Hildur Dahlstrom Beall

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Our next installment on Emmett’s secretaries features Hildur (or Hilda) Dahlstrom Beall (1892-1975). According to my research, Hildur was Emmett’s secretary in some capacity from about 1910 to 1914, but she was primarily Walter Kehoe’s secretary (as he was the one paying her salary, as you’ll see further on in our story).

Hildur was born in August 1892 in Nebraska, the daughter of Swedish immigrants Gustavus and Lida Dahlstrom.

According to the U.S. Census for 1900, the Dahlstroms were living in Saunders, Nebraska, where Gustavus (who was also known as Gus) was a traveling salesman for sewing machines. But it must not have been successful, because an advertisement in the June 28, 1910 issue of The Pensacola Journal indicates that he had a successful fruit and lunch business in Pensacola for 10 years:

A want ad in the June, 28, 1910 issue of The Pensacola Journal indicates Gus had a successful fruit and lunch business in Pensacola for 10 years when he decided to sell it and move to another state. Source: ChroniclingAmerica.gov

Hildur lived with her parents at 1013 E. Jackson, and upon graduation from Pensacola’s public schools, attended Minnie Kehoe’s stenography/business school. Her first job was at Pensacola Office Equipment Company:

Hildur’s first job out of steno school. Source: The Pensacola City Directory, 1909, via Ancestry.com

During this time, Gus had his house, 1013 N. Jackson Street, on the market — and it had been on the market since 1907:

The Dahlstrom house was put on the market in late 1906. Gus had a hard time trying to sell this house, as the listing ran on and off for years between 1906 and 1910.

The Dahlstrom’s house at 1013 E Jackson in Pensacola is still standing — it was built in 1900 — and is charming. I wonder why Gus had such a hard time selling it? Source: GoogleMaps

By 1911, the house still unsold, Gus was ready to move on:

From the December 26, 1911 issue of The Pensacola Journal. Gus’ house sat unsold for five years by this time. Maybe it was because of the price, which didn’t change in the five years it was on the market. Source: ChroniclingAmerica.gov

Hildur continued to live at home with her parents until they moved to Texas. She chose to remain in Pensacola working as a stenographer (and a notary) for the law firm of Kehoe and Wilson:

From the Pensacola City Directory, 1911. Source: Ancestry.com 

By 1913, Hildur is living in a boarding house owned by John Gautesen, and is the stenographer for Walter Kehoe, now in solo law practice. And Emmett is in Washington, D.C., as U.S. Congressman. Source: The Pensacola City Directory, 1913 via Ancestry.com

Kehoe’s law office is probably where she met her future husband, Phillip Dane Beall, who was a good friend of both Walter and Emmett, and a bricklayer-turned-prominent lawyer, and secretary to a U.S. District Judge:

Phillip Beall in 1913. Source: Florida State Archive.

Here is where our story gets interesting.

Interesting details to parse in this article! Source: The Pensacola Journal, June 12, 1914.

According to The Pensacola Journal, for June 12, 1914, Hildur (or Hilda) was a ‘stenographer for Congressman Emmett Wilson for several years,’ which is not correct. First, we can prove Hildur wasn’t a resident of Washington, D.C., where Emmett was for the majority of his first term in office: She’s not listed in any of the Washington, D.C. city directories, nor is she named in the Congressional administrative records for Emmett’s first term. Nope. Sure, she worked with Emmett while he was Kehoe’s junior partner in Pensacola, but to hint she was consistently his stenographer, as if this was an ongoing or regular job for her, is incorrect.

For the record, Emmett’s secretary in Washington, D.C. was Jefferson Davis Stephens, which is reflected in both the Congressional administrative records and the Washington, D.C. city directories. It’s possible that Emmett may have hired additional stenographers, but if he did, they would be listed in the Congressional administrative records.

And because Emmett was close friends with Phillip Beale and knew Hildur for a few years, it made sense that he’d attend their wedding.

But what was Hildur doing in Washington? Certainly not to bring him home to her wedding.

A second article in the June 14, 1914 issue of The Pensacola Journal indicates that Emmett made the trip to Pensacola on the same train as Hildur.

Hildur she was likely dispatched to Washington a few months before her wedding to help Stephens manage Emmett on Capitol Hill.

At this point in 1914, Stephens had his hands completely full. Not only was he the de facto congressman the Third Congressional District while Emmett was, um, indisposed most of the time, he was preparing to graduate Georgetown University Law School. Stephens has big plans which did not necessarily include Emmett (and which we’ll talk about in my next post on Emmett’s secretaries featuring Stephens).

I’m convinced Hildur knew Emmett’s and the Florida Democratic Party’s secret; i.e., that Emmett was a political train wreck about to happen, that the party needed to hold on to that seat by any means necessary, and that she could be trusted to keep her mouth shut, help prop Emmett until he either sobered up or a new candidate was selected.

In any rate, after the wedding, Hildur and Phillip Beall settled down in a house at 1505 E Gadsden in Pensacola, and Hildur apparently did not return to work. She raised two sons, Phillip Jr. and Kirke. Phillip Sr. died in 1964; Huldur in 1975.

I wish I knew if Huldur kept a journal or there exists any correspondence from her time working with Emmett Wilson during the early 1900s, and while Emmett was in Congress.

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Whoa, Nellie!

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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.

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!)

133 and Holding

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Today is Emmett Wilson’s 133rd birthday!

I’ve been wracking my brain to come up with something clever, that does not feel contrived, to honor this auspicious day.

Most of the reason for the lack of inspiration is the residual mental crispiness of burnout from all the writing this past week. Yesterday, I wrote an 18-page ‘false start.’

Anne Lamott talks about ‘false starts’ as part of the natural development of the story in the writing process. But they can be frustrating. We get an idea, we go with it, and after getting it all down on paper, we realize that out of all of that text, only one, maybe two lines, are ‘gold.’ The rest is crap.

But the little bit of ‘gold’ that came out of my 18 pages of crap is pretty good, if I say so myself.  God, grant me the strength to endure this L-O-N-G this process.


I digress. The topic is, Emmett Wilson, Birthday Boy.

I am in search of way to celebrate this man’s natal day. After all, had he not been born, I would not be sitting here, 133 years later, on a quest to tell his story.

A cake, perhaps? Not with 133 candles, though. I’m sure that would be in violation of some local fire code here in Maryland.

Maybe one with a heartfelt, perhaps humorous message.

Did Emmett's family and friends consider this approach? Source: Sheknows.com

Did Emmett’s family and friends consider this approach?
Source: Sheknows.com

Or this? Source: Buzzfeed.com

Or this? Source: Buzzfeed.com

Probably not. Source: marinerfan.buzznet.com

Emmett wouldn’t get this one. What he missed out on by not living to 133 in the 20th century! Source: marinerfan.buzznet.com

OK. A message cake is a bad idea. What about a card?

Not applicable, is it? He didn't own a car, anyway. Source: someecards.com

Not applicable, is it? He didn’t own a car, anyway. Source: someecards.com

Wonder what he'd think of e-cards anyway? Source: someecards.com

Wonder what he’d think of e-cards? Source: someecards.com

I doubt he'd care about his horoscope. Source: desiglitters.com

I doubt he’d care about his horoscope. Source: desiglitters.com

What about a retrospective? What was he doing 100 years ago today, when he turned 33?

Well…it turns out it might not have been such a great day for him. This is what was going on the week of his birthday:

He was home from Washington, D.C, in between congressional sessions, in Pensacola, but not at home, per se. He had to move into the San Carlos Hotel. Now, you may think that’s not such a bad thing; it was a great place to stay, one of the best on the Gulf Coast. But, it wasn’t home.

Jefferson Davis Stephens' campaign photo. He ran for Emmett's seat while still serving as Emmett's private secretary. I wonder if that was awkward for them in the office. Source: The Pensacola Journal, 1908

Jefferson Davis Stephens’ campaign photo. He ran for Emmett’s seat while still serving as Emmett’s private secretary. I wonder if that was awkward for them in the office. Source: The Pensacola Journal, 1908

Emmett’s ‘home’ had always been with his friends, the Kehoe’s.

And in 1915, J. Walter Kehoe, Emmett’s ‘best friend,’ had decided to run for Emmett’s office. To avoid any conflict of interest, Emmett had to move out of his ‘home’ for the duration of the campaign.

To make it more awkward, Emmett’s own private secretary, Jefferson Davis Stephens, was also running for his office.

The election was eight months away.

That had to be weird. And in moving to the San Carlos away from what was his ‘home,’ Emmett had worked so hard to become a member of the political inner circle — and he made it — only to be ousted in less than three years, and effectively branded an outsider.

Also, he’d almost died several months earlier from kidney failure, related to cirrhosis. The kidney damage was permanent, and his doctors had told him, by now, you have maybe five years tops, if you take care of yourself — which he didn’t. So, you know he wasn’t feeling good at this point in his life.

He might have had a birthday celebration, and his friends may have come together to honor him. I hope so. I hate thinking he had this sad life, but he made some poor choices, and so, had to live with the consequences.


Here’s what I’m going to do to honor his birthday this year.

Blessed Sacrament, Washington, DC

Blessed Sacrament, Washington, DC

At 11 am this morning, at my parish in Washington, DC, there will be a Mass said for the repose of the soul of Emmett Wilson. I know. He wasn’t Catholic, but that doesn’t matter in my faith. We believe we should pray for the souls of everyone.

I have to admit here (and don’t tell Pope Francis or my pastor), but I really don’t believe in Purgatory. My personal thought is that it is mostly a Catholic invention to scare a lot of kids into being good, and not because being good is the right thing to do.

But, like a lot of things in life, I may be wrong. Who knows if there is such a thing? What if there is?

Whatever. It can’t hurt. A Mass is a good gift. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Happy Birthday, Emmett!

Surprised? Pope Frank isn't in town yet, but this is in the vestibule. I have to say that it is rather realistic, especially since the vestibule is a little dark. I jumped when I saw it, thinking it the real thing. Then, I recovered quickly and snapped this for the fun of it.

P.S. Surprised? Pope Frank isn’t in town yet, but this is in the Blessed Sacrament vestibule. It is rather realistic cardboard Pope, especially since the vestibule is a little dark. I jumped when I saw it, thinking this was the Real Deal! LOL. Yeah, I have middle-aged eyes. But, I recovered quickly and snapped this for the fun of it.