Amazing rare photo of Dr. MacGregor IN ACTION!


Dr. William Wallace MacGregor

I think when it comes to photographs my great-great-grandfather Dr. MacGregor is sort of the family Sasquatch: he almost never makes an appearance in any of the snapshots that began proliferating in the early 1900s. He had a good number of studio portraits taken over the years, so we know what he looked like, and that he never, ever went without a prodigious display of facial hair.

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“I have made a Masonic pledge to always keep this moustache!”

But he rarely shows up in other kinds of photos, and when he does he’s always shadowy and/or distant. I have one of him driving a buggy, taken from far off, and another of him in a crowd during a WWI Loyalty Parade in Laredo. And I think he’s the fellow on the left in this photo. In all of these pictures you’re never quite sure that it’s really Dr. MacGregor.

Which is why the photo below is so great, because not only is it a photo of Dr. MacGregor, but it’s a photo of him being Dr. MacGregor.


Dr. MacGregor, doctoring (or at least pretending)

This was taken at Mercy Hospital, the Laredo hospital that the Sisters of Mercy order had founded, with the help of Dr. MacGregor and other local physicians. Somewhere (now I can’t find where), I read that Dr. MacGregor had helped design an operating room at the hospital, and perhaps it is this one (which clearly uses natural light as the light source, as apparently many ORs did in that era). My guess is that this is from around 1905.

It’s a posed photograph. Dr. MacGregor’s youngest daughter Kathryn played the patient, according to a note on the back written years later by her sister Anna. (Once again, Anna explains it all for us.)

IMG_7817 Mother Clare was one of the hospital’s founders, and during the Yellow Fever epidemic in Laredo in 1903, she helped nurse Dr. MacGregor back to health after he was stricken with the disease. (I don’t think she’s one of the shadowy nurse-nuns in this photo, but who knows.)

And not that we ever doubted that Dr. MacGregor was a doctor, but it’s nice that this picture exists.

Mac was a Better Baby

Look at what I found tucked into a scrapbook! Apparently my grandpa Mac was a BETTER BABY. Which means just a bit more than you think it means. Or it did in 1920 at least.


(Click on these images to see details. Fun to read!)


When you glance at this, it appears to be an infant health development checklist—which it was—and perhaps part of some kind of public health effort—which it was as well. But the Better Babies contests were also a product of the eugenics movement in the US in the early twentieth century, the so-called science of social engineering through “breeding.” The idea was that some people, such as epileptics, alcoholics, the feeble-minded—and, well, an awful lot of poor people and immigrants and black and brown folks!—were “unfit” to marry and reproduce and should be discouraged from doing so (or, really, sterilized) for the betterment of the race. If it all sounds a tad Hitlerish it’s because Nazi Germany picked up on these theories in the 1930s and ran with them, to put it mildly. On the slightly less sinister side, eugenics councils here in the US promoted the betterment cause through state and county fair exhibits, where they distributed propaganda and held Fitter Family contests, giving people (er, white people!) cash prize incentives to measure the “fitness” of their family “stock.” This gave rise to more mainstream efforts, like the Better Babies Bureau, which was co-sponsored by a women’s magazine.

Despite everything, there were definitely some benefits to the Better Baby contests, which gave young mothers a chance to have their babies examined by physicians (in an era before checkups were routine), and which distributed valuable information on nutrition and child care. Which is likely what Nana had in mind when she brought Mac to the contest. The family was stationed at the newly established Navy installation at Dahlgren, Virginia, where resources were limited—the contest could have even been held for families on base. Plus, given that Mac was solidly above-average in height and weight, who would pass up the chance to win a little cash?


Mac: a pretty good baby!

Note in the detail below the use of caliper measurements, and odd criteria for “defects.” (Which immigrant population at the time was considered to have defectively “box-shaped” heads, I wonder.)


Looking at the score card, Mac did pretty well overall, with points off only for “position of eyes,” whatever that meant, “enlarged tonsils,” and something to do with his teeth. Evidently Nana was proud enough to send this to Mac’s MacGregor grandparents, where it would have been especially interesting to Dr. MacGregor. Anna put it in one of her scrapbooks, where it was later accompanied by some of Mac’s report cards.

When I found this, my first thought was that it was just a health checkup. Then I noted the year and saw the phrase Better Babies and wondered about the eugenics connection, because it just so happens that I edited a novel this year about American eugenics called Of Better Blood. The book came out last month, and I sent this score card to Susan, the author. (Talk about worlds coming together!)

One more thing: Do you suppose Baby Mac really drank two quarts of whole milk a day like the front of that scorecard says? Maybe he was a really mighty kid, in which case perhaps his age in this news item below isn’t a typo:


(Okay, it probably IS a typo. He was likely around 1o.)

Go get ’em, kid!

Who are all these people again?

If you’ve just recently joined us (ME) here at this blog, here’s a fresh introduction to the folks whose lives I’ve been researching, as well as few I plan to talk about soon.

All of these people are related to me through my mother’s father, Malcolm MacGregor Jameson, known to me as “Grandpa Mac” and to others in the family as MacGregor. He didn’t talk much about his family and the relationship I had to him and my grandmother wasn’t a close one. So some of this stuff I’m learning is very new to me.

On Mac’s dad’s side is my great-great-grandfather Joe Lee Jameson, a Texas bureaucrat who had been bookkeeper at an insane asylum, the State Revenue Agent of Texas, endorser for an adding machine, and had recently become an oil company executive when he died of typhoid fever at the age of thirty-four. He was married to Amaryllis Routh Jameson (whose later married name was Ward and who took the nickname “Jamie”), and at least half the stuff I know about this family comes from her scrapbooks, so she is my hero.


Joe Lee Jameson, looking very important

They had three children,* all born in Texas:

The eldest, Malcolm Routh Jameson (my great-grandfather), also died relatively young, in his fifties. He had been a Naval officer during WWI and later in life became a science-fiction writer. I’ve built a web site for him and I’ll sometimes call him MRJ for short.

The second child was Vida Jameson (or “Vida I” because MRJ named his daughter after her). She died when she was just five. *There were also twin boys in the family who were born and died (or else were stillborn) in 1901. They’re the ones with unsettling little angel baby jpegs on their profiles (no, I don’t know who put them there).

A year after the twins, and two years after Vida’s death, House Baker Jameson (named for his father’s mentor, Colonel Edward M. House), was born. He became an actor and worked on stage, radio, TV and film from the 1930s into the late 60s. His first wife was Edith (Edie) Taliaferro, a stage actress who had been a child star and who also had appeared in a handful of silent films, only one of which survives. After she died, House remarried, to actress and dancer Liz Mears. (And while he’s not a blood relative, I’ll tell you about her dad sometime, because… well, you’ll see.)

MRJ was the only one of his siblings to have children of his own: my Grandpa Mac (the second born), and Vida Jameson (aka Vida II), who as a young adult became friends with some Golden Age sci-fi writers her father knew, and eventually published stories of her own.

Vida and Mac’s mother was my great-grandmother Mary MacGregor Jameson (I grew up hearing her referred to as “Nana”), who first met MRJ when they were kids, when both his family and hers were living in the administrative staff quarters of the Southwestern Insane Asylum in San Antonio, Texas, around 1897. If you’re following along, you’ll remember my great-great-grandfather Joe Lee Jameson was the bookkeeper; my other great-great grandfather was the superintendent.


MRJ and Nana (Mary), 1920s: “Of course we’re crazy about each other. We met at the insane asylum!”

Like MRJ, Mary was the only one of her siblings to have children. She was the second of five sisters, the four others being:

  • Anna MacGregor Collins, the oldest, who was the family archivist and genealogist, and whom I have to thank for saving a lot of this stuff.
  • Helen MacGregor, who never married and became a schoolteacher (oh, but she left some compelling stuff).
  • Margaret MacGregor Morgan, who moved to New York City in the 1930s. Still trying to figure out her story.
  • Kathryn MacGregor Burgess, who along with her sister Anna married military officers stationed in the Philippines.

The MacGregor sisters’ parents (see how I pivoted and am now going backward through the generations of my Grandpa Mac’s mother’s line?), were my great-great grandfather Dr. William Wallace MacGregor, a physician and surgeon, and Anna Jones MacGregor, my great-great grandmother (whose birth was celebrated in this lovely letter).

Beyond this generation and going backward, Anna Jones’s line is the most well-documented—most of the material I have from the 1880s and earlier is from her side, and she and some of her daughters claimed DAR membership based on her ancestors (the Moores, the Markses, and the Meriwethers). We’ve already had a glimpse of Anna’s maternal relatives, and there are some letters from her father and his people too.

I’ve also started to find out a little more about Dr. MacGregor’s family, who I think came over to the US from Glasgow, Scotland, around 1850. I have a few scraps (and I mean, literally, scraps) from that side.

And then, jumping ahead about a century (oh, the whiplash!), I have some stuff that provides some interesting glimpses of my mother’s very early childhood in New York, when she and my grandmother lived with MRJ and Nana while Grandpa Mac was off in the Pacific in WWII.

I’ve set up a category list in the sidebar to be a sort of index, so feel free to click on those names (or places or details) to see where else they come up. And I’ll be updating the family tree info when I get a chance. Until then, consider this your cheat sheet. Any questions?

When House was Hamilton

This stage photo of my great-great uncle House Jameson (actor, New York dweller, second husband extraordinaire), has been knocking around in my files for awhile; his name and the play title, The Patriots, are scrawled on the back in pencil. But somehow I hadn’t bothered to look up who he was playing in that getup until I stumbled across the info in a letter. He was Alexander Hamilton, you guys! He played Hamilton on Broadway in 1943, 73 years before being Hamilton on Broadway was cool.

The Patriots ran for several months, during which time House continued his role as Mr. Aldrich in the radio show The Aldrich Family (which turned out to be a long-term gig for him). But this meant that House had to come to the NBC studios dressed and made up as Hamilton in order to do both his live radio performance and the play that evening. So he’d be there in the studio speaking his loveable sitcom dad lines for listeners who’d have no idea he was at that very moment wearing 18th-century knee breeches and a wig (though for the studio audience it must have been pretty surreal). Then when the show signed off he’d run into a waiting elevator and then into an ambulance (!) at the NBC exit, which would rush him a few blocks over to Times Square. He’d come through the backstage door just as the curtain went up. Or so the story goes, according to a letter House’s second wife, Liz, wrote my grandmother in 1977, a few years after he died.

Anyway, that is some hardcore Hamilton, right?


House un-wigged, in a more typical radio moment. (The woman is someone named Laurie Day, according to the back of the pic).

Bonus fact: if you are wistful about being 70 years too late to see House Jameson perform in dapper colonial American garb, you can still—to this day, and just about every day—see him in breeches and a waistcoast on the big screen, in Technicolor and VistaVision, playing William Byrd III in Williamsburg: The Story of a Patriot, which has been airing at the Colonial Williamsburg visitor’s center since 1957. And yes, that makes the longest-running film in history. History! Hamilton! House! Sometimes it’s crazy what you find out.