Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Tragic Family of James Addison Smith

James Addison Smith, unfortunately
I don't have any photos of his wife or
James Addison Smith is not one of my ancestors but I am related to him. He was one of the many sons of my ancestors Robert Hawkins Smith and Octavia M. Wood, who I detailed in an earlier post regarding their premarital love letters. I am descended from their son, Robert Louis, James' brother. Descendants of James might be interested to know that this family was plagued with tragedy and scandal. His son Olaf was killed young in a train accident, his daughter Mary suffered from Schizophrenia while his other daughter Marjory and his wife Maggie (Margaret Peay) both became drug addicts, dependent on morphine.

Mary Ryland Smith was born January 25, 1896 in Logan County, Kentucky to James Addison Smith and Margaret "Maggie" Peay. Sometime between the ages of 14 and 24, her family moved to Tennessee. This would have probably been around the same time she started experiencing symptoms of Schizophrenia since it's onset typically occurs during late adolescence or early adulthood. Initially, the family lived in Memphis but by 1930, they had moved to Nashville and so it was at the Central State Hospital for the Insane in Nashville on Murfreesboro Pike that Mary finally found herself by 1935. Presumably, her parents had grown too old to care for her (they were in their 70's) or perhaps her mental condition had deteriorated beyond what they could handle.

Central State Hospital for the Insane, courtesy
Asylum Projects
The Central State Hospital for the Insane is what it was known as when Mary died in 1957 but it was previously named the Tennessee Hospital for the Insane and after Mary's time there, Middle Tennessee Mental Health Institute. After 1963, it was also home to the Tennessee Neuropsychiatric Institute. And it had originally been called the Tennessee Lunatic Asylum when it was at a different location on what is now Twelfth Avenue South and Division Street. It had been plagued by financial problems almost from it's opening in 1840 and so it was rebuilt on Murfreesboro Pike in 1851, long before Mary was admitted. It moved locations again in 1995 to Stewarts Ferry Pike and the building on Murfreesboro Pike was demolished in 1999, a Dell computer assembly plant now sits there. The image immediately below is labelled "Central Hospital for the Insane" which is the nearest name to what is was called when Mary died, and that suggests this was how it looked while she lived there. Further below is an image which may have been how the building looked prior to modifications and expansions.

Central State Hospital for the Insane, probably how it looked at the time
Mary lived there, courtesy Asylum Projects

In 1940, the hospital was home to 1788 patients and at least 133 staff, of which only three were nurses. Most staff were attendants but there were also several superintendents, two cooks, a baker, many staff who worked in the laundry department, one night watchman, two stenographers, a telephone operator, an accountant, a few clerks, general workmen, and more. There were three physician assistants, a couple of student interns, and presumably physicians too, although they are not listed on the census.

Tennesse State Hospital for the Insane, possibly
a pre-modified version on Murfreesboro Pike.
Courtesy Library of Congress.
Mary suffered from what was then known as a chronic undifferentiated type of Schizophrenia, now simply known as undifferentiated type which means that the patient shows two or more of the symptoms of all three of the main types of Schizophrenia - paranoid, disorganized, and catatonic - but none prominently enough to categorized it as any one type in particular. This meant Mary probably had some delusions or hallucinations, disorganized speech or behavior and/or may have been catatonic at times.

In my grandmother's genealogy notes, Mary is described as having "went crazy". Though a common, if outdated term, it probably referred to the fact that Mary was likely quite normal as a child and at least in her early teens. She may not have even developed symptoms until her early 20's so it's easy to say she "went crazy" rather than "was crazy", even if it seems to wrongly suggest something drove her to it rather than being a medical condition. It must have been distressing for a family to watch a loved one deteriorate before their eyes and be helpless to stop it. Her parents were obviously devoted to looking after her themselves since they refused to institutionalize her until they were in their 70's, though knowing that her mother Maggie was a drug addict, much of the responsibility may have fallen on James. In fact, Maggie's drug addiction may have been the only way she could cope with her daughter's tragic fate.

The layout of Central State Hospital for the Insane
on Murfreesboro Pike, courtesy Asylum Projects.
Click image to enlarge.
Two of their other daughters, Ella and Mona, remain unmarried and living with them well into their 30's, perhaps because they too dedicated themselves to caring for their sister and perhaps their mother. According to my grandmother's information, it was because James was very protective and controlling of his daughters and wouldn't let them out of the house without their mother and they weren't allowed to have boyfriends.

A third daughter Marjory, also an addict and also never married, lived at the family home into her 40's, perhaps initially to look after her sister only to succumb to her mother's fate. She did manage to complete two years of college and consistently work as a file clerk, though at various locations, first a railroad company, then a hardware store, and finally a manufacturing company. In 1940, she was working 44 hours a week, 52 weeks a year and making an annual $720. Today, this would be about $22,000. So perhaps her addiction occurred later in her life because it seems unlikely that she could hold a job with so many hours as an addict.

Ella was a proofreader, though it's difficult to tell how much she was making since she appears to have been unemployed for much of year when the census was taken. She had resumed work (40 hours a week) by this point but had only been back for 4 weeks time and made $68 in that time. Theoretically, if she worked 52 weeks out of the year at that rate, she'd make $884 annually. That's about $27,000 today.

Mona was a copy holder, someone who read an original document aloud for a proofreader (who reads the proof copy) and calls attention to errors. In 1930, she and her proofreader sister Ella were both working at a printing company so perhaps they worked together. However, by 1940, Mona was no longer working. By this point, Mary was already living in the institute so Mona was not staying home to care for her.

I do not think any of the these three daughters, Marjory, Ella, and Mona, ever had children (certainly Mary did not) but James and Maggie did have three other children, Madge Smith (b. abt. 1890), James Addison Smith Jr. (b. abt. 1901), and Laura Smith (b. abt. 1909), who may have so I'm listing their details in case any descendants Google them and find this useful. Madge manage to escape her father's oppressive rules by running away with a salesman she met at her father's store. Her father disowned her but she kept in touch with her mother and sisters. I'm not sure what happened to Laura, she either died or somehow managed to escape the house since she was no longer living there in 1940.

Mary died in the State Hospital on June 4, 1957 of a Cerebral Hemorrhage when she was 61 years old. There was no contributing or underlying cause listed on her death certificate which means her death was unrelated to her mental illness.

I must admit that I don't have documented evidence of the other tragedies of this family. I'm not even sure the drug addictions would have been documented to begin with, it may have been information that was passed down generations since I got this info from my grandmother. Margaret died in 1954 and there is no mention of her addiction as a contributing cause of death. Olaf's train accident though should be documented somewhere and I have searched but not found anything yet. I will update this if that changes and if anyone knows anything more about it, please let me know!



  1. Thanks for sharing. I had a great grandfather there around the same time. Have been researching this institution.

    1. I'd love to hear any info about the institution that you've found!