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THE FIRST GENERATIONS BACK

 

The Williss-Appler Household

Grandpa Warren Appler Williss was born in Jackson, Tennessee, in 1912. He had one  sibling, an older sister Dorothy (a.k.a. Aunt Corky). Grandpa’s mother was Lula Appler  (although family members also called her “Lulu”). Grandpa’s father was Frank Sands Williss. Frank and Lula met at the 1904 St. Louise World’s Fair, and soon married. They moved to Jackson before 1910 or so. In Jackson, Frank pursued a white collar salesman job with the Standard Oil Company — or at least he did until the US Supreme Court in 1911 found Standard Oil was a monopoly and broke it up. I believe Frank stayed with one of the post-breakup surviving affiliate companies and remained with them until 1920.

 

grandpa first birthday - Copy

 

Great capture. Here was baby Grandpa Warren with Grandma Lulu, c.1913. They did not need social media to artfully enjoy a memorable moment.

 

L to R - unidentified family spaniel, Lulu,Dorothy (aka Aunt Corky), and Frank Sands W. and c. 1915 -B

Family relaxing in the front yard of the house in Jackson, TN, c. 1913. L to R: Unnamed family dog, Grandma Lulu, Aunt Corky (Dorothy) and Frank Sands W.  Image from Aunt Corky’s album, generously of our Williss Cousin Carol C.}

 

Lulu, Frank Sands W. and Dorothy (aka Aunt Corky), c. 1915 - A

Grandma Lulu, Frank Sands Williss, and Aunt Corky, c. 1913. Looks like Corky is holding her dad’s cigar. (“please Pop, not another smelly cigar”!)

 

I learned very few things of note about Frank Sands W.  But one is that he was a proficient typist. Someone might laugh today, in an era when tiny tots are learning keyboards. But in 1904, typewriters were still new even to business, and most people still could not type. Also, Frank managed an award-winning exhibition for the Hammond Typewriter company at the 1904 World’s Fair (“Louisiana Purchase Exposition”).

Hammond Brochure p.1, Louisiana Purch. Expo. 1904

The Hammond company display booth that Frank Sands W. managed, printed on an advertising brochure for the typewriter.

But tragedy struck the young family. Frank Sands W. died suddenly in 1920, shortly after turning 36. The cause of death listed on his death certificate was “endocarditis”, a heart infection, which could mean it was a congenital and therefore a natural cause of death for him. But who knows? Cousin Michael W. says the oral family history passed down was that Frank died in his sleep.  

After that event, Grandma Lulu moved the family to St. Louis — a logical place since that was her hometown.

 The Frederick Wertzel Williss Family

Grandpa Warren’s paternal grandfather was Frederick Wertzel Williss (1858 – 1923). We’ll call him Fred, or Frederick. He seems to have led an interesting life. He spent his adult life in Springfield, Ohio, which is today and was back in the day in Clark County — the same county where Fred grew up and where his Quaker grandparents and great-grandparents lived.

We are very fortunate to find short biographical accounts about Fred. One version of his biography I suspect he wrote himself but narrated in the third person; it was published in a book containing profiles of community leaders in Springfield. Another one was a handwritten obituary, which repeats the facts contained in other accounts.

Frederick was raised on his grandfather’s farm in South Charleston, Ohio. This was in a rural Quaker household, during and after the Civil War. (Our Quakers are covered in Chapter 2.1.) Frederick attended Nashville College (which must have later closed because I cannot locate it). He studied law and business. He married Martha Sands, and with her raised a family of 5 boys and 1 girl in Springfield, OH.

FWW Family

Frederick W. Williss Family, c. mid-late 1890s. The kids in the family practiced as a string quartet, and these were the members. (Image from the album of cousin Warren David Williss.)

Some Notable Facts About Fred Williss:

Following are some notable things about Fred/ Frederick:

He was long-term friends with the politician J. Warren Kiefer. Keifer was a figure from mid-to-late-19th Century Ohio politics. Keifer was also from Springfield.

The story is that Frederick had early in his law career clerked for one Justice William White of the Ohio Supreme Court. White himself seems to have had a remarkable tenure as a state appellate court judge. [1].  But White was also the brother in law and law partner of Keifer. Frederick ended up joining the law Springfield law firm of Keifer and White.

At some point, Keifer ran for and became a Congressman in the Republican party. What makes this stint so significant was that Keifer became Speaker of the House of Representatives, serving in that role from 1881-1883. This 2-year period was the 47th US Congress. Frederick’s biographies all mention that he became Keifer’s “personal secretary” while Keifer was in Congress, including the years in which he was Speaker.

 

FWW and JWK

Frederick W. Williss (left) and Congressman J. Warren Keifer (right), at ages when they worked together.  (Keifer photo from Wikipedia.)

 

As will be the case with every Speaker of the House (even the short-term ones), Keifer would have worked on some of the most significant political issues of the day, and with very important people in Washington politics and government. For us, this means one thing: because Fred was his personal secretary, then Fred worked right alongside Keifer on some of those exact same issues.

Imagine the people Fred must have met in that job!

Unfortunately, we have no further information about such meetings or business, only that they must have happened. A next step for research would be to see if Keifer or others kept diaries with notes. I have tracked down and corresponded with a couple of Keifer descendants. They have no information. But they do point to collections at libraries. Certainly, a next step for research would be to find the places where there are such collections, and see what can be discovered.

Keifer had had a distinguished career. Notably, he served for the 3d Ohio Infantry in the Civil War, for several years. In 1865 (the last year of that war), President Abraham Lincoln bestowed upon Keifer the title of “brevetted Major General for gallant and distinguished services”. Afterward, Keifer carried the title in some written references as “ Major General”.  Keifer started getting into politics after the war. But following a first 7-year stint in Congress, Keifer went in private law practice and engaged in a very active community role. As an older man, he also did some service in the Spanish-American War (in 1898).[2]

The period when Keifer was Speaker (1881 – 1883) was the 47th Congress. This period may not have been as wild for Congress as were things just 2 decades earlier, during the Civil War. But Keifer – with a tagging Frederick, no doubt – must have worked on significant matters relating to Reconstruction. Also, among the matters on which the 47th Congress took action that term was the infamous Chinese Exclusion Act. [3]. This law banned further Chinese immigration – and it was not repealed until 1943, when the US was at war with Japan and America sought a connection with China. The 47th Congress also enacted a law that created the U.S. Civil Service Commission, and funded numerous programs relating to rivers and harbors infrastructure.[4]

Frederick Was the Source of the “Warren” Name.  You may notice many Warrens in this Williss family. The four men in the family photo above are all named “Warren”. The oldest one in the photo was Warren K. Williss, who was Frederick’s first son. Frederick so honored Keifer that he named his first son after him: Warren Keifer Williss. From there Warren Keifer named his son Warren, and from thereafter other Willisses have been named.  So, all of us who carry “Warren” as either a first name or middle name can thank J. Warren Keifer for being the Congressman we are all named after.

Frederick Was Also a Successful Businessman and Educator.  Frederick’s crowing achievement in life appears to have been the creation of the “Williss Business University”. This was a private school, or college, where students received degrees or certificates in things like clerical and secretarial training, bookkeeping, and office management skills. Frederick managed the school with help from his children.  

Williss Business University was well-known for its courses in operating typewriters (i.e., typing) and court reporter stenography machines. Today, toddlers learn to use the keyboard, and everybody types; in circa 1900, only a relatively small percentage of workers were proficient at the typewriter, and it was considered a skilled profession.  Qualified typewriter operators were strongly in demand, and those who excelled at that skill did well for themselves.

Williss Business University lasted for well over three decades and at its peak taught hundreds of students at a time, who came from throughout Ohio and even other states. 

 

WBU Students in stenography class, c. 1905

Stenography class at the Williss Business University, c. 1905. I’ve never been inside a stenography class myself, but my bet is that at least one of the people standing in the back of the room is dictating text to the class.

 

WBU Typing Class 2a, c. 1905

Typewriting class at Williss Business University, c. 1905.

Williss Business University closed down in the mid-1920’s, after Frederick’s 1923 passing of a stroke at age 64.

Proudly, a Progressive Republican    Frederick, with experience in Washington politics, made his  political preferences and philosophies known in at least two of the short biographical articles we can find about him. One such reference is in the piece that I suspect he apparently wrote himself, and which was published in 1890 in the locally published Portrait Biographical Album of Green and Clark Counties.[5] Therein, at the end of his portrait summary, is a single sentence that adds simply:  “Politically he is a Republican”.  A second reference is in the handwritten obituary that Michael W. and I found in Grandpa’s file cabinet. It’s from 1923, and I suspect Grandpa’s Aunt Grace handwrote it after simply copying portions of his auto-biographical articles. There, the statement was a reference that he was honored “for his Progressive policies”.

The most noticeable thing about these references is that they are conspicuous. Not many people, even in those days, would flag their own political affiliation in an article promoting local businesses. Doing so today would find the functional equivalent in stating a political affiliation in a profile about an individual or a business on LinkedIn or in a local Chamber of Commerce directory. Certainly one reason we can expect someone like Frederick to have advertised his own political leanings is because of his years in Washington working with J. Warren Keifer. It also means he truly stood for the Republican and Progressive policies of the time, and that seems all the more likely when you see how passionate and high-energy he appears to have been in his pursuits.

This was during the Progressive Era, a lasting movement of multiple social and economic activism and politics that spanned the late 1800s and well into the 1900s. This is of course itself a deep American history subject deserving of lots of research and consideration. But I need not say anything further than that the Progressive Era roughly followed the Gilded Age of wealthy corporations that wasted natural resources and polluted everywhere, and exploited masses of poor, mostly immigrant and slave laborers (including, you will recall, children).

Young Doffers in Monahan Mills, 1908, by a Mr. Hines, one of thousands of images documenting the exploitation of children.

Child labor was one of the biggest issues of the Progressive Era. This image is titled Young Doffers in Mollahan Mills, Newberry, S.C. (1908). It is one of thousands in the Library of Congress collection documenting child labor in factories. Some of the images are heartbreaking.[6]

Now, at that time, the Republican party had a significant contingent populated by the likes of Teddy Roosevelt. He, as you will remember, was famous for progressive programs and laws on a wide range of matters – a few big examples being aggressively enforcing the Sherman anti-trust law to break up of corporate monopolies, food and consumer safety, abolition of child labor, Woman’s suffrage, and – among his top priorities – environmental conservation and creation of a National Parks system. President Woodrow Wilson, the Democrat who came after Roosevelt’s term ended, continued with many progressive actions, all of which were highly popular in the day.[7]  

income tax cartoon

Since Frederick was very political, I feel obliged to share just one political cartoon:  this one published around the time of the adoption of the Federal income tax in 1913. (Source unknown but info would be appreciated – it’s a “Fat Cat” cartoon, I think — typical image of a callous, old obese wealthy white man doing “bad guy robber baron” things. )

 

Footnotes

[1]       Ohio Supreme Court’s page on Justice William White: https://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/SCO/formerjustices/bios/white.asp

[2]         Many places both online and in libraries have information about Speaker of the House J. Warren Keifer.

(a)     See, for starters, Biography of J. Warren Keifer, Springfield, Clark County, OH Biographies, excerpted from History of Clark County, Ohio (W. H. Beers & Co. Chicago 1881). http://www.onlinebiographies.info/oh/clark/keifer-jw.htm.

(b)    Also, see Ohio Central at: http://www.ohiohistorycentral.org/w/Joseph_W._Keifer

(c)     The Wikipedia page is accurate but short. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._Warren_Keifer#Spanish%E2%80%93American_War

[3]        https://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=false&doc=47 – ton of other material available, too.

[4]        See, e.g., the House of Representative’s summary for the 47th Congress: http://history.house.gov/Congressional-Overview/Profiles/47th/; and, theWikipedia entry for the 47th Congress at:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/47th_United_States_Congress

[5]         This book promotes local communities and contains portraits of businesses as well as community leaders, including leaders in industry, farming, and government. These kinds of books were common in communities across the US in those days – –  so very long before the Internet.

[6]         Dec. 3/08. Witness, Sara R. Hine. Location: Newberry, South Carolina; Digital ID: (color digital file from b&w original print)nclc01471https://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/nclc.01471;

Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-nclc-01471 (color digital file from b&w original print); Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA https://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pp.print

[7]          There are reams of academic and historical non-fiction writing about the Progressive era (and Teddy Roosevelt). Here are some links to some websites I enjoyed:

(a)    For an easy read with excellent photographs, I highly recommend the coverage of this subject on The American Yawp website, a contributor-based collection of articles on American history. Contributors appear to all be highly qualified and knowledgeable in their particular specialties in American history. And for that reason, the site does not seem to come with some of the same weaknesses as Wikipedia (i.e., trolling would be minimized because not just anyone can get on and edit). In Yawp, see Chapter 20, on The Progressive Era, http://www.americanyawp.com/text/20-the-progressive-era/

(b)     Another site with a good short summary about the Progressive Era, with excellent links, is the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers website maintained by George Washington University. Awesome collection about 20th Century American history! You can find this page at: https://www2.gwu.edu/~erpapers/teachinger/glossary/progressive-era.cfm

(c)      Yet another quick source on this subject is the article Overview of the Progressive Era, at a page on American history called “Digital History” that is hosted by the University of Hawaii. Mintz, S., & McNeil, S. (2016), located at: http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/era.cfm?eraid=11

All three of the above links accessed July 22, 2018.

I note further that, as to Teddy Roosevelt, the Wikipedia entry currently seems well-maintained.

 

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Me (on the phone): "That's "C-r-e-s-a-p".

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