Fond Memories of the Southwestern Insane Asylum

You’ll remember from the last post that Joe Lee’s resume included a stint as bookkeeper and steward at the Southwestern Insane Asylum in San Antonio in the 1890s. For some of that time he worked under the administration of Dr. William Wallace MacGregor, who took the role of superintendent in 1896. This was nearly twenty years before Joe Lee’s oldest son, Malcolm, would marry one of Dr. MacGregor’s daughters, Mary. In the intervening years, both families moved several times around southern Texas, and I have to wonder if they remained acquainted all that time, but perhaps they really bonded during the time they lived together in the insane asylum.

That’s right, they lived in the insane aslyum. This one here:

I don’t know if any of the family are in this picture. Someone took the time to pencil the name of the place on the back and you’d think he/or she would also mention any known people in the photo. I think it’s possible that Joe Lee is in the group standing off to the left (maybe the guy holding his hat?), and I suppose one of the whiskered gents could be Dr. MacGregor, though I’m less familiar with how he looks to be able to recognize him at this distance.

None of the children shown appear to be quite the right age/sex for the Jameson or MacGregor kids in the 1890s—if this photo is even from that decade. The buildings and grounds look pretty new, which makes me think it was taken not long after the asylum opened in 1892. There are a couple of infants in the picture, and if this was the early 1890s, Malcolm or Vida could be one of those, but who knows; it’s only a guess.

I do find it a little hard to imagine how the children lived there, especially in the case of the MacGregors, because by 1896, when Dr. MacG. became superintendent, there were already four girls in the family. But according to this page about the institution’s history, the asylum “was a self-contained living environment. Crops and livestock were raised on the grounds… A large lake provided fishing and recreational activities for the patients. All staff members lived on the grounds and had to obtain permission to leave.”

So I suppose the children were there, and from the above it doesn’t sound like it was the worst place for a few families to live. It was considered a state-of-the art facility at the time, built in the stately architectural style that reflected 19th-century ideals about asylums.

We found the postcard above wrapped in a note in Amaryllis Jameson’s handwriting:

The center part in picture is the administration building—on second floor to right as you look at it was the apartment of Dr. and Mrs. MacGregor. They had a suite of several rooms. On the third floor on left side front was our suite of two large rooms and bath. The officers dining room was on second floor back where we all ate—the kitchen in basement. On first floor was the large recreation room and Joe Lee and (I) learned to dance there by french harp music—we all had some good times there.

The two wings were patient wards—the females to right—males left.

Whether or not my great-grandparents met as children at the Southwestern Insane Asylum is a Question Worth Investigating. But if there’s one thing we do know, it’s that my great-great grandparents learned to dance there.

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One thought on “Fond Memories of the Southwestern Insane Asylum

  1. Hello, in researching my granduncle I find him listed as ‘inmate’ in the Southwestern Insane Asylum in the 1920 Federal Census. Do you have any guidance that would help me obtain more info on the circumstances that would have him there, ie, how can I obtain a copy of the medical file, etc.

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