(Transcribed and unedited (with misspelled and grammar errors) excerpt from a story written by WPA (Works Projects Administration) writer, Annie L. Bowman, Escambia County, Alabama, December 1, 1939 about the ‘up and down’ life of a former Probate Judge’s wife
“I can’t be beat”
Mrs. Robert Adams
Myrtle Adams, has an irrestable (sic) personality, that few women possess. By some she is looked upon as a savior of her late husband R. E. Adams Probate Judge of Escambia County, who gave twenty-three years of official service to his home county and was once a recognised (sic) leader in the affairs of that section of the state.
Clerk in Circuit Court
Judge Adams, was born in Atmore January 2, 1880, and attended the public schools there to the age of eighteen years. His early business experience included service for the Carney Hill Company and as clerk in one of the Atmore stores.
In May, 1916, he was elected clerk of the circuit court of Escambia County, and the following year moved to Brewton, beginning his official term of six years on January 15th, 1917. Before the conclusion of that term he was elected, in August, 1922 Judge of the Probate court, and his term of six years began in January 15th, 1923.
During the world war he was a member of the selective draft board of Escambia county and gave much of his time in that service in addition to the routine of his office as clerk of circuit court.
He was a democrat, a member of the missionary baptist church and fraternally was affiliated with Carney Lodge no. 549, A.F. And A.M; Brewton Chapter no. 112, Royal Arch Masons, Brewton Commandary, no. 18, Knights Templers; Abba Temple of the mystic Shrine at Mobile and was a past Chancellor of Dona hoo Lodge no. 222. Knights of Pytheas and a member of old Hickory Camp no. 30., Woodman of the world.
Married the Daughter of a Farmer
On June 12th 1918, at Brewton, he married his secretary Miss Myrtle Morris, daughter of James A. and Mary Morris, farmers, who lived in the country near Brewton.
Mrs. Adams tells you, that she has had quite a struggle in climbing to the top and being the first lady of Escambia County. For you know, She says, that “farmers are not so very well fixed, or most of them were poor, like we were. I helped my mother about the farm house, doing chores, such as cooking, washing, ironing, milking cows and helping with the garden and chickens. I walked two miles to Brewton during the school terms all during my early years. I was eighteen when I graduated at the Brewton Collegiate Institute.:
“It was an unthought of and desperate idea for me to intertain (sic) thoughts or attempt a higher education at the time. My parents were shocked at the determination of my wild scheme and undaunted faith in my self. It occurred to me after graduation that I might make something out of my self. Something out of the ordinary. I began to take stock of my self. There was nothing unusual about which a poet would rave, so I decided on manners and efficient qualifications and set for my goal the life of a teacher.”
“My stinting on things and doing without, which was a hard thing to my young mind, as I like every girl, loved a good time and pretty clothes. My parents consented to send me to a boarding school. There I tried to learn the art of being attractive if I could make the grade.”
Taught in Public Schools
“I came back and taught in the public schools in Escambia county for three years. This work was hard and monotonous. I felt life was leaving me behind. I took stock of my belongings and the money I had saved for a rainy day and took a course in business school.”
Myrtle was an apt student, she only staid five months in business school and with her good name and charming manner there was a ready market for her as secretary for the clerk of the circuit court. In this she was very efficient and held her position with this office for a number of years.
When Judge Adams was elected and began his term on January 15th, 1917, Myrtle Morris, already being in office naturally fell as his secretary. Their courtship began at once and it was through her charms and help that he ever aspired to the high office of Judge.
Married the Probate Judge
She says,”it was exactly one year, four months and twenty-seven days after he came into office that we were married, and I have never regretted that step for we were happy inspite (sic) of our many hardships.”
There are three children, her eldest daughter Marylyn is working in the capital at Montgomery and makes ninety dollars a month. The two youngest children, Barbara and Robert Junior are with their mother in Brewton, both are in school.
After becoming the first lady in Escambia county, she forgot her early training and became a snob among her old associates and began a social climb, which carried her into the best and richest homes. Although a snob and a society belle, she did not forget the voters throughout the county, through these she worked her charms to keep her husband in office, He was reelected at the end of six years with the biggest majority the county had ever known. They built a beautiful home on Bellville Avenue through the government. Here they entertained lavishly.
Two Beautiful Residences on Bellevue Avenue, Brewton, Alabama ca. 1940 (Alabama Department of Archives and History)
Impeachment and the Great Depression
It was during his second term of office, that there was a shortage or default at the court house. He was impeached but his friends say he was innocent, any way trying to build up for their old age, they had spent all their money and the depression coming at this time left them without and needy. The home they took so much pride in was lost and there was nothing for them to do but get on the W.P.A. (Works Progress Administration). Myrtle was assigned as an adult teacher and taught her classes in the court house. Judge Adams was assigned on a clean up project, on the streets. Professor Hardee, Principal of Brewton Collegiate Institute was appointed to fill his unexpired time.
Time was drawing near for another for Judge of Escambia county. There were several candidates in the field, and among them was R. E. Adams. He made the remark that he could go out now and get more votes than all the others put together. He made good his word for he had become a popular man. He was overwhelmingly elected again.
Mrs. Adams says, “now began a long hard seige (sic) of work and no play. Our friends were good to us and helped us on our tours and campaign through the country. We visited every voter personally. I was still teaching when the election time arrived. I was at the court house with my classes and it was hard to concentrate on my work, but the election officer would open the door after every return from the ballot boxes in the precinct and let me know how matters stood. Some times I would be up in the air and again I would feel crushed. I thought of our home and how it could be redeemed if we did win. While I was studying and thinking about my plans, the door opened and the officer announced my husband had been elected as judge of Escambia county by a big majority. Of course I didn’t faint. I just dismissed my classes and went home, but not to sleep. Our friends or several of them kept coming in to congratulate us. I can’t describe my feelings but a heavy load was lifted off my shoulders. Our friends advised us to take steps at once to gain possession of our home. We needed no advice or telling as we had spent many restless nights planning how we could do this and educate the children.”
Escambia County Courthouse in Brewton, Alabama ca. 1940 (Alabama Department of Archives and History)
They really tried to make a financial of things, he renewed his life insurances, redeemed his home on Bellville Avenue and besides his official duties at the court house as judge, he rented a store building, stocked it in groceries and did a swell business for the hard times. He also went into stocks and bonds and reaped a substantial sum from this.
She says, “our friends helped us to gain trade and why shouldn’t they. Bob always helped the boys out of scrapes and the girls too if they ever happened to need help. He never convicted any of them. I believe this was part reason where his popularity came in.”
Health Began to Fail
With all these duties placed upon him, his health began to fail. And it was her turn again to come to the rescue. She took over his different businesses and left him with his official duties at the court house alone to attend. But the depression was taking its toll, what with running the home and taking care of three rolicking (sic) healthy children was a task within its self and some thing that could not be neglected.
She tried hard to hold on the store, but credit business on a large scale that was never paid after it began to be neglected caused the store to close its doors.
At this time his health caused him to stay at home weeks at a time. His insurance had to be dropped. Stocks and bonds dropped so low it was useless to carry on and closed its doors for lack of good leadership.
She says, “I had a lot of worry, Bob being sick so much for he was a big care. I had to help him with his work at the court house now to keep things going. As things rocked along so many Dr. bills, educational expenses, for the children and many other things or expenses, I didn’t know which way to turn.”
I found that they would skip monthly payments on their home, expecting to double the next month, which occassionly (sic) they did, but more often neglected. Money was borrowed to keep things going when his salary failed to meet the demands.
At last he was sent to Montgomery and placed in a hospital there. He lingered three weeks and died in June of this year. It is claimed this was the largest funeral ever held in Brewton. His friends from all over the county were there as mourners.
There was nothing left for the widow and children. A petition was carried around by their friends and relatives to have Mrs. Adams to fill the unexpired term. While this petition was going around, Mr. Peavy a world war veteran who had been in the regiment under Governor Dixon also his special friend had already been appointed as Judge, he took office the next day.
The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away
You find her at work supervising a book binding project in Brewton on WPA, trying to be cheerful and thankful. Her hopes are not so high, but there is a light in her eyes when she tells you, “the Lord giveth and the same Lord taketh away, Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
“Why no, I am not going to sit down and cry, that has never done any good. I know it will be harder to adjust myself now as I am much older. But there seems to be a dearth of really competent persons. Experienced people are in demand now as much as, if not more than they have been. Hundreds of competent men and women throughout the country are landing the jobs they want every day by proving their ability, by showing they are smarter or more industrious than the next person on the line.”
“When I was a girl I taught my self to be an efficient worker, a good mixer with whom I come in contact with. I have never undertaken any thing yet I couldn’t get by with for a while at least. If I can hold my job here until I can do better and keep my children in school, I say one more good for me. I am not expecting any help from my children yet. It is all Marylyn can do to take care of her self. If the time comes that I have to call on her I believe she will readily give me help. I’m sure she remembers what I taught her, as selfishment is one thing I can’t tolerate in any body, especially my children.”
I Can’t be Beat
Her neighbors tell you that they believe she has learned her lesson or at least she seems to have. They say she is no longer arrogant, haughty and proud and is one of own set like she used to be before she was married.
She is no longer looked up to as the fashionable model so many tried in vain to imitate.
Her work keeps her busy and her charms are her defense. Her co-workers are on special good terms with her and they say they wouldn’t change their boss for anything. There is a secret look in her eyes that says, “I can’t be beat.”
Transcribers Note: Mrytle Morris Adams lived many more years. She died in 1974 and is buried in Union Cemetery, Brewton, Alabama. Find A Grave Memorial# 54505162
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