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_Jee_Jameson_1890s(?)_NEW

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 Ancestry.com 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

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?

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A little more about the Southwestern Insane Asylum

First, another fun tidbit from Google Books, from a 1916 publication called
The Institutional Care of the Insane in the United States and Canada, Volume 3:

It does sound very well-intentioned. A “delightful resting place”! Terrazzo floors!  And notice Dr. MacGregor’s tenure in the list of superintendents.

I hope when I go back through the family files I can find out more about the MacGregors’ and Jamesons’ experiences living on the asylum grounds, especially from the standpoint of the children—if they indeed lived there: other than Amaryllis’s note, which only mentions the adults living there, I have no evidence either way. You’d think that if your earliest childhood memories were of living at an insane asylum, you’d mention it once in a while. Then again, if during its first ten years of operation the facility lived up to the pastoral nineteenth-century philosophies about asylums, maybe the overall experience was just pleasantly unremarkable.

Here’s an interesting Oliver Sacks piece about the early asylums:

These first state hospitals were often palatial buildings, with high ceilings, lofty windows, and spacious grounds, providing abundant light, space, and fresh air, along with exercise and a varied diet. Most asylums were largely self-supporting and grew or raised most of their own food. Patients would work in the fields and dairies, work being considered a central form of therapy for them, as well as supporting the hospital. Community and companionship, too, were central—indeed vital—for patients who would otherwise be isolated in their own mental worlds, driven by their obsessions or hallucinations. Also crucial was the recognition and acceptance of their insanity by the staff and other inmates around them.

There’s also a great photo and blog entry about Southwestern here, and an unusual 1909 photo here.

The asylum eventually became the San Antonio State Hospital, which still operates today at the same location, though the original hospital buildings have been replaced with newer structures. Don’t fall for the claims that it’s now a creepy haunted ruin. The decrepit buildings in those pictures (and on YouTube, and countless message boards) are from the Bexar County Home for the Aged, a poorhouse which opened in 1915 and later included a boys’ home and TB sanitarium. At some point after the property was abandoned there developed an urban myth that the place was the old Southwestern Insane Asylum, because who doesn’t love the idea of a deserted haunted loony bin?  Some write-ups of the site actually borrow facts from the state hospital’s history, but of course they’re bullshit. I will admit to getting just a little excited at the thought that my great-great grandparents’ old stomping ground was a PARANORMAL HOT SPOT BOOoooOOOOOooo but then I figured out the real story.

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.