A little more about Maggie and the Sad Death

Old Main, Sam Houston State Normal Institute, Huntsville, Texas 1928.preview

Where Maggie Jones was going to school, at least for a while.

The Corpus Christi public library came through and yesterday they sent me two newspaper items on my third great-aunt Maggie Jones’s death. If you’ll remember, this poor kid died of scarlet fever when she was just eighteen and away from home. The story we saw last week from the Laredo paper made it sound like she’d been attending school there, and I’d thought it was the boarding school there. Nope, it turns out she’d been at the “Normal Institute, Huntsville,” a teaching school (now I know: normal tends to mean teacher education) that would later become Sam Houston State University. Then apparently she stopped in Laredo on her way home to stay with her aunt and uncle and take an exam at the institute there (a teaching certification exam maybe), when illness struck.

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From the Corpus Christi Caller, August 3, 1884 (click to enlarge)

(This was an object lesson in interpreting primary sources. The Laredo paper had led me to believe Maggie was attending school there, but her hometown paper in Corpus Christi had the correct details.)

The “more extended notice” “from the pen of one who knew [Maggie] well” ran in the Caller a few days later. Here’s a PDF of the memorial, followed by a more legible transcription.  Don’t get too excited: it was written by Maggie’s pastor, who described her as being pious, and sweet, and, uh… pious. Typical passage:

The subject of this sketch entered into rest at the age of 18 years, 4 months, and 10 days. Physically she was frail, and from an early period she was impressed with the thought that her life would be short. This impression, however, never turned her aside from the duty of the present hour. To be useful, to be well furnished as to her mind, to keep her heart with diligence and to live the life of a Christian, was more to her than length of days and years. She often spoke of death, but it was as a release from the trials and ills of life. During her short illness, texts of scripture would come to her, which she had learned from her mother as being comforting in affliction. She was sensible of her approaching end, and once, after prayer had been offered at her request, she repeated with touching simplicity the prayer of innocent childhood—”Now I lay me down to sleep.”

Yeah, we get it: she was Beth March. Pretty much the only helpful information here is her exact age to the day when she died, which, if my backwards counting is correct, has her birthday as March 19, 1866. (She was a Pisces.)

Maggie is listed as having a “probable and possible” grave at Old Bayview Cemetery in Corpus Christi, the same cemetery where her grandfather, a former mayor of Corpus Christi, would be buried a few years later. So there’s a chance she could have been buried on family property, but Old Bayview was the most likely place she would have ended up.

Just for fun I searched on the name of the clergyman who performed the funeral service and possibly also wrote the memorial piece. I found this article, which seems to be the right guy. (Look at that beard! Are you going to buy anything that guy wrote about anyone?)

Rest in peace, Maggie, wherever you are.

Starting points: the brief life of Maggie Jones

I was just beginning to compose this post this morning when I realized I’d accidentally hit Publish at some point instead of Save Draft. It wasn’t a big deal, of course… I just changed it back to draft mode and it had only been online for a few minutes. By then, though, it had gone out to as a “New Post” email to the subscription list. Anyone who saw it would saw just the post title and these four images below, in the same order they appear now.

But as it happens, these photos tell almost all the story I have about Maggie L. Jones, who is my third great-aunt:

Anna's sister. Reverse side of card says

Maggie Jones, born around 1866 in Corpus Christi , Texas

Maggie was Anna Jones’s sister. According to census records, she was born around 1866 in Corpus Christi, the youngest of three—Anna, who was about four years older, followed by Harriet, aka “Hattie,” and then Maggie. I assume Maggie is short for Margaret, since she has an aunt Margaret on her mother’s side, and Hattie seems to have been similarly named-after someone on that side.

I found the photo before I saw the census records. So I found out from Anna herself—well, her note—that she’d had a sister.

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Reverse side of photo. Anna’s handwriting; “My sister Maggie.”

A few months later I found out what happened to her, by way of a funeral notice in a scrapbook that Anna had put together later in life—the scrapbook appears to be from the 1920s, and there’s a single spread of pages plastered with obituaries and funeral notices of family members across the years, a sort of paper graveyard.

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Note: M.A. Sinckler is Mary Ann Moore, apparently widowed and remarried by 1884.

And there you’ll find Maggie, who died of scarlet fever at the age of 18.
AIMG_7632 few more details: She’d died shortly after starting school in Laredo. As to which school—maybe it was the Laredo Seminary, which later became as The Holding Institute? The school seems to have served many purposes, but this marker indicates that it had opened as a boarding school for women in 1880. Anna was attending Wellesley around this time, and I think that she and Hattie later taught school in Corpus Christi, so it’s possible that Maggie was attending school to become a teacher as well… or a missionary? There were several teachers and clergy on the Jones side of the family, so either vocation seems possible. 

UPDATE: It turns out she was enrolled at the Normal Institute in Huntsville.

Other little details to be gleaned: Maggie was staying in Laredo with her aunt Margaret on her mother’s side, who was married to William Headen. Only one sister is mentioned as arriving with their mother to be by Maggie’s bedside—maybe that was Hattie, since Anna may have been up at school in Boston. And I wonder how much it cost to have a funeral train?

I found an abstract for a memorial piece published about her in the Corpus Christi Caller a week or so after her death. I hope to get the article soon. Also hope to find out where her grave is. And why she went to school. And why did she go to Laredo instead of Wellesley like her sister? And when did her father die?  And what was her life like, there in another century, on the edge of Texas and the ocean?

A day in New York in 1932

I came across this photo of my great-grandparents while sorting through the trunk stuff. This is an incredibly cool photo, for more than one reason.

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3rd from left: Mary “Nana” MacGregor Jameson. 4th from left (behind Nana): Malcolm Routh Jameson. 5th from left: Edith Taliaferro Jameson. Far right: Vida Jameson. Likely New York, possibly August 1932. Taken by House Jameson?

For one thing, it’s the only photo I’ve ever found that shows my great-great-uncle House’s wife, Edie, in the company of the other Jamesons. You’ll remember Malcolm, Mary, and Vida Jameson from the last two posts, when they were in D.C.; here, Vida is a teenager. You might also recall that in 1930 Malcolm and Mary and their kids were living in the same building on east 48th Street as House and Edie. Despite this, though the two brothers (Malcolm and House) with their respective spouses/families always seemed to be in different worlds. At times this was literally true—in the 1930s House and Edie were touring Australia and the US with a theatre company for months at a time, Then House’s radio and stage work in New York likely came with its own unique lifestyle, whereas in 1930 Malcolm was a salesman with the International Correspondence Schools. In some of the extended group family photos of the Jamesons in the 30s and 40s, House shows up, but never Edie. But here she is, with her brother-in-law and sister-in-law and niece (and some other unknown folks) on a rooftop in what looks to be New York City.

My guess is that House was taking the photo, which is why he doesn’t appear in it. I also can’t help but wonder if they’re all on the roof of their building on 48th Street. But—and this is the other cool thing about the photo—I figured out from looking at the photo closely (which meant scanning it, since it’s only three by four inches) that I could make a pretty good guess as to the exact day it was taken.  Continue reading

The Jamesons go to Washington (Part 2)

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Mary MacGregor Jameson and baby Vida, circa 1917 (Evidently they took close-ups of the baby once in a while.)

Just a little more background on last week’s photos of Malcolm, Mary, and little Vida in Washington DC. Vida had been born in September 1916 in Houston, and in November Malcolm was called to Washington to work as a Naval draftsman, and the family seems to have moved with him.

One of the photos from last week provides a clue about where they lived:

vidababy4 Look closely and you’ll see the word “Fifth floor” scrawled at the top. Look even more closely and you can just make out the word “Ventosa” over the building’s doorway.

I don’t know if I would have known to look if the note on the back of the photo hadn’t urged me:

IMG_7973“Vida in front of the house / See name over door,” it says, in what I think is Mary’s handwriting. So I looked up Ventosa and here’s what I found, from a 1907 newspaper:

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Rooms of good size! Modern plumbing! Speedy elevators!

According to this ad, the Ventosa apartments each had two rooms, bath, kitchenette, and long-distance telephone service. Notice also the line about the building being “Opposite and Fronting United States Capitol and Its Beautiful Park.” That was no exaggeration—B Street is now Constitution Avenue, and if you look at where it intersects Northwest 1st street on a DC map you’ll see it’s kitty-corner from the main Capitol grounds. The place where the Ventosa stood is now part of the extended grounds (the building was torn down in the 1930s).

I don’t have this address for the Jamesons in any records (they would move on to Virginia by the 1920 census), but I’ll keep an eye out for it. I was hoping it would be on Malcolm’s 1917 passport application, but no dice—it just mentions he lives in DC.

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If they really did live at the Ventosa, with the Capitol dome right across the street, it might have felt very familiar to Malcolm, who for a few years in childhood had lived right across the street from the Texas capitol in Austin.

At any rate the family seemed very proud to be there, if the baby pictures of Vida are any indication. (I made a collage of them for fun). And as for why they all look like hostage photos, my guess is they had didn’t have unlimited film—or, for that matter, unlimited time outside with a tiny baby in winter. The easiest thing was probably to get in as much of the scenery as possible and the baby.

 

The Jamesons go to Washington (Part 1)

Gallery

This gallery contains 12 photos.

I was away for part of the weekend, so no time for a full post this week. But here are a dozen photos of my great-aunt Vida Jameson, just a few months old, in late 1916 or early 1917 in Washington, DC. Her … Continue reading

Amazing rare photo of Dr. MacGregor IN ACTION!

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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.

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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.

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

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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?

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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.)

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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:

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(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.

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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.

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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.
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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?

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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.

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While researching that last post I came across some great photos of Edie and House in the Broadway archives at the Museum of the City of New York. It appears the permissions unlicensed use of these pictures on a web page, but they do allow for social media sharing, so I created a Pinterest board for these images. Go take a look! I’ll put other online archive finds up there, such as covers for the pulps that ran Malcolm’s stories. There won’t be private pictures there, just links to images at other sources. (Yes, another thing I’m going to make you go look at.)