Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Workday Wednesday: The Clemmer’s Come North to Work at the New York State Homeopathic Asylum in Middletown

The State Homeopathic Asylum of Middletown, New York was built in 1874 and was the first established hospital for the care of the insane in the country.

The hospital grew from one building on a 250 acre farm to become known as a ‘city within a city’. In past years the State Hospital housed patients in Pavilion One and Pavilion Two as well as Annexes One and Two. There was a medical library for the staff that also included a large literary collection for the patients. The grounds included an entertainment hall, superintendent’s residence, blacksmith shop, nursing school, laundry cottage, infirmary, bakery, kitchen, staff house, nurses and attendants’ home, coach house, drug store, fire house, and power house. A baseball club included both patients and staff. The Middletown State Hospital was a major employer in the area.

The early superintendents believed in work therapy. They felt it was beneficial for the patients to be busy and productive. Work therapy helped the State Homeopathic Asylum become self-sufficient. Farming was an important aspect of patient treatment and at the same time was financially advantageous to the ‘city within the city’.

The local newspapers regularly published accounts about hospital events and staff.

News of the State Hospital, Middletown Times Herald, Jan. 21, 1932
Middletown Times Herald, Middletown, New York
Thursday, January 21, 1932 issue

My grandparents, great grandmother, great aunts and uncles were among the large work force required to support and care for the patients and institution. When my grandmother Lucy Leora Clemmer began working in Middletown, there were approximately 3,292 patients residing on the grounds.[1]

Great Uncle Casper Garber from Augusta County, Virginia recollects:

Along about 1924, when Janie was 18, she found a job in the Western State Hospital, and then Lucy and Lynwood followed. They soon learned that Middletown, New York had the same kind of hospital which was paying almost twice the wages they were in Virginia, and so there was a migration to Middletown. Because the Virginians were considered good workers, they hired them as fast as they came. So Janie, then Lucy and Lynwood came to Middletown, New York to work in the State Hospital. Little did they know that this move would change the lives of the entire family in the future.”

When my grandmother arrived from Virginia, it was reported in the ‘State Hospital News’ published by the Middletown newspaper, the Daily Herald, Wednesday, August 11, 1926, 5th paragraph.

   “Miss Lucy Clemmer from Staunton, Virginia, arrived here Sunday evening. She was met at the station by the following Virginians, who acted as a reception committee: Miss Jane Clemmer, a sister; Walter Gordon, Guy Edwards and Miss Margaret Carper. The party went on a sight-seeing tour to Newburgh and other parts of historic Orange County, and arrived home at a late hour Sunday evening.”

Lucy and Janie’s brother, Lynwood Clemmer, arrived in Middletown the same year. The three worked as attendants residing on the hospital grounds.[2]

Lucy Clemmer at Middletown State Hospital

Grandmother Lucy Clemmer

Jane and Lucy Clemmer in front of Nurses Home, Middletown State Hospital

Janie and Lucy Clemmer
Standing in front of Nurses Home on Hospital Grounds

While my grandparents weren’t yet married, my grandfather James M. Joseph also was working at the Middletown State Hospital in 1926.[3] He was employed as an attendant and lived on the grounds like my grandmother.

James M Joseph, Lucy Clemmer and Elmer Jennings, Middletown State Hospital

James M. Joseph, Lucy Clemmer
and Elmer Jennings
Standing in front of Nurses Home on Hospital Grounds

Paul Hayes and James Joseph, Middletown State Hospital Employees

Paul Hayes and Grandfather James Joseph

Great Grandmother Ella (White) Clemmer joined her children in Middletown a few years after Great Grandfather James Clyde Clemmer passed away (1928). By 1930 another Clemmer daughter, Elsie, was then employed as an attendant for the Middletown State Hospital.[4] Great Grandmother Ella was not working at this time but lived on Oliver Avenue very close to the hospital with her younger children.[5]

By 1931, Ella had become a hospital attendant and in 1933, Great Grandmother was working as a cook in the kitchen[6].  In case you didn’t notice, Great Grandmother was mentioned in the ‘News from the State Hospital’ article above, paragraph nine:

   “Mrs. Ella Clemmer left on the nineteenth for Virginia on vacation time, which will expire on the thirty-first of the month.”

All the Clemmer children made the move north from Augusta County, Virginia with the exception of daughter Helen. Helen remained in Staunton marrying Uncle Casper Garber July 5, 1930. Staunton was their home for many years.

My ancestry
Great Grandparents Ella Virginia White and husband James Clyde Clemmer
Grandmother Lucy Leora Clemmer and James McFall Joseph
My Father

If you would like additional reading about the Middletown State Hospital, click here to view the Centennial Chronicle The Story of 100 Years of the Middletown State Hospital 1874-1974.

[1] State of New York Fifty-Sixth Annual Report of the Middletown State Homeopathic Hospital at Middletown, New York to the State Hospital Commission For the Fiscal Year Ending June 30, 1926, page 9
[2] 1926 Middletown, New York City Directory, page 123
[3] Ibid, page 213
[4] 1930 Middletown, New York City Directory, page 119
[5] 1930 Federal Census, Middletown, Orange Co., NY, sheet no. 11B, line 65
[6] 1931 Middletown, New York City Directory, page 118; 1933 Middletown, New York City Directory, page 109

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