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!)

Julian Wilson & The Steamer “Gertrude”


Yesterday afternoon, I was going through my notes (looking for something else, naturally) when I found an article from the July 26, 1906 issue of The Chipley Banner, which reported Emmett’s twin brother Julian, “… a purser on the steamer ‘Gertrude’ was in town visiting his father at home, and left on Sunday to take his run on the ship.”

Of course, I had to stop what I was doing and track this down. Was it possible that there was information about the Gertrude out there?

Sure enough, the wonderful Florida Memory (run by the State Archives of Florida) came through. I found two photographs of the steamboat “Gertrude,” which ran up and down the Chattahoochie River.

The steamboat “Gertrude”, between Apalachicola and River Junction. Source: Florida Memory

I spoke with Julian’s daughter, Jule, several months ago, who told me that Julian and Emmett had become experts with the telegraph while they were teenagers working for the P&A division of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad around 1900.

Emmett did not feel a calling to the life of telegraphy, and set his sights on higher education and the law in 1900. Julian, however, liked telegraphy and Morse code, but he took a break from the railroad around 1903, and joined the crew of the Gertrude, just to mix things up.

Another view of the steamboat “Gertrude,” taking on a supply of wood. Source: Florida Memory

The job of purser was a natural fit for Julian; he was only with the steamship company for about two years (Jule thinks he didn’t care for life on the river), then returned to the L&N. He eventually became an accountant, and spent the rest of his career with the L&N. “My father loved working for the railroad,” Jule said. “He enjoyed going to work every day.”

By the way, the date of the original article that got my attention is interesting: Only a month earlier, Emmett came home permanently from Sterling, Illinois. Either The Chipley Banner was just now making note that Emmett was taking a long ‘vacation’ from his job back in Illinois, or Emmett’s family decided to say something, since it was obvious Emmett wasn’t headed back up North anytime soon.

Not So Unexceptional Sources


Last time I checked, I realized that I’ve collected over 500 individual newspaper articles about Emmett Wilson. That’s pretty good, considering that when I started this project, I didn’t expect to find more than a few dozen, given his obscurity in Florida politics.

Granted, most of these newspaper articles aren’t anything more than a one- or two-sentence gossip column blurb about Emmett’s comings and goings. In the grand scheme of things, these would be considered unexceptional information sources.

But that’s not always the case. After four years of ‘hanging out’ with Emmett, I’ve learned that these seemingly unexceptional articles hold more information than I realized when I first discovered them. One has to look beyond the words in these little clips to understand the event, even something as simple as a report on Emmett’s comings and goings.

For example: Here’s an article I initially considered unexceptional in the first few months of Emmett’s research.

An item on the society page about a private party for select members of the Pensacola Bar. Notice that Emmett’s name is misspelled. Source: The Pensacola Journal, February 20, 1907.

Three years after finding this seemingly unimportant clip, I’ve noticed several important things about this news item.

Let’s pick this article apart for research tidbits, shall we?


I didn’t notice it when I first found the article (because I was only a few months into Emmett’s research), but everyone attending this dinner party had a close personal connection to the other.

First, an overview of the dinner party attendees:

Emmett and the Crawford brothers (John Thomas Gavin Crawford — or ‘John’, and William Bloxham Crawford — or ‘Billy’) attended West Florida Seminary (now Florida State University) together; Emmett and Billy Crawford were roommates and classmates at Stetson University Law School. According to the 1907 Pensacola City Directory, Billy and John Crawford were law partners.

The Crawford brothers practicing law. The partnership didn’t last but a few years. John Crawford had only been admitted to the bar in 1906. Their office was located at 300 Thiesen Building. Source: 1907 Pensacola City Directory,

The Crawford’s father was none other than Henry Clay Crawford, Florida’s secretary of state, from 1902 to 1929 — an important political muckety-muck who would have absolutely known J. Walter Kehoe, who was the state attorney for Florida at this moment.

And, it stands to reason that the Crawfords would have been known well to the host of the luncheon, John Harris Smithwick, who was J. Walter Kehoe’s law partner.

Kehoe & Smithwick, located at 306 Brent Building, Pensacola. Source: 1907 Pensacola City Directory, from Notice that they are getting ready to move their office location eight days from the publication of the news article. Emmett would stay with K&S until he joined his uncle’s law partnership on January 1, 1908.

Kehoe, as you may recall from an earlier post, was Emmett’s brother Cephas L. Wilson’s law partner in Marianna. Walter and Cephas were still close friends; their wives Jennie Kehoe and Lula Wilson were best friends. Walter Kehoe also considered Emmett another son; Emmett considered Walter his mentor.

A 1905 rendering of the Brent Building. Kehoe & Smithwick were on the third floor. Source:

My photo of the Brent Building — in great shape for 112! — from my last trip to Pensacola.

Judge Francis B. Carter, of Marianna, a former Florida supreme court judge, had just joined the law firm of Blount & Blount in 1907, which then became Blount, Blount & Carter. And, yes, their office was located in the Blount Building, which was right next door to the Brent Building.

Emmett (L) and Paul Carter. Roommates, long-time friends. Paul was (supposedly) related to Judge Francis B. Carter of Marianna. Source: FSU archive.

Everyone at the luncheon obviously knew Judge Carter; but what’s really interesting is that I believe he was related distantly to Emmett’s best friend, Paul Hayne Carter.

Emmett, who had just moved to Pensacola to re-start his law practice, was temporarily sharing office space in the Kehoe-Smithwick law practice.

Recall six months earlier, Emmett returned home from the failed law partnership with Nicholas Van Sant. And then, there was the rumor that Emmett enjoyed his liquor a bit too much, which might have had something to do with his sudden, but not openly discussed return to Florida without professional prospects. Emmett relocated to Pensacola because he’d be able to heal his wounded pride away from the reproving looks of family and friends in Marianna.

Emmett’s appointment as acting U.S. District Attorney in February becomes permanent in September. Source: PEN, September 7, 1907.

Emmett was the most obscure member of this luncheon party, but things were looking up for him. On February 1, 1907, Emmett was named acting assistant district attorney for the Northern District of Florida (it would become official in September, 1907). There were several local Pensacola attorneys up for the post because it was prominent and paid $1,500 a year — approximately $39,186 in 2017 dollars. Emmett didn’t get this appointment on his own; and in fact, had told the media he hadn’t even pursued it.

It is important to note that at least three of the men attending this luncheon helped persuade Department of Justice officials to select Emmett over the other, more experienced Pensacola lawyers. Given the right guidance and opportunities, Emmett would become a man of consequence in his own right.

Emmett himself may not have realized it, but it appears that he was being looked over, scrutinized for his usefulness in Florida politics by party leaders. It was too soon for anyone to get the idea that Emmett would be ideal material to shape into a future U.S. Congressional candidate, but this is when it started.

And isn’t it interesting how these guys were all so interconnected?


Over the next several posts, I’ll do a closer look at the luncheon attendees, and their relationships to Emmett and each other in Florida politics.


New Details Emerge as Final Draft Concludes


Paul Carter, from West Florida’s Seminary annual for 1900, The Argo. Source: FSU archive

I’ve always had a feeling new information might emerge just as I was putting the manuscript to bed, and sure enough, that’s what’s happened. I’m not upset or dismayed — quite the contrary. But it does make me anxious for the future as I get close to publication. I want Emmett’s story to be complete and accurate; perhaps those damn scrapbooks will come to light with the publication of the first part of Emmett’s story!

I was checking back on a database yesterday — just something i do regularly, just in case — and I found an important but tiny detail that will make Emmett’s final chapter come together seamlessly.

Here’s the story:


In June, 1906, Emmett was on a self-imposed exile from both Sterling, Illinois and his adopted hometown of Marianna, Florida. If you recall from earlier posts, Emmett burned his bridges with brother and law partner Cephas Love Wilson when he left in December, 1905 to form a law partnership with Nicholas Van Sant in Sterling in January, 1906.

Only one month into his new venture, Emmett discovered that winters in Florida really were a lot better than northwestern Illinois; that he really wasn’t ready to run the prestigious Van Sant & Wilson law firm all by his lonesome. Emmett probably didn’t expect he’d be actually homesick for Marianna, for his nagging but well-meaning family — even big brother Ceph.

By the first week of June, 1906 (only six months into the venture), Emmett left Sterling permanently.  But Emmett didn’t go directly home to Florida; Emmett went to Washington, D.C. to visit his best friend, Paul Carter.


William Bailey Lamar. Source:

For a long time, I figured this was a consolation visit. It was only about eight months earlier that Emmett stopped over in Washington to talk to Paul about the idea of going into a partnership with Van Sant — and Paul didn’t think it was a great idea. Likely Emmett went back to Paul, certainly more humbled and (now) more willing to follow offered advice.

Emmett arrived in Washington on or about June 10, 1906, and apparently stayed there for several days.

Even though Paul would have been glad to host Emmett, he was going to be busy: Paul was only 21 and private secretary to U.S. Congressman William B. Lamar. Not only that, Paul was attending Georgetown Law School while working for Lamar.

If Paul was attending in law school in 1906, as had been reported in several different sources discovered, I was curious about his progress given the important job he had on Capitol Hill. He had to have been working his tail feathers off.

How was he able to maintain a job like private secretary to a busy U.S. Congressman and go to law school? What was the class schedule like?


The 1906, 1907, and 1908 Georgetown University Law School Bulletins state that the classes were offered at night. That’s how Paul was able to work and finish his law degree simultaneously. Source: Google Books

The GU bulletins are wonderfully comprehensive: They include the lists of students enrolled, classifications, addresses, course schedules. But the search tool is not perfect — I would type in “Paul Carter” or “Carter,” only to have it miss a few Carters. This meant paging through several Georgetown University bulletins, starting with the 1904-05 catalog to be sure I covered everything.

I got to the very last section of the 1906-07 Georgetown University catalog — as in, the last three pages — and I was about to give up when I found this:


Georgetown University Catalog for 1906-1907. Graduate information is for June 11, 1906. Source: Google Books


And, tah-dah, this:


The graduation program for Monday, June 11, 1906! Source: Google Books

One final place to check — the D.C. papers. They were big on reporting graduation ceremonies from the local universities. Sure enough, we find that Paul not only attended the graduation ceremony, but he went out to a celebratory dinner for the law school graduates at the Raleigh Hotel:


The Evening Star, June 12, 1906, p.13. Those in attendance were listed. Paul was there; Emmett was not, though he attended Paul’s graduation. Source: Chronicling

This latest detail adds so much more depth and context to Emmett’s final chapter. I’m just so thrilled with this last minute find!


Crowd Sourcing Research


One of the reasons why I started this blog about Emmett’s book was (is!) to locate his scrapbooks, correspondence, or anything that exists out there that may not be already digitized.

Emmett's will, page two. Emmett Wilson Kehoe was the son of his best friend, J. Walter Kehoe. Emmett lived with the Kehoes starting in the summer of 1910 until his death.

A snippet of Emmett’s will, page two. Emmett Wilson Kehoe was the son of his best friend, J. Walter Kehoe. Emmett lived with the Kehoes starting in the summer of 1910 until his death. I would love to find his scrapbooks, or, pieces of them. Anything.

Crowd sourcing the research has worked fairly well; last year I wrote about Emmett’s sister, Katie Wilson Meade, and a antique dealer contacted me about a photograph he’d found in a box with Katie’s name on it. That was cool.

Katie Wilson Meade, June 23, 1936

This is the photo sent to me by the antique dealer in Virginia. Katie Wilson Meade, June 23, 1936. Love her smile!

I’ve discovered that Emmett was a prolific letter writer. Yesterday, I found a few more references to letters he wrote to Nick Van Sant after he’d moved back to Florida in 1906. Turns out that Emmett and Nick remained friends, even though their business relationship did not work out, and (I’m sure) that it was an uncomfortable ending for Emmett — at least for a little while.

October 4, 1906. Emmett tells Nick about the hurricane that did a million dollars (1906 dollars) damage. Source: Sterling Evening Gazette

October 4, 1906. Emmett tells Nick about the hurricane that did a million dollars (1906 dollars) damage. Source: Sterling Evening Gazette

Here’s another:

September 27, 1907. The only way the Sterling paper would have known this is through Nicholas Van Sant, via a letter from Emmett. Source: Sterling Evening Gazette, page 1.

September 27, 1907. The only way the Sterling paper would have known this is through Nicholas Van Sant, via a letter from Emmett. Source: Sterling Evening Gazette, page 1.

I think Emmett let both Nick Van Sant and the paper know this one. Nick might have felt odd if he’d read about this in the Sterling paper before hearing about it directly from Emmett.

Finally, there’s this one:

The Sterling Evening Gazette, 1908, editorial page.

The Sterling Evening Gazette, 1908, editorial page. Emmett never made it back to Sterling in 1908 for the Fourth of July; he never returned to Sterling.

Any letters out there to or from Emmett Wilson? Anything?

I would love to see them.




An Expensive Lesson


Emmett’s best legal education came not at Stetson University (where he was the valedictorian of the 1904 law class; it came not at the hands of his esteemed and experienced older brother, Cephas Love Wilson, Esquire.

It came when he was, essentially, fired from his dream job in Sterling, Illinois in late May, 1906.

Nicholas Van Sant. Source:

Nicholas Van Sant. Source:

Emmett had left his home, his family, his old friends, and a decent job to move almost 1,000 miles away to start a new law partnership with Nicholas Van Sant.

Emmett’s criteria for his dream job:

  • To immerse himself in the law;
  • To be left alone to his own devices without well-meaning friends and family members offering suggestions/advice.

He got what he wanted.

But four months into the dream job, he’s discovered that his situation isn’t what he expected. As the solo lawyer in the firm (Nick had a full-time job as president of the Sterling State Bank), he certainly got to immerse himself in the law — but he was awful at office administrivia — and I don’t think he was prepared for how much work there was to do with the cases, by himself, even with the help of a secretary.

From The Sterling Evening Gazette. February 22, 1906,

I suspect Van Sant enlisted the assistance of one of his employees, possibly Frank Heflebower, to review the Van Sant & Wilson firm account books. From The Sterling Evening Gazette. February 22, 1906,

This was just the thing that Cephas had warned Emmett about back in Florida before he left: It wasn’t enough that Emmett was a good litigator. Running a law firm by yourself involves a lot of managerial and administrative skills that he just hadn’t mastered yet.

The loneliness got to him, too: Even though Emmett preferred solitude, it was because it was his choice to remain alone, on the outside of the social circle, if that makes sense. He was from a prominent social and political family in Florida, where he’d not had to worry about social acceptance — everyone who was anyone in West Florida politics and society knew him because of his family. Emmett didn’t have to put forth any effort to become ‘known’ back in Florida. His family’s reputation did that for him.

The red arrow is the approximate location of the Van Sant & Wilson law firm. Source:

The red arrow is the approximate location of the Van Sant & Wilson law firm. Source:

But in Sterling, Emmett was an oddity, an outsider, an unknown. After having family, friends, loved ones in your face (and in your business) every single day, as it was for Emmett back in Marianna, it probably was a relief for him to be left alone. At least for the first few weeks.

The locals in Sterling were certainly polite to him, but it was hard for him to break into professional and social circles when you are (just about) the only Southern Democrat in solidly Republican northwestern Illinois.

What I think also did Emmett in was the fact that he had to actually work hard to become a part of Sterling’s political and social community.

Think about this: The social and political relationships linked closely to business relationships in this small town. Emmett hadn’t had to work at any of these relationships at this level before leaving Florida.

I estimate that by the end of April, 1906, he realized that the move to Sterling was a mistake. It wasn’t his legal skill; it was the fact that he didn’t fit in, personally, and he didn’t know what to do about that, because he’d never had to give that thought.

That’s when he slipped back into drinking for relief. Eventually, the drinking interfered with his legal skills, which is when someone (or something) tipped Nick Van Sant that something was awry with his protege.

Whoever (or whatever) it was, it spurred Nick to stop by the law firm one day to examine the books. Nick, himself, probably turned them over to his cashier, Frank Heflebower, who would have gone over the accounts carefully. Frank would have advised Nick that something didn’t balance.

The clue that leads me to think this was about poor financial management on Emmett’s behalf comes from an interview Van Sant gave in the 1950s where he discusses his long career, and mentions that just about the only year the law firm wasn’t profitable was the first one, when he’d only cleared $700 that entire year. The fact that Emmett was drinking (probably on the job) didn’t help.

They parted on a friendly basis: Van Sant found another partner who he’d known for several years and was local. It is likely Van Sant also absorbed losses incurred from his partnership with Emmett.

Emmett started his career over again, in Pensacola, working for his uncle, Judge Evelyn Croom Maxwell, wiser for the experience and uncomplaining about his lot in life (at least he did not complain publicly anymore).

No one to blame


In one of the Wilson family genealogies, there’s a curious statement recorded by Emmett’s nephew. It says:

“…my mother always said that Emmett fell in with some rich Northern lumberman who started him drinking, and he drank himself to death.”

Hm. A rich Northern lumberman.

Who could that be?

Over a year ago, I started going through the wealthy residents of Pensacola — Emmett’s home from 1907 to his death in 1918 — figuring out who his friends were, and who he ‘ran’ with as a lawyer in prominent social circles. Here are the five men who would have been most likely the ‘rich Northern lumberman’ in Pensacola from the genealogy:

William Swift Keyser — b. 1856 in Massachusetts. Became head of his family firm when still at Yale. He was a member of the Episcopal church, the wealthiest man in Pensacola. He and his family were considered the leaders of Pensacola society. Owner, the WS Keyser Company. Quoted as being ‘a cultured gentleman of fine literary attainments;’ also, a Democrat with political interests (but he never sought office himself). Emmett would definitely want to emulate someone like Keyser.

F.F. Bingham. Source:

F.F. Bingham. Source:

Fraser Franklin Bingham — Born 1872 in Michigan. Southern States Lumber Co. VP. A yachter and accomplished writer. Had seven children; married money with his first wife. Started out as a stenographer (like Emmett did) and worked his way up the ladder. Republican; Well respected and liked. Wonderful bio on the St. John’s Cemetery website.

Rix M. Robertson — Born 1851 in Michigan. Robinson Point Lumber Co. Republican. Also appointed as Postmaster in 1898. Yachter; had an incredible home. No children, but quite a few articles about him and his private parties, private club memberships, and the like.

H(erman) H Boyer — Born 1858 in Ohio. German American Lumber Co. Not much biographical information, but had large family and was considered a prominent community member. 

William Henry G. DeSilva (HG DeSilva) — Born 1860 in New York. HG DeSilva &Co. Manufacturer of building materials in Florida. The Pensacola Journal reported some lawsuits filed against him (employees hurt on the job); Emmett was not involved on either side of the DeSilva cases. 

I have a lot more information on these guys, but I have to tell you that after kicking this thing around for almost three years, I don’t believe the man I’m looking for is in this list. Here’s why:

These men probably knew Emmett, but I doubt they traveled in the same social circles. We are talking about men who kept regular company mostly with each other in their tight and exclusive country club circle, who kept yachts in Pensacola Bay, who had summer homes (mansions, actually) back in their native northern states, and large, sweeping estates in Escambia County. Emmett could not afford to keep up with them except closer to the year he ran for Congress (1912).

These men are much older than Emmett — not exactly peers. I’m sure they knew of him and vice versa, but they weren’t close at all. Professionally, these men wouldn’t have had that much contact with Emmett as they had their own attorneys (not Emmett).

And Emmett was neither prominent nor considered socially important until around 1910-12 — when his name began showing up on the front page of The Pensacola Journal and other West Florida newspapers related to his work as District Attorney, then States’ Attorney.

While Emmett aspired to social prominence (and he worked for it), he was long considered on the social periphery of Pensacola’s high society, until he was elected to U.S. Congress. Emmett would have been lucky  — and grateful — to have been invited to the same party as these older, much more established and experienced fellows. So, none of these guys were the cursed ‘rich, Northern lumberman’ mentioned in the genealogy.

But now, I believe I know who it was.

Nicholas Van Sant. Source:

Nicholas Van Sant. Source:

After much deliberation, I’ve come to the conclusion that the rich, Northern lumberman mentioned in the Wilson family genealogy was probably none other than Nicholas Van Sant, the man who brought Emmett to Sterling, Illinois.

Van Sant’s family was already wealthy; their fortune was in shipping. Nick started out in shipping, then sold his share to his brothers; then made his own personal fortune in timber. He certainly ‘fell in’ with Emmett: Emmett was Van Sant’s protege, and, I believe, Van Sant considered Emmett the son he never had.

Now, think about this — the excerpt doesn’t say that the Northern lumberman was a drinker. Van Sant didn’t have to be — but, I believe that Emmett (who was already drinking when he moved to Sterling in 1906) was under a tremendous amount of stress working with Van Sant. Emmett had something to prove to the folks back home, and to himself.

Emmett was lonely, without friends, and it was freezing cold in Illinois that year — not only was it a depressing situation for Emmett, but the snow and ice storms broke records that year, as the ice on the river burst through the bridge and caused extensive damage and flooding in Sterling. Power went out for several days. There were shortages of fuel and food; Sterling was no Winter Wonderland in February, 1906.

Details on the Ice Gorge of 1906. Source: Historical Centennial Program, Rock Falls, Illinois

Details on the Ice Gorge of 1906. More details on this dramatic event at the link. Source: Historical Centennial Program, Rock Falls, Illinois

And by then, Emmett was probably missing Florida. It was also Carnival time back home. And here he was, freezing cold, without friends, and treated as an outsider, even though he was the exalted Van Sant’s protege. I can definitely see how his drinking probably accelerated to alcoholic levels while he was in Sterling.

I want to say to the Wilson family genealogist that the rich Northern lumberman didn’t ‘make’ Emmett drink. Van Sant is not the bad guy here. Emmett was an alcoholic before he ‘fell in’ with Van Sant.

It is also important to remember that Van Sant was strict temperance. Van Sant was the man who helped BUILD the Sterling YMCA, from the ground up. Van Sant believed in the principles of this organization, including and especially sobriety. If Emmett was going down the rabbit hole of alcoholism, Van Sant would not have ‘made’ Emmett drink; if anything, I believe Van Sant would have tried to save him, and would have done something to help Emmett, because he looked upon Emmett as the son he never had.

No one makes an alcoholic drink.

There are no bad guys here; there’s no one to blame but Emmett himself, and there was nothing anyone could do for him.