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Macdonald family papers

Call Number: MS 950
Scope and Contents

The Macdonald Family Papers consist of both the personal papers of the families of Dr. James Macdonald and his wife Eliza Harris Miller Macdonald, and the papers of the family business, the Sanford Hall Institution, a private mental hospital. James Allen Macdonald, one of six children of James and Eliza Macdonald, was an early student in the Sheffield Scientific School of Yale University.

James Macdonald's father, Dr. Archibald Macdonald, had come to the American colonies from Scotland while still a child and had served in the British army as a surgeon during the Revolutionary War. Eliza Harris Miller Macdonald (b. 1814) was from an old New York family.

James Macdonald (b. 1803), like his father, became a physician. He graduated from the College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York in 1824. In the years following he specialized in the care of individuals with mental disorders. In 1831 with a commission from the Governors of the New York Hospital he traveled extensively in Europe, visiting continental mental institutions and noting their improvements in the care and treatment of their patients. On his return he was appointed resident physician and superintendent of Bloomingdale Asylum in New York. He remained with this institution until the late 1830s when, with his brother Allan, Macdonald became proprietor of a private mental institution on Murray Hill in New York City. In 1844 James and Allan purchased the richly appointed private residence of Nathan Sanford in Flushing, New York, and in 1845 transferred their patients to the new Sanford Hall Institution. James served as the resident physician and Allan tended to the financial and administrative matters.

When Dr. James Macdonald died suddenly in 1849 he left the management of the Sanford Hall Institution to his wife and brother. Eliza Harris Miller Macdonald served as administratix of her husband's estate, and some of the papers in the Macdonald Family Papers are records kept by Eliza during the more than seven years of estate settlement proceedings.

Sanford Hall remained a family business. From 1849 until 1854 Dr. Henry W. Bue1 had served as resident physician, but when he left to become proprietor of Spring Hill Private Asylum in Litchfield, Connecticut, Eliza's son-in-law Dr. J. Whitney Barstow, husband of Flora Macdonald, took his place. He continued as resident physician until at least 1876. In 1887 Sanford Hall was incorporated and some of Eliza's children became stockholders. James Allen Macdonald, though trained in assaying and mining, became the president of the corporation and his sister Eliza became the secretary. The family business prospered, and Eliza Harris Miller Macdonald spent many of her later years in travel with her daughters in Europe and the United States. She died in 1890, but the family's interest in the Sanford Hall Institution continued into the twentieth century.

The Macdonald Family Papers span the years 1808-1922, but the bulk of the material consists of personal letters to Eliza Harris Miller Macdonald, and records of the Sanford Hall Institution, 1845-1915. The papers are divided into Personal Papers, which includes papers of several family members, and Business Papers, which includes correspondence, financial, and legal records of the Sanford Hall Institution. Since many family members were involved in the operation of Sanford Hall, the Personal Papers also contain, in correspondence and estate material, references to the family business.

Personal Papers are grouped by type, the largest quantity being Eliza Harris Miller Macdonald's correspondence, which is arranged alphabetically by author. Most of her correspondents are her children, brothers, and sisters writing news of themselves or other family members. Especially detailed are letters from Flora and J. Whitney Barstow and James Allan Macdonald. Letters from brother-in-law Allan Macdonald discuss the delayed settlement of James Macdonald's estate. Letters from friends discuss travel and generally reflect the life of well-to-do Americans after the Civil War. A number of letters from friends praise Eliza's generosity and kindness. She also received occasional letters from patients at Sanford Hall (Anne H. Titus; Henrietta Wetmore) and letters from Union soldiers during the Civil War (W. B. Churchill; Reuters Heywood; Lewis Hanlin). There are no letters from her husband James Macdonald.

Personal Papers also contains correspondence to other family members and friends. This correspondence is arranged alphabetically by recipient. Of particular interest are letters to James Macdonald from professional colleagues and letters to Allan Macdonald, which include early letters from James describing his difficulties meeting the expenses of medical school. Other types of material included as Personal Papers are bills and receipts, estate papers, a few photographs, and some miscellaneous memorabilia. The bills and receipts include statements of housekeeping expenses with lists of wages for servants and fees paid for professional services. There are also many hotel and restaurant receipts from Eliza's European travels.

The Business Papers for the Sanford Hall Institution consist, for the most part, of bills and receipts relative to the operation of the institution and other financial records showing income. Of particular interest are several folders of correspondence to Dr. J. Whitney Barstow from friends and relatives of the residents of Sanford Hall. The letters concern patient accounts, visitation privileges, and, in general, the well-being of patients.

Note: In the following list an asterisk next to a folder title for correspondence indicates that that folder contains ten or more items.

Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Unpublished materials authored or otherwise produced by the creator(s) of this collection are in the public domain. There are no restrictions on use. Copyright status for other collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

2 Linear Feet (5 boxes)
Related Names
Macdonald family
Language of Materials