  According to a feature about Modeste in a 1909 issue of The Pensacola Journal, she accompanied her father every day on house calls and appointments, and he taught her everything he knew. She couldn’t have had a better teacher, either — Dr. Hargis was not only a yellow fever expert, he, along with Dr. J.C. Whiting, established the Pensacola Hospital in 1868. He was well respected, well known, and considered one of the top physicians in West Florida. It is quite likely that Emmett’s father, Dr. Francis C. Wilson, at least knew of Dr. Hargis, if he didn’t actually practice with him on occasion.

Modeste was interested in pharmacy, and Dr. Hargis encouraged and supported his daughter’s plans, even though it was still highly unusual for a young woman to enter a profession dominated by men.

In the 1909 article, Modeste said:

“I simply loved anything connected with medicine and after my father’s health failed, I commenced the study of pharmacy though I did not know then it would ever be the means of my support.”

Modeste’s turning point came in 1893, at 18, when she passed the state pharmacy examination and was the youngest (and only) female pharmacist in Florida.

Source: American Druggist & Pharmaceutical Record, Vol. 26, September 14, 1893.

Source: American Druggist & Pharmaceutical Record, Vol. 26, September 14, 1893.

And less than three months later, Modeste’s father died. It is unclear what was the cause of Dr. Hargis’ death, but he died at home, at 109 E. Romana Street. Modeste’s quote gives us a clue that he was likely ill for a long time, and so his death was not unexpected.

It is not clear when Modeste opened her first pharmacy. However, records from the Pensacola City Directory for 1898 (the earliest one available for now) indicate that she was on her own:

Pensacola City Directory for 1898. Source:

Pensacola City Directory for 1898. J. Whiting Hargis was one of Modeste’s older brothers. Source:

Just for kicks, I looked at Google Earth to see if the original house or buildings are still at 107-109 E. Romana. Alas, no — only a few modern box-shaped offices and an empty lot.

The Hargis Pharmacy moved around a few times: In 1911, it was located at 8 E. Government Street — the location of Emmett’s office — in the American National Bank Building. I can imagine Emmett stepping out of the office, taking the elevator down to the first floor, to pick up a bottle of Bromo-Seltzer, and his brand of pomade (which I have not been able to figure out yet, but give me time). He could also pick up a bottle of beer or wine there too! Did you know the Hargis Pharmacy also made and bottled beer and wine? It’s true. Pharmacies could do that back then.


A variety of bottles (contents unknown) bearing the Hargis Pharmacy embossment. Source:

By 1916, The Hargis Pharmacy had moved down the street from 8 E. Government, to 203-205 S. Palafox. Still, only a few blocks’ stroll for Emmett, should he need to pick up toiletries, or whatnot.

Pensacola City Directory for 1916. Modeste's pharmacy delivered, too! Source:

Pensacola City Directory for 1916. Modeste’s pharmacy delivered, too! 203 S. Palafox, by the way, is still standing. Source:

Not surprisingly, Modeste was a friend of Minnie Kehoe’s, and, a supporter of women’s suffrage. Both were successful women business owners, too. I can well imagine those two getting together and having quite interesting conversations.

Modeste’s house at 611 N. Barcelona is still standing, too:

611 North Barcelona, Pensacola, Florida. Source:

611 North Barcelona, Pensacola, Florida. Source:

Modeste spent most of her life as a pharmacist. It is unclear when she sold or retired from business. In 1934, at age 54, she was likely retired at that point, because she is simply listed in the Pensacola City Directory at home.

But she wasn’t idle.

Zora Neale Hurston. Source: Library of Congress

Zora Neale Hurston. Could Modeste have known her? it’s possible! Source: Library of Congress

Modeste signed on with the Federal Writers Project of the Work Projects Administration (WPA) for the state of Florida. She co-wrote a series of articles that appeared in a variety of publications, including the Florida Historical Quarterly. Interesting — she was probably a colleague of Zora Neale Hurston!

Modeste’s most prolific year was 1939, according to She had NINE articles on a variety of topics, including Don Francesco Moreno, and an intensive study of Greek culture in Pensacola.

By 1942, Modeste was out of retirement and the director of the WPA Writer's Department in Pensacola. From the 1942 Pensacola City Directory. Source:

By 1942, Modeste was out of retirement and the director of the WPA Writer’s Department in Pensacola. From the 1942 Pensacola City Directory. Source:

Modeste lived with her sister Palmire in the 1940s. Palmire died in 1946; Modeste died in 1948.

That’s a pretty decent sketch of Modeste for now; but there’s still a lot I don’t know about her. I wanted to search in the Library of Congress’ database this afternoon, but it is offline for annual maintenance until August 1.

One reason I want to dig around and discover more about Modeste was this interesting comment by the interviewer in the 1909 article: She was described as a violinist, and a ‘genius in the art of whistling.’

She must have been good at it too, because in 1927, Modeste had her own radio program about whistling!

Source: The Greensboro (N.C.) Record; February 21, 1927.

I wonder what was included in her show! Did she do all the whistling? Source: The Greensboro (N.C.) Record; February 21, 1927.

Emmett definitely had some interesting friends in his life, and which says a lot about Emmett. Getting to know his friends and what they were like helps fill in the blanks about his personal life somewhat — at least until I get my hands on his scrapbooks.


Information Sleuthing; Research Envy


I heard back from the archivist at the University of West Florida, Dr. DeBolt, about the half-editorial written by CHB Floyd in the Pensacola Evening News for 1912. Dr. DeBolt checked the hard-copy holdings and the reserve film.

Unfortunately, the bound copy and the reserve film showed that the editorial is only one half of the page, just as in my version of the microfilm. But he referred me to his colleague, Dr. James Cusick, at the University of Florida’s George Smathers Library and Archive in Gainesville. They also have copies of the Pensacola Evening News in their holdings, but he was not sure how complete they were.

Dr. Cusick got back to me this morning and said, unfortunately, they don’t have anything in bound copy from 1912. The more complete holdings are at the University of West Florida, so if they aren’t at UWF…well, strike two.

I’ve put queries out to the other libraries that may have Pensacola newspapers from this time period in their holdings, including the Library of Congress, but they may not have updated their holdings list, or, they simply may not have the Pensacola Evening News, period.

Next, I’ll contact the CHB Floyd descendants again. Perhaps they found a collection of their ancestor’s published writing, or notes that would include something from 1912 since my last contact.

Cross your fingers. Something may turn up.

Meanwhile, I’ve been working on the logistics for the second research trip. What’s hard is narrowing my list of need-to-see from the want-to-see list because I simply don’t have an unrestricted amount of time when I visit. There’s so much I’d like to see, but I’m only going to have about week, maybe 10 days on the outside, to do it. Two and a half of those days are for traveling, as it is a 15 hour drive to Pensacola from here.


I’m having to prioritize what I can see/do on this trip. I’ll hit Pensacola, Chipley, Marianna, and (maybe, hopefully) Tallahassee. I had hoped to fit Gainesville in there, too, but it isn’t going to be possible.

I don’t know about you, but I have this tendency to overthink and overplan things and events before they happen. I’m trying not to do that, but it is a bit hard, because I have a big list of items I need to see in the archives this time. The last time I was in Pensacola, the Escambia Court Archives and Records building was closed due to hurricane damage the week before I got there. So, I’m having to make up for that missed visit.

Most of my time will be spent divided between Pensacola and Marianna, viewing holdings in the Escambia and Jackson county courthouse archives. Getting what I need to get done between business hours is the thing; as in, I’m worried that I won’t be able to accomplish what I need to do before I have to leave.

Hell, I could stay all night in an archive if someone would let me, and I’d finish. All I need is a blanket, a laptop, and coffee in a travel cup. I’d leave the place cleaner than I found it, just like a good scout. I’d even have a fresh pot of coffee and bagels in the office kitchen ready to go the next morning as a thank-you!

See, they use a LOT of legs for that legwork, AKA 'research assistants.' Otherwise, our friends Wes and Elyse, et al. would not be able to produce this show every week.

See, they use a LOT of legs for that legwork, AKA ‘research assistants.’ Otherwise, our friends Wes and Elyse, et al. would not be able to produce this show every week.

This is where I share with you my deep envy of the fact that the History Detectives have research assistants AND a budget for them! I so envy the fact that other historian-type writers, such as David McCullough, have research assistants AND a budget for them!

A colleague has suggested hiring a research assistant at the Gainesville and Tallahassee libraries to look the information up for me if I run out of time. It is a good option, but honestly, I much prefer to see this information for myself. I hate the idea of delegating that to a research assistant, because I don’t want to miss anything in the discovery process, including holding the same document that Emmett might have held in his hands once upon a time.

Still. Nowhere is it written that Emmett’s research must be done in one fell swoop, all by my lonesome; and in fact, much of my research has been about cooperation with many willing others who are simply glad to help. There are RAs on staff at these two libraries who would be more than willing to help me with this project. Some of these students who need the research experience for academic credit. It’s worth investigating.

Creative Sleuthing


When conducting research on obscure people, you encounter plenty of informational brick walls. These can be frustrating, but you don’t have to let them stand in your way.

Now known as the Myers-Wilson House in Chipley, Florida. Built in 1895.

Now known as the Myers-Wilson House in Chipley, Florida. Built in 1895.

My most recent information barrier centers on Emmett’s boyhood home.

The Wilson family lived in two houses during the late 1800s. The house I visited back in May (and shared with you) was built in 1895 by Dr. Wilson; by then, Emmett was 13 years old, there was a new Mrs. Wilson (Emmett’s mother had died), and two more children had come into the family (Emmett’s stepsisters).

But where did Emmett and his family live prior to 1895?

We know from the 1885 Florida Census that they were in the Chipley area; there were 10 children enumerated, so it had to have been a sizeable place.

But where was this place, Emmett’s childhood home?

To find out, what I did was take the 1885 Florida Census, and get the names of the Wilson’s neighbors. One thing I noticed is that on either side of the family, you had farmers. In fact, there are several farmers on this (and the pages immediately before and after the page with the Wilsons). Chipley was (and still is) a small town, but it was a ‘town.’ If they were within the city limits, it seems logical that the immediate neighbors would have occupations that were not ‘farms.’

I compared the neighbors’ names to those on the 1900 Federal Census. Sure enough, two of the neighbors who were almost right next door to the Wilsons in the 1885 Census, are still there. They haven’t moved. They are also still listed as farmers.

The 1900 Federal Census also does not provide the street name, but now, I can take the two neighbors’ names and check with the Washington County property records to see where these were located exactly.

When I find out those locations, I can then check the property records for the surrounding area for original owners and tenants. I’ve got a query in with my colleagues in Washington County; I’ll let you know how this strategy worked out.

For what it is worth: No, I didn’t get this strategy from the History Detectives. But if it works, I’m going to recommend it.

Tracking the Obscure

Is this for real? I love it, regardless!

Is this for real? I love it, regardless!

This last week I’ve been tracking down an elusive document in Emmett Wilson’s research; specifically, a copy of a eulogy given for him at the annual Elk’s Lodge memorial service, held on December 2, 1918. It’s obscure, folks. So what else is new? LOL!

All these obscure leads I’ve been following make me think I could apply for the History Detective’s badge by now, if one truly exists. Have you ever seen one of these? Covet!

Not to complain, but I’ll bet you a lifetime membership with my local PBS station that the History Detectives hosts do a fraction of the actual research on each story they produce. They have research assistants helping them; I hope they appreciate those RAs. Hell. My institution barely has a budget for research.

As you know, I do my own legwork and nitpicking on Emmett’s research, and I’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t in tracking obscure data. I’d like to share a few research strategies that have been helpful:

1.  Background information can be just as important as direct subject information. I have spent months reading microfilm issues of his hometown newspapers. This is a tedious, labor intensive process, folks, but I have gathered a lot of information on Emmett’s friends and colleagues — basically, I am learning about Emmett on a personal level through his friends.  This is how I found out about the Elk Lodge memorial service — there was a brief mention about this ceremony in one of the 1917 papers. It occurred to me that Emmett may have also been eulogized in 1918.



I contacted the Florida Elks organization; the Pensacola Lodge (Emmett’s group) had unfortunately surrendered its charter a few years back after 100 years of existence. The historian told me he had few archival records from that Lodge. But, indeed, there is a ceremony held each year to honor Elks who died. Emmett likely was honored in that way.

Score! The December 1918 microfilm of the Pensacola Journal  had a writeup of the ceremony, a little bit of the actual eulogy, and a next step lead: The eulogy was given by Emmett’s friend, Robert H. Anderson, who had been a pall bearer at his funeral. The article indicated Anderson gave a much longer speech for Emmett than what was printed. He probably wrote it himself (because he was Emmett’s close friend), and because Emmett was a former Congressman, it might exist somewhere. That’s the story behind my latest quest.

2. Studying Emmett’s friends gives clues about the person he was, and in what regard he was held. One of the big holes in my research is that I have very little of Emmett’s personal writing. One doesn’t wish to infer without concrete facts, but one way to gather information about Emmett as a person is to study the people with whom he socialized. In reading about the parties and social events Emmett and his friends attended, I learn more about who was important to Emmett’s in his life (for instance, Emmett was best man at two different weddings, so far that I’ve found).

For the past few days I’ve been focusing on Anderson. A general Google search brought up   his biography in the USGenWeb archives. Basic details there reveal that Anderson was a man of importance in both political and legal circles, and worked for Henry Flagler‘s Florida’s East Coast Railroad. Anderson graduated from Stetson University about eight years after Emmett; also, right after Emmett died in May, 1918, Anderson moved to Jacksonville.

I’ve been in direct correspondence with the Jacksonville Historical Society, and the Jacksonville Elks. This week, I’ll follow up with Stetson and Jacksonville University, on the chance that Anderson’s papers and memorabilia may have been donated there; perhaps Emmett’s eulogy would be in those documents. You never know until you ask. (FYI, Anderson is only one of several of Emmett’s friends and family members I’ve tried tracking down.)

Sample image of ArchiveGrid's site. Source:

Sample image of ArchiveGrid’s site. Source:

3. Don’t be discouraged if you hit one or several brick walls in the process. One database I like to use is ArchiveGrid, which is a list of archive holdings in institutions in the U.S. and other countries. The thing is, not every institution is tied into ArchiveGrid. For instance, an initial search for Robert H. Anderson with ArchiveGrid indicated no holdings at member libraries or university institutions. Just because you can’t find someone in one or two databases doesn’t mean information is nonexistent. This often means you need to contact university archives and others on your own. This is why I’m following up with Stetson and Jacksonville Universities this week; they are participants with ArchiveGrid, but they may have new additions to their holdings and, their records may not be updated on the service. One never knows. Again, you just have to ask.

4. Don’t let rudeness stop you, either. Folks, I have been blessed in that out of the hundreds of people I’ve spoken with and emailed with regard to Emmett’s research, I can count only THREE different occasions where someone flatly turned me down and was rude about it — two of those were from the same person who, unfortunately has dementia (and I did not know it). Yeah, it hurt my feelings when it happened, but I couldn’t let it derail my work. If someone doesn’t want to help you, I can pretty much guarantee you will find several who will. If you are polite and professional about asking, you will have success.

Alumni helping faculty! Go Terps! Source:

Alumni helping faculty! Go Terps! Source:

With Anderson’s inquiries, one of the Jacksonville contacts turned out to be a U of Maryland alumni, and she said she was thrilled to help a faculty member! She wasn’t able to provide data, but she did recommend a few places to contact that may have other leads.

Emmett’s story is coming together, one lead and one contact at a time. Slow going, but definitely progress. I think he’d be pleased.

I hope these suggestions are helpful. Feel free to comment or add your own in the comment box, below.