Lula Wilson, poet & musician
The more I dig into Emmett’s family, the more incredible back stories I find about those who loved him best.
For instance, his sister-in-law, Lula, was a poet and musician. She had a song published in 1928, which was similar to having a tune go viral via social media today.
Lula was talented, tactful, thoughtful, tough. I imagine some of that remarkable expressive creativity was the result of living with her husband (Emmett’s older brother), Cephas Love Wilson. She had to create her own Eden, since life with Ceph could be Hell on Earth.
Lula was born in 1873, in Chicago, Illinois, to Louis and Margaret McArdle Wiselogel. Wiselogel moved his family to Chipley, Florida, in the mid-1870s to take advantage of business opportunities (he was a successful blacksmith and wagon-builder).
Lula met Cephas in Chipley, where they were married. Later, they moved to Marianna, where Cephas’ career as a lawyer, judge, state senator and politician took off. Lula and Cephas had two children, Cephas Jr. and Kathleen.
Being married to Cephas was not easy; for starters, this was a man with a large legal practice spread across several counties in West Florida, so he was away from home for days or weeks at a time, especially when the Legislature was in session in Tallahassee. Speaking of Tallahassee, Cephas had his eye on the governor’s mansion. The higher he climbed politically, the more time he spent out and about, away from home. Therefore, Lula was, in effect, a single parent for long periods.
The Florida governor’s mansion, 1912, also known as “Ceph’s Dream House.” This building was torn down in 1955 because it was structurally unsound. The current mansion was rebuilt on the same site. Source: http://www.floridagovernorsmansion.com
Speaking of getting around, Cephas had a reputation for courting women despite still being married. One state editor who was not impressed with the Hon. Cephas Love Wilson, Esq., wrote a feature item about how Ceph was about to board a train home to Marianna, but at the last minute, snuck off to a young woman’s house — someone he’d only met a few days earlier — for romance. The Marianna Times-Courier didn’t pick up the exchange, but the Pensacola Evening News did, and the Wilsons subscribed to both.
He loves the women. Source: Pensacola Evening News, August 12, 1912.
I can imagine what dinner was like at the Wilson house the next day after the article came out: Lula handed Ceph the afternoon edition of the Pensacola Evening News, opened right to the story. Lula then handed him a cup of coffee — but did she hand him the scalding hot coffee or drop it right in his lap? Oops.
I doubt the article was news to Lula. She wasn’t stupid. Also, this was probably not the first time Ceph did some extracurricular schlorting in his district; other married men probably did the same thing. But outing Cephas’ activities in the papers for all the world to see, and the resulting public humiliation Lula must have endured, was probably the last straw. She took matters into her own hands, and (according to family records) filed for divorce.
This would be a problem for gubernatorial wannabe Cephas, and an even bigger problem for Emmett, especially if it was filed at the same time state Democratic Party execs decided to back their obscure dark horse candidate, Emmett Wilson, as U.S. Congressman. If word got out about the divorce in the Wilson family, the sins of one brother could easily be visited on the other, especially since Emmett was young, unknown, and had problems staying sober.
Interestingly, Lula didn’t go through with the divorce. I’m not sure if someone talked her out of it; I know it must have been a tough, yet necessary decision.
Although everyone in West Florida who knew the Wilsons would have agreed that Lula had reason to file for divorce, common sense told her that she would have the most to lose if she went through with it. A divorce would negatively impact her daughter Kathleen’s standing in society and future marriage prospects. Also, financially, Lula would be on her own, and likely, without custody of her children. I don’t think the idea of being self-sufficient bothered Lula, but she was sensitive to what others may say to her elderly parents about the situation, or how her teenage children would be affected, and she was protective of them.
The fact Lula withdrew her divorce petition was not a sign of weakness. Deciding to stick it out with someone who didn’t respect her in order to protect her loved ones required an incredibly strong character. She didn’t like it, but she didn’t dwell on it, either. Instead, Lula got busy.
Lula channeled her energies into several major community and public services. One example: Lula established and organized the Marianna chapter of the American Red Cross in 1917 (although The Pensacola Journal erroneously credited that to Cephas). The successful Marianna chapter was the model for the Pensacola chapter, as Lula was invited to lead the setup in Escambia County later that year.
WWI Red Cross volunteers in Florida rolling bandages. Very likely Lula was instrumental in setting up this group. Source: State Archives of Florida
Lula found her happiness and fulfillment in doing good for others.
And Cephas? He doggedly pursued his dream: Cephas told reporters for years that the one thing he truly wanted in his life was to be Governor of Florida. He ran for the office twice, but withdrew before the first primary for either race. The public reason he gave both times was that his business and family were his first priorities, and the race was distracting. I kinda doubt that, because Ceph was a master politician. He could have handled being governor. Hell, he could have handled being congressman. What I think happened was that his extracurricular personal life was an addiction of sorts that got in the way of his professional life. Similar to what happened with Emmett and alcohol.
Lula remained married to Cephas until he died in June, 1923. She remarried about two years later. She found happiness. I hope she found love. I think she did; she was now channeling her energy into music and poetry, which resulted in her getting her song published. Nowhere is there a mention of her first married name.
“Chipola River” by Mrs. Lulu (Lula) May Grether. Source: Floridasheetmusic.com
Well done, Lula.