Tuesday, May 24, 2011

...but he smoked cigarettes and the doctors think that is what caused the insanity

My great-great grandmother Cecelia Young did not have an easy life, that is made clear by the deposition that she filed. The original is in the National Archives and my cousin Lorraine tracked it down. In addition to the Volunteer Enlistment paper that I posted yesterday, there are four other typed legal-sized pages. It is a five-page tale of woe. It begins:
On this Fourth day of February, 1904, at Philadelphia, County of Philadelphia, State of Penna. before me, Geo. D. Sidman, a special examiner of the Bureau of Pensions personally appeared Cecelia V. Young, who, being by me first duly sworn to answer truly all interrogations propounded to her during this special examination of aforesaid claim for pension, deposes and says: I am 58 years of age; my post office address is 4307 Leiper St., Philadelphia Pa.
I have no regular occupation except working out at days work. My maiden name was Cecelia Virginia McAleer. I was born and raised in this city and have always resided here. I was married to William H. Young on April 3, 1864, by Rev. Father Toner of the St. Michaels R. C. Church of this city. Neither Mr. Young or myself were ever married before our said marriage on April 3, 1864. I had four children by Mr. Young, two of whom are yet living, to wit: Mary C. Smith, wife of Geo B. Smith who live in the same house with me now. My other child is named Joseph Daniel Young who was born February 14, 1874, I think. This son has been insane for the past five years and is now an inmate of the Norristown Insane Asylum where he has been confined for two years past. He was in the Philadelphia Hospital (Almshouse) three years before that time. His insanity was due to an injury he received by falling from a sled and hurting his head, as one doctor said, but he smoked cigarettes and the doctors think that is what caused the insanity.

So she had four children and outlived two of them. The two remaining were my grandmother's mother, Mary Cecelia Smith, and "Uncle Joe" as my mother always called him. Uncle Joe clearly sustained some type of brain-damage, although the story my mother told me was that a hanging store sign fell on his head, so I have to find out why the discrepancy.

In any case by the time my mother knew him, Uncle Joe was in his 70s. He apparently was let out of the Norristown Insane Asylum because by the time my mother was a little girl he was living in the basement of his sister Mary's ("Nanna" to my mother) house, mumbling to himself. My mother would be sent to the basement to fetch canned goods for dinner and said she would run down and run back up again as quick as she could, terrified to spend any time with Uncle Joe. He liked to use his disability to his advantage though. My mother reports that whenever he was asked to do a chore or run an errand he would say "you know I got a weak nut!" Nut in this case being of course his head.

I was amazed to read the second diagnosis. What quacks would tell my great-great grandmother that her son was insane due to cigarette smoking? Could it be possible this was a medical consensus? Yet by the middle of the century, doctors were advertising for cigarettes. So it seems truly strange that in 1904 some doctors said that they caused insanity.

Also very strange - her son was born on Valentine's day 1874 - she thinks. She has other date lapses later on in the deposition. Did she too have a weak nut, or were calendars just that hard to come by?

The deposition continues immediately after the above section:
When my said son was about six months old my husband had become so dissipated that I had to have him arrested for non-support and he was sent to Moyamensing Prison where he remained a month and then his mother begged me to let him out so I did.
This is also very curious - apparently you could have your husband sent to prison for non-support and you had the power to release him. I'd never heard of this before.

Clearly William H. Young was an alcoholic and ne'er-do-well. More about that tomorrow.