Lou Emma Wilson and Alberta Wilson Server
Dr. Alberta Wilson Server taught in the Spanish Department at the University of Kentucky for 45 years before retiring in 1967. She established the Lou Emma Wilson Mexicana Fund to honor her mother. What follows is her mother's extraordinary story.
In the early twentieth century, at the age of twenty, Lou Emma Wilson set out from Kentucky with her husband, Albert Henderson Wilson, a railroad engineer, for Mexico, which at that time was a country torn by revolution, poverty, and strife. Mrs. Wilson did not speak Spanish and had an infant daughter, Alberta, who was born in Ludlow, Kentucky on March 31, 1897, to care for. Their first home was a one-room casita de adobe in a railroad company camp. It had running water in the form of a single faucet but no other plumbing, and no stove. Cooking was done over a charcoal brazier. But Lou Emma Wilson rose to the challenge. After living in various towns including Porfirio Diaz, Tampico, Jalapa, and Mexico City, the Wilsons settled in Puebla. They bought a small hotel named "The American House" and a store that sold overalls, work gloves, and other supplies for men who worked for the railroad. Their daughter Alberta remembered that life in Puebla was pleasant, aside from the lack of modern conveniences. The climate was wonderful (no snow or excessive heat) and they had fresh fruit and vegetables the year around. Better still, Puebla had a small and friendly American colony and an English school run by an elderly British woman. Alberta was able to obtain a good formal education at the Methodist Mission School which provided eight grades in English. She was one of three Americans among six hundred girls. Later, Mrs. Wilson put Alberta under the tutelage of a Methodist minister's wife who was preparing her own children for American high school. Alberta later graduated from Somerset High School in Kentucky in 1916.
Mrs. Wilson used to tell colorful stories of their years in Mexico. There were terrifying earthquakes, torrential rains, and a jungle in the backyard where Alberta was badly stung by a poisonous caterpillar as she was climbing a tree. Reveille sounded each morning from the penitentiary barracks across the street, fresh water was purchased weekly from a peddler, mule-drawn streetcars provided transportation, and there were picnics atop ancient pyramids. Diseases such as scarlet fever and diphtheria were rampant, and Mrs. Wilson recalled yellow flags flying from houses were the sick resided. She made Alberta wear a pouch of asafoetida around her neck and soaked the hems of her skirts in formaldehyde.
Then came the revolution which threw Mexico into chaos for many years. Bullets flew past the Wilson home, and the danger was so constant that most of the women left Puebla. But Mrs. Wilson, like her daughter, loved Mexico and would willingly have remained for the rest of her life. Alberta herself regarded Mexico as her segunda patria and felt completely at home there. Lou Emma Wilson died in Lexington, Kentucky, where she lived with her daughter in 1963. It was their love of Mexico that led Dr. Alberta Wilson Server to establish in her mother's memory the Lou Emma Wilson Mexicana Fund for the purchase of rare books on Mexico.
From her humble educational beginnings, Dr. Server led a distinguished academic career at the University of Kentucky. After graduating from Somerset High School, she earned a bachelor's degree (1920) and a master's degree (1921) in zoology from the University of Kentucky. She then earned a doctorate at the University of Besancon, France in 1939. She was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese, the South Atlantic Modern Language Association, the National League of Pen Women, the Kentucky Historical Society, and the American Association of University Women. Her publications appeared in Books Abroad, Hispania, French Review, and Revue De Deux Mondes. Her book, Sobre El Tapete Verde is a treatise on the game of bridge. For thirteen years she edited Kentucky Foreign Language Quarterly. Dr. Server passed away on July 4, 1986 at age 89.