Chapter 41: For once, I feel at ease

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Christmas Day, 1900, The Wilson Home,
Chipley, Florida

Have you ever seen pictures of seated royalty on their thrones? The ones featuring a king, with princes and other members of the royal family seated around a central authority figure in descending order of power?

If you stood Father’s front yard that afternoon, and saw how the male members of my family were seated on the porch, you’d understand who was in power in our family — and — to a certain degree, West Florida politics.

A.E. Maxwell, who also went by “Emmett;” our Emmett’s role model & hero. Photo taken about 1900. Source: FloridaMemory.com

In the center is my grandfather, Augustus Emmett Maxwell, whom friends called ‘Emmett’. He sits in a wicker easy chair, a toddy next to him on a table, and his cane hooked over the arm of his chair. Grandfather Maxwell is tall, but he has become stooped in old age, and lack of regular exercise over the years has put weight on his frame.

Grandfather Maxwell is listening thoughtfully, with his chin in his hand, in a posture I recognize from his days on the Florida Supreme Court bench, to Walter Kehoe talking about the Florida House election this coming January.

Although Walter had campaigned hard for the Florida House seat — and won — he resigned soon after the election when Governor William D. Bloxham asked him to serve as State’s Attorney upon the death of John H. McKinne, the previous State’s Attorney. Walter, who has long eyed a congressional seat at the U.S. House of Representatives, sas this as an opportunity that would eventually lead to that higher office later on.

The Weekly Tallahassean, November 22, 1900. Source: ChroniclingAmerica.gov

My Father is seated on Grandfather’s right, holding a whiskey in his right hand. Father occasionally glances at Grandfather Maxwell with a look of concern; he murmurs something to Grandfather now and then, to gain assurance that he is comfortable. Although my Mother had been deceased for almost 10 years, the relationship between Grandfather Maxwell and my Father remains unchanged: Close, respectful. Father does not have the same relationship with his current father-in-law, the Rev. Thomas E. Langley; nor does he try to develop it into anything more than what it is: Distant, but polite. 

Father, Grandfather, Walter.

Triumvirate.

Next to Walter is my brother, Cephas, recently re-elected State Senator for Jackson County. 

The Weekly Tallahassean, October 4, 1900. Source: ChroniclingAmerica.gov

Ceph sits quietly, one leg crossed over the other, in another wicker easy chair on the porch, a drink in his hand, also listening to Walter, occasionally nodding at some point or the other. When Father isn’t looking at Grandfather Maxwell, he will glance over at Cephas, admiringly. Father does this unconsciously. And sometimes, when I see Father doing this, I have to look away. I desperately want Father to look at me like that: With utter pride.

My brother Percy, a physician, who apprenticed with my Father before attending medical school in Mobile, sits on my Father’s right; my brother Meade, a conductor with the P&A division of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad, is on Cephas’ right. They, like my Father, also are involved in county politics, serving as election clerks, and on local Democratic executive committees — they are foot soldiers in state politics, as Cephas would says; not anything to be dismissed, because all political work eventually paves the way to important connections and positions. My other brother Frank, who works for the M. & M. Railroad, isn’t here; he told Father he had to work over the holidays.

Percy lives in Sneads, a small community north of Chipley, with his wife Bonnie; Meade lives in Pensacola with his wife, Carrie.

On the outermost periphery of the family circle is me, my twin brother Julian, and our oldest brother, Max.  Julian and I sit on the porch steps. Max is closer to the men in the semi-circle, but seated on a footstool, next to Meade. The older men don’t expect those of us on the periphery to say anything, because we are rarely asked to contribute.

Augustus Maxwell Wilson, oldest son of Dr. F.C. and Elizabeth Wilson. Source: Florida Memory.com

Max’s rightful place should be next to Father, or Walter, particularly as Max was a second-term state representative for Calhoun County. But Max’s position on the porch during family gatherings depends on whether he is in or out of favor with my Father — and on this day, he’s out. Father’s problem with Max is his inconsistency. Max is a good fellow but comes across as directionless — except for one thing: Max has spent his life trying to please Father. So, instead of finding a line of work he truly enjoys, he’s become a ‘chaser of rainbows,’ according to my brothers. Max also drinks heavily and has more of a reputation as a drinker instead anything else, which I know troubles Father to no end. Today, Max is seated on the footstool, mostly ignored. I think he knows it, but Max is playing the game, pretending not to notice being on the outside.

“Any progress on the new primary election law, Walter?” Father asked.

“Mostly talk right now, nothing definite,” Walter said. “No one will ever publicly say that they were against the Democratic process, but should the primaries be turned over to the general electorate, most of the party leaders who enjoyed the perks of office would be out.”

“The masses favor it, and no man who enjoys his current place in Democratic leadership would dare come out and gainsay them,” Father said.

“And yet, the country masses are fools,” Cephas said. “They would elect some uncultured bumpkin to do their bidding. Another Abraham Lincoln,” he added, shaking his head with contempt.”

“The masses may seem foolish on the outside, but it would be wrong to discount them,” Father said, glancing over at Grandfather, who sits in silence, his arms crossed, his faced bowed, listening.

“And how does one convince the masses that the current system is acceptable?” Meade asked. “The electors are not fools. They know how candidates are made — bought, actually,”  he said, as a bottle of Irish whiskey is passed to him by Walter. Meade refills his glass, and passes the bottle to back to Walter.

“Ah,” Walter said, as he pours a generous helping of the whiskey into his own glass. “That is the key, is it not? The language we propose to use in the bill will be cunning enough….”

“And the legislature will still refuse it,” Grandfather said, quietly. “Pity.”

At that moment, footsteps were heard coming from the side yard; it was Paul Carter, who had cut through our adjoining back yards, to join the group on the porch.

The men all greeted my best friend with friendly words, handshakes. Two of my brothers stood up to shake his hand; even Cephas rose partially out of his seat for Paul.  My Grandfather clasped Paul’s hand, giving him a kind look.

“Have a seat over with Emmett,” Father said to Paul, nodding over at me on the porch step. As Paul sat next to me, he nods. “Merry Christmas.” 

“The same to you,” I reply.

Paul fiddles with his shoelaces as we listened to the men talk alternatively about saving their current positions of power, keeping the election out of the hands of the unwashed masses, protecting the status quo.

I watch as Paul shakes his head, a frown on his face, as he listens. Then, he blurts: “This is insanity.” He stands up, and faces my family on the porch.

“What is it?” Grandfather asks, quietly.

“You must be kidding — the current system can’t last forever, this committee process of selecting the candidates for election in Florida. It is insanity, and you know it,”  Paul said.

There was an uncomfortable silence on the porch, as my brothers moved in their seats, looking away from Paul. But Meade asks,“What do you mean?” 

“It will change, all of it,” Paul said firmly, looking first at Meade, then at the rest of the men on the porch. “People — the general voting public — will soon understand what the definition of a dictator is, and they will come to see that this committee selection process in Florida is nothing short of that — take a look at what is happening in Europe,” Paul said. “Take a look at our own history, if you will. When the general voting public understands that their leadership resembles that of King George, that it is for the wealthy and privileged, and not the everyday man, that it is not truly representative of our nation’s populace, there will be a turnover. And, it will happen. You ought to prepare for that eventuality. Make the change part of your platform, or prepare to lose your place.”

No one spoke for a few moments. The silence grew uncomfortably. Paul shook his head at them.

“Let me ask everyone,” Paul said. “Do you believe in democracy for all, or only when it is convenient for you and your family’s personal interests?”

Cephas put his drink down on the table and stood up to face Paul. “What the hell? Of course not,” he retorts. “Of course I  believe in democracy for everyone; we all do,” as my brothers nodded slightly, but not looking at Paul.

Minnie was a trailblazer for professional women. She knew she had to keep her cool even in the face of cads, whereas I would have just told them where to go.

“How about for women who own businesses and have to pay taxes just like menfolk, like Walter’s sisters?” Paul added, nodding over at Walter, who is listening to the exchange with a frown. “Don’t they deserve to have a say about how their tax dollars are spent? It’s the same dollar, by the way, not a male dollar or female dollar. I’ll bet your sister Minnie would agree,” he added.

Cephas sighs. “I see your point, Paul and I agree with it to a certain extent, but…”

“But nothing, Ceph. Democracy is either for all, or it is not. Some of the changes coming may not exactly be popular with the stand-patters, such as yourself. That’s not progressive democracy. Some of our politicians are mostly paying lip service to it.” At that, Walter shifts uncomfortably in his seat.  “Whether you truly support a progressive democratic platform or not remains to be seen. I’m afraid you are part of the problem, though, Ceph; you are looking after your own comfort, not policies that work for the greater good.”

“That’s easy for someone like you to say,” Max retorts. “You have money, position, you aren’t dependent on anyone…”

“I could lose all of that at any moment, just like anyone else,” he said, quietly. The sorrowful image of Paul’s face when he was cleaning out his father’s office flashed in my mind. I can tell Paul is also thinking of his father….

From The Chipley Banner, January 14, 1899, page 3. Source: ChroniclingAmerica.gov

Walter raises his eyebrow, with a little look of surprise at Paul, then he looks at me. Percy and Meade have shocked looks on their faces, they turn to look at Father, who is simpassive, and then at Cephas, scowling.

But Grandfather Maxwell has a quiet, wry smile on his face.

“Spoken like a true statesman,” Grandfather Maxwell says quietly, nodding at Paul. “Your father would be proud of you.”

The tension of the moment quickly abates. Paul clears his voice, pulls the sleeves of his suit coat. “Excuse me,” he says. “I apologize if I was rude and overspoke. I’ll take my leave.”

The men on the porch, still stunned by Paul’s outburst, murmur their goodbyes and wishes for a Merry Christmas to Paul as he turns and walks down the sidewalk, towards town.

“Excuse me,” I say to my Father and Grandfather, who nod their permission for me to leave.

I start down the porch steps, and catch up with Paul, who was already halfway down the block walking at an easy, comfortable pace despite the tension back on my Father’s porch. We continue in silence to the corner of 6th and Railroad Streets, then stop at the corner and looked around. All we can see are the closed-up shops, but there are a few men further down the street near the depot, walking about. There is no traffic, everyone was somewhere else.

Paul pulls his silver case out of his coat pocket, and offers me a cigarette. We both take one, and take turns lighting our cigarettes from his lucifer.

I take a deep draw, and exhale, blowing a long stream of cigarette smoke upward into the dark blue sky.

“I can’t believe what you did back there, and what you said in front of everyone. You had Cephas speechless for a change,” I say, with a chuckle.

Paul chuckled too. “Tell you the truth, Em, I’m a little stunned myself at what came out of me in front of your Grandfather, and Kehoe, too. But I am sincere about every single thing I said. Change is coming in our political environment. We have to coexist with it, or we lose the chance to make a real difference for our citizenry. You believe that, don’t you?”

“Yes; of course I do. But I never would have said it like that in front of them.”

“Well, why not? You either truly support democracy or you don’t. We certainly debated it back at the Seminary in often enough.”

“Well…” I hesitate.

“Well what?”

“I don’t know; I would have offended pretty much everyone on the porch.”

“Come on. It’s the truth. How is the truth offensive? It’s just the truth. I doubt seriously you and I, and your Grandfather, are the only ones who think this, by the way. For instance, Cephas. He knows what’s going on elsewhere in the country, in other state legislatures. He must know it is only a matter of time before United States Senators will be elected instead of appointed. For God’s sake, Kehoe’s on the damn committee looking into the change.”

I say nothing as we start to walk down the empty sidewalk. 

“So, what it is that you believe, Emmett?”

“All I know, all I’ve learned from Cephas, from watching my brothers, from listening to Kehoe and even to my Grandfather, is that I have to succeed, to avoid failure, to make it to the top, and to do that, I have to play this political game. So, it doesn’t matter, really, what I feel, or think, does it?  How is it that I’m supposed to speak up for what it is I truly believe in, when in fact, the route to success in our chosen profession is to live a lie the entire time to get to where it is we want to be? How is that logical?”

“I don’t know. But it’s not always like that.”

“I just…. I wish I didn’t care. I hate the games playing,” I take a last deep drag off of my cigarette, exhaled the smoke, and throw the butt into the rutted dirt road.

“You know, I don’t think it is completely like that,” Paul said. “I agree that the road to the judiciary is like playing a game. But it is that way with most goals we set for ourselves. And I really don’t think you have to check your integrity at the door. I know my Father never did when he was on the bench; even his friends used to tell me that he was one of the most trusted lawyers in West Florida. It took him a long time to get to where he was, though, because he didn’t sell out to the factions and he didn’t play games.”

“I remember,” I said.

“I know that you want to get to where you’re going fast,” Paul adds. “You’ll get there. But not tomorrow. Maybe not for a few years, and that’s just being logical. I think you know this already.”

“Well. It’s all probably moot anyway.”

“What do you mean?” Paul asked.

“Father has this idea I’m going to work for him in the pharmacy as soon as I’m done at the Seminary. The idea of working for Father day in and day out here in Chipley…” I shook my head. “I can’t do it, Paul. I can barely stand being here for the Christmas break much less the idea of living here permanently. I’ll go out of my mind.”

“How did he come to that decision?”

“I don’t know. But he told me, in front of Walter, that it was an ideal situation, and he’s pleased. And for the first time, I feel like I have my Father’s approval.”

“Emmett, for as long as I’ve known you, you’ve done what other people have told you what to do. Where to work, because they think it is a good opportunity for you. What to study, because they think it would be useful for you. What to think, even…”

“Now wait a minute…”

“You do what a lot of other people — mostly your family — say, because they have your best interests at heart. But, I don’t think they really know you, or what you want, or what makes you happy.”

“They think I can be happy once I get settled down and become successful.”

“Look, Em, I can see you as a lawyer. You definitely have the intelligence and mindset for it. Your Father may not be thrilled about it at first, but you’ll eventually have his support. I know your Grandfather would approve. Cephas would; certainly Walter. You won’t be alone, you know.”

“Father would think that I’ve wasted time and money.”

“What if you went all the way through, for four years at the Seminary, then figured out you wanted to go to law school? Think of all the money you would have spent on a degree that you really didn’t want.”

“True,” I said.

“I take it you’ve decided what you want to do.”

“Yes. Finish out the Sophomore year — and transfer to Stetson.”

He nods. “We’ll be there together, you know. We’ll have a grand time.”

I grin at Paul. “We will.”

I chuck him on the shoulder as we walk toward the Chipley depot.

For the first time since I’ve been home, I feel at ease.

Chapter 36: News to me

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December 22, 1900
Dr. Francis C. Wilson’s Office, Downtown Chipley

Continued from here.

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I climbed the stairs and paused at the top; my heart was pounding.  I closed my eyes, and counted to ten; rubbed the center of my chest. Touched the liquor flask hidden in my coat pocket. After a few moments, I was calm. 

As I walked down the hall, I noticed three other offices in the second-floor hallway; an insurance broker, two lawyers. Father’s office was in the front of the building overlooking the street.

I heard male voices in spirited conversation inside; one was Father’s. I hesitated; my hand on the door knob. Get a grip, I told myself. 

I took a breath, then opened the door.

It was a two-room office, simple but well appointed. The room had a small settee and a desk with a lamp, and a file cabinet behind the desk. There was a small plant on top of the file cabinet next to the window. A nurse was seated at desk; she glanced up from the papers in front of her.  She recognized me.

“Good afternoon, Emmett. How are you?”

“Fine, Miss Tharpe.”

She stood up. “Would you like to see your father? I’ll let him know you are here.”

“Is he in with a patient?”

“No. Just a moment.” She knocked gently on the door, then opened it, excusing herself.

“Dr. Wilson, one of your sons is here to see you.”

“Thank you, Tharpe. Send him in.” 

The nurse stood aside as I passed through, then closed the door behind me.

“Well, Emmett. Here you are. How was your trip from Tallahassee?” Father stood up and shook hands with me.

“Fine, thank you.”

A photo of Dr. Wilson on call in front of the W.O. Butler House. Chipley, Florida, 1911

Father is tall, stately, dignified. He has a calm, noble bearing; always unflappable, impassive, regardless of what’s happening, regardless of emergency, when all Hell is breaking out around him. If I had one word to describe him, it would be consistent. I think that’s why he has such a large, loyal patient base. He knows how to put people at ease. He’s always been that way with everyone. But me.

I’ve always thought Father resembled his old commander, Robert E. Lee:  Father is bald on top with a fringe of white hair circling his head from ear-to-ear, with white mustaches and a beard. Father served loyally under Lee at Appomattox. Indeed, Father venerated Lee as a personal hero, unconsciously modeling himself after the old general, who had had a reputation of being unflappable in the face of danger and distress.

A friendly, jovial, Irish voice blurted out behind me: “Well, Emmett, it is good to see you!”

Father nodded cordially at his friend, who stood beaming at me, his hand outstretched to take mine.

A young J. Walter Kehoe, 1899, as photographed from the Bench and Bar of the State of Florida. Source: Florida Memory

“Hello Walter,” I said, clasping his hand. 

Walter Kehoe is my brother Cephas’ law partner in Marianna and a long-time family friend, although it has been several months since I’ve seen him. 

Walter is one of the most important lawyers and politicians in West Florida; he is also Cephas’ closest, most trusted friend. Walter often refers to me as his younger brother though we are not related at all. Regardless of the fact he is always busy, and involved in serious and important issues, Walter has always taken time to talk to me about everyday things. I’ve never asked him for advice or help with anything, but I know that if I ever needed it, he would be there for me, no questions asked. 

Walter’s bio from the biographical information provided by U.S. Congressional Archive. Note the fact a special act of the Florida State Legislature was necessary to allow him to practice law because of his youth.

Walter is truly brilliant. Even Cephas is in awe of Walter’s intelligence, which is saying something, because Cephas is often too busy thinking about himself. Don’t get me wrong: Cephas is very smart, too. But with Walter, the brilliance is innate; his practice of the law feels completely natural, comfortable, and effortless. The other thing about Walter is that he wants to become a U.S. Congressman. And it will probably happen. “He may not be very quick about it, and he can be irritatingly deliberate,” Ceph once told me, “but if he wants something, he doesn’t let anything stand in the way.”

Father gestures at me. “Have a seat, Emmett. Care for something to drink?”  Father and Walter both had half glasses of Irish whiskey on the desk.

“No, thank you,” I said.

Father nodded; gives me a brief smile of approval. I involuntarily exhale — I didn’t realize I was holding my breath. I quickly glance over at Walter; he pretends to study his glass of whiskey instead of observing the dynamic between Father and me, but I know he was watching. Walter doesn’t miss much.

“How long will you be in Chipley?” I ask Walter.

“I’m heading back this evening. Ceph has been busy doling out political favors this week, and not getting much done in the way of law,” he answered with a chuckle; Dr. Wilson gave his rare, tense smile in his white beard, nodding with satisfaction. Ceph had just been nominated for a second term as Florida state senator, and had been traveling the circuit this week.

Cephas Love Wilson in top hat; Lula Wilson below his right shoulder, 1906. Source: http://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/143975

In Father’s eyes, Cephas could do no wrong. With all of his political experience and connections, I think my brother would also be a good U.S. Congressman, but Cephas doesn’t want to leave Florida. Besides, Cephas has a reputation as a philanderer. I think that my sister-in-law, Lula, who has been publicly embarrassed by his antics more than once has put her foot down about Cephas going to Washington. 

“How is Minnie’s stenography business? I understand she’s quite successful and busy these days,”  Father asked. 

“Fine. She’s busier than ever, and is even thinking about a turn at the bar herself, one of these days.” Now it was Walter’s turn to be proud. His sister Minnie had written a bill – a unique piece of legislation – to secure regular compensation for court stenographers, and to enable counsel to have the services of a stenographer in serious cases other than capital ones (which had been a problem in Florida courts).  This was remarkable for a woman who was not a lawyer. 

Minnie was a trailblazer for professional women. She knew she had to keep her cool even in the face of cads, whereas I would have just told them where to go.

Minnie was smart, driven, progressive, and was keen on making her own way in the world, without being dependent on a husband, or father. Minnie was carving out a career slowly, surely, and against all odds. Everyone was in awe of her; encouraging her, but not really coming right out and supporting her. The idea of a woman lawyer was still too odd, foreign; it had the taste of Yankee corruption, although that was the furthest thing you could think of to describe Minnie. She was a lady; she was aggressive, but not obnoxious about it. We were all watching to see if she would make it or not. I secretly hoped she would; if Minnie could make it, against those odds, I knew I could too.

“And what about you, Emmett?” Walter said, kindly, changing the subject. “How is school?”

“Fine.”

“Staying busy with lessons, or are there too many female distractions?”

I blushed and looked away from both of them and fidgeted with the button on my jacket sleeve. “No, no distractions,” I said, a little uncomfortably. Both Father and Walter chuckled.

“Too busy with schoolwork, are you?”

“Yes. Busier than I expected. But I like it very much.”

Father nodded. “We expect big things from Emmett once he graduates from school. He has a lot of intelligence; he’s a quick learner and thoughtful. I think he’d do well running a pharmacy for me, once he’s out of school,” he added.

I look up quickly, surprised: First at the unaccustomed praise coming from Father, publicly like that – and then, I felt my stomach plummet when I realized what he said.

“Oh, you are pursuing a business degree?” Walter asked, interested.

“F.C.” stood for “Freshman Class — Classical Studies” and “S.C.” stood for “Sophomore Class — Classical Studies.” The end result after four years with this curriculum at WFS was the Bachelor of Arts degree. Source: FSU Digital Repository

“Well…” I started, glancing first at Father, then Walter, still a bit in shock at Father’s comment.

There was a quick knock at the door, followed by Nurse Tharpe opening it. 

“Excuse me, gentlemen. A patient is here to see you, Dr. Wilson, and it seems serious. Can you see him?”

Father stood up, reached over to the coat rack to put his suit jacket on to receive the patient. “Yes, Tharpe. Give us just a minute here, please.”

“Yes, doctor,” Tharpe said, closing the door behind her.

“I’m sorry Walter,” Father said.

“No need to apologize, Frank,” Walter said, as he shook Father’s hand. “We’ll be on our way.”

“Please give my regards to Jennie; we’ll see you on Christmas Day for dinner and festivities,” Father said, as he buttoned his jacket.

“Indeed you will,” Walter said, warmly. “Come, Emmett,” he said, as we moved to the door. “We can walk and talk as I head over to the station to wait for the next train out.”

“Goodbye, Father,” I said, before I walked out with Walter.

Father nodded, and turned back to his desk to prepare for the incoming patient.

 

Walter and I exited the building, and we walked together, without speaking, toward the depot. He paused for a moment on the corner.

“Emmett, would you like to stop off at the hotel dining room for coffee or something to eat before you head home? I’ll bet you didn’t eat lunch on the train, and if you did, it wasn’t much of a meal.”

“No thank you. I’m fine,” I said.

“Do you mind if I ask a question?”

“No,” I said.

“Your father’s mentioning that you are going to work for him, in his pharmacy. That was news to you, wasn’t it?”

I turned slightly away. “I don’t know, “I said, careful not to look Walter in the face.

“I’m sorry, Emmett. I don’t mean to pry.”

I didn’t say anything; instead, I stood on the corner, fidgeting with the clasp on my satchel to camouflage the embarrassment and irritation that I could not hide in my expressions. I can’t hide anything from Walter. I look up at him, exasperated.

“I don’t want to work for my father.”

“All right. Well, do you know what you want to do?”

“I want to get out of Chipley,” I said.

Walter nods. “And do what?”

At that moment, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to tell Walter everything on my mind at that; I didn’t want to expose myself as vulnerable. I looked away for a moment.

“If you don’t mind, I’d rather not talk about it right now, Walter. I’m just beat after the trip from Tallahassee. If you’ll excuse me, I’ll head on home.”

“All right, Emmett,” Walter says, kindly. “I’ll see you in a few days.”

He pats me on the arm, then crosses the street towards the Central Hotel, to get something to eat, then to wait for the evening train to Marianna.

At that moment, I just wanted to get away, to be by myself.

I walked as quickly as I could up 6th Street, almost running the five blocks towards home.

An Interview With Minnie

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Towards the end of December, I came across an excellent interview conducted with Emmett’s close friend Minnie Kehoe. The text of the interview is below, along with the original source information.

Note that this wasn’t exactly an in-person interview; Minnie apparently took issue with one of the articles published by The Typewriter and Phonographic World, sent extensive comments supported by data, and included a photograph of herself — talk about a sistah who was sassy AND thorough.

This was an excerpt of the interview, by the way. Page 279 of the same publication is another (different) article.

You can find the article, published in The Journal of Commercial Education, volume 24, at this link.

Not her father’s daughter

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I’m not one to go about picking on other’s research, but I suppose (with five years of Emmett Wilson research — that’s way over 10,000 hours of continuous digging and nit-picking) I can safely call myself an Emmett Wilson Expert.

…at least, that’s what my colleague (who is a credible researcher) over at the National Archives called me the other day, when I stopped by to do a source check. 😀

Anyway. Today’s post is about our resilient Minnie E. Kehoe.

Yesterday, I found this:

Source: Florida Bar

Details of the book.

A Who’s Who of the first woman lawyers of Florida. One of the nice things about this resource is not only does it provide the bios, but also the timeline of when the women were admitted to the Florida bar.

And yes, Minnie is listed as one of the first women lawyers in Florida, starting on page 8.

But, despite the fact the information has sources, there’s several errors. Here’s what I mean:

The first error in the rectangle.

Yes, Minnie was admitted to the bar in 1913; she worked in Pensacola for many years, then moved to Miami to be near family, namely her prominent brother J. Walter Kehoe, then she returned to Pensacola.

But Ervin’s incorrect about her father’s vocation. John Francis Kehoe, Minnie and Walter’s father, was a prominent bricklayer/brickmaker, and in fact supplied some of the materials for the construction of the Jackson County (Florida) Courthouse in Marianna.

Screen Shot 2018-11-29 at 5.49.51 AM

From the Pensacola City Directory, 1885. Note the lack of lawyerly vocation info.

 

Minnie’s brother, J. Walter, was a U.S. Congressman for one term (1917-1919).

The next item to note:

John Kehoe died in 1906, so, even if John was an attorney, Minnie couldn’t have practiced with him.

Actually, in the 1913 Pensacola city directory, Minnie was a court reporter — she wasn’t exactly ‘practicing’ law right off the bat in 1913, and she wasn’t working with anyone else:

Pensacola City Directory for 1913. Note that brother Walter has a different office address.

Eventually, Minnie did have her own practice, as well as a business school (but today we’re talking about her as a lawyer):

Pensacola City Directory for 1916. By 1916, she had her own office, again, separate from her brother Walter. According to family information, she ALWAYS did it HER way.

I’m glad to see Minnie getting her due recognition, but disappointed in the sloppy data confirmation.

I’m a little surprised that a Bar publication would use sources with unverified information (i.e., Ervin’s statement about Minnie ‘may have been the daughter….’). Not to be a nitpicker, but c’mon; spend more than five minutes to confirm information that others may use in their own research.

Here’s to Minnie Kehoe. A woman of her own making, and definitely, not her father’s daughter.

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.

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.

 

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!)