Original Document
Original Document
Interview with Margaret Jerles, granddaughter of William B. Wilson, 2005.

Margaret Jerles: He worked in the mines, when came over from Scotland. He was about 5 years old. He started into school. When was only in school two years he was going through his books so fast his parents couldn't afford the books, they couldn't keep up with him. He worked in the mines as a slate picker out of the coals. He had only had two years of public education but his mother was well educated – somewhere along the line, we haven't been able to find it out how. She taught the kids at home after that because they couldn't afford the books to go to school.

He was ousted from Arnot in the mines; that's how he managed to get the house in Blossburg [where he lived for the last years of his life after returning from Washington in 1921]. Somebody won it in a poker game and he it had no use for it so he sold it to my grandfather and he didn't have to pay very much for it. So that's when grandfather went to Blossburg.

At 17 he was a rebel - he was always a rebel. He was barred from the mines anywhere around there. He worked on the railroad for a while and then he decided that he was going to take the part of the miners and see that they got some decent working conditions - so that's when he started to organize the unions, and he traveled all over. My brother sent me ... the handcuffs and the blackjack that were given to a guy to do away with my grandfather when he went to organize the union in some town. The guy got cold feet and gave the blackjack and handcuffs to grandfather. ...

My grandfather was one of the first cabinet officers that had a car registered to him.- When he became Secretary of Labor his transportation was to be provided for him. They didn't have any provisions made for that. He got a horse and buggy from the commerce department, but he looked through the regulations and nothing said he couldn't get a car. All the same he went out and bought a second hand car and got a chauffeur. Grandfather never learned to drive till after he retired.
He was the first one [cabinet officer to drive].

We had a lot of people coming [to the house]. When I was in his house they declared Labor Day as Wilson Day [locally]- we had about 100 people there for dinner - we had 3 sets of china going. A couple of days before something like that happened my mother would get everything organized. One of the neighbors would help her, the rest of the family were all girls, we all helped her. We peeled potatoes, and all this and that; she made her own homemade bread. ...

I loved my grandfather very much. When I left home to go to nurses' training he was the one that I missed. My father's work was all physical [he ran the farm and worked in the mines]. When he'd come home from work especially at night he was tired. We always had to get him into dry clothes and eat his supper and he'd go right to bed. He had to be at the mine in the morning. But my grandfather's work was all mental work. He had time to help us out with anything, he even learned math - that was one thing I hated - but he would help us out with any of our homework. ... But we all got along fine, Grandfather was Scots Presbyterian, and we were all Catholic. Some of his family resented us because we were Catholic. They're all gone now too.

A lot of people came in and out [of the house] on business. One time we were all picking blackberries. And it didn't take any time at all to fill a lot of pails. My mother even canned beef. We got these blackberries and we always had to show grandfather. We were on the porch and a couple of guys came by when we went to show him the blackberries, and we went back in the library the door was open. I heard him say to these men - that's the only time I ever saw my grandfather really mad - and he said I haven't worked for the miners to take your proposition now, you'll have to leave this place and not come back. They wanted grandfather to do something that would work against he miners. ...

WP: So your grandfather never wound up rich?

MJ: No, not rich, he went really bankrupt. When he took [William] Vare to the Supreme Court [to challenge the disputed Senate Election of 1926] of course Vare had the Republican Party to pay all Vare's expenses. My grandfather had to see to all his expenses, the Democratic Party didn't. He had his secretaries and everybody else to pay, and that really put him in the hole.... [During the disputed election contest with Vare} Senator Reed asked him how come he only spent $10,000 on his campaign while Vare spent a hundred times as much. Grandfather said, "That's simple, I'm a Scotsman."

Credit: William Pencak, Oral history interview with Margaret Jerles, November, 2005.
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