Thursday, August 28, 2014

52 Ancestors: #30 Rosa Henn Strauss (May 3, 1836 – August 31, 1908) – Adjudged Insane

This is my latest post for the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge initiated by Amy Johnson Crow of the No Story Too Small blog. For more information about the challenge and links to the other blogs participating in the challenge, please click on the badge in the right margin.

In researching other members the Henn family in this first generation to live in the United States, other than John, I found the most information on his sister Generosa, who became Rosa after the family moved to the United States. Unlike John, who had a good and prosperous life; Rosa had a rough life, experiencing repeated tragedy. This one may be difficult to read, folks.

Rosa was born Generosa Henn in Doerlesburg, Baden, part of the German Confederation on May 3, 1836, to Franz Joseph (later Francis) and Katherina Phillipina [Blank] Henn. She was their third daughter and fourth child. her brothers and sisters were Genofera Blank (later, also known as Genevieve [Henn] Scheer; 1827-1916); Serena Mary Dick (1828-1896); Dorothe (later Dorothea or Dora) Snyder (1830-1896);  Andreas (later Andrew) Henn (1832-1911); Edmund Henn (1838-1961); Josephat (later John) Henn; Franz (later Frank) J. Henn (1843-1928); and Josepha (later Josephine) Schueurmann, (1845-1877). They were all born in Germany, and came to the U.S. in 1853 (see Franz & Phillipina’s story for the immigration story) when Generosa was 17 years old.

Climbing My Family Tree: Horatio Nelson White, architect, for whom Rosa Henn worked
Horatio Nelson White, architect, for whom Rosa Henn worked.
By 1855, the family had settled in on a farm in West Monroe, Oswego County, New York (Generosa was listed as Russena in the 1855 NY Census). But by the 1860 US Census, Rosa Henn had moved from her family home and was a domestic [servant] in the household of the Horatio White family in Syracuse NY. Mr. White was a successful architect, who designed the Hall of Languages, the first building of Syracuse University, several courthouses and churches, and many other monumental structures; he had a wife and four children 12 to one year old in the household. Rosa was likely a live-in servant.

Within a year or so, Rosa had married Henry Strauss. He was listed as a peddler in the 1860 census, which shows him living with (or at least there on the day of the census)  the family of Bernhardt Hamburg in Albany NY. I don’t know whether she met him during her service in the White household, or whether she perhaps knew him earlier, as he, too, was born in Baden, in the Germanic Confederation in approximately 1838 (although on one later census he was listed as from Prussia). 

Their first son, Henry, Jr., was born on June 11, 1862 in Syracuse NY. Their only daughter, Polly, was born in or about 1863 (in the 1870 Census, she was 7 years old). I don’t know whether Polly was her real name or whether it was a nickname for Mary, as it often is.  In December 1864, their second son George Valentine was born.

In the 1870 Census, the family is listed under the name Stross, living in the 5th Ward, Syracuse NY. Henry is a laborer at the railroad shop and Rosa is keeping house while Henry, Jr., and Polly attend school.  Henry & Rosa do not own any real property, and Henry only claims $100 worth of personal property.

In the next year, the family dealt with the sadness of a baby born who only lived just over a week. Charles was born April 11, 1871 and died August 19, 1871. Two years later, on May 16 1873, Rosa and Henry’s fourth son, John Henry, was born.

In the 1875 New York State Census, taken on June 2, 1875, the family is listed under the name “Strous”, living in Syracuse’s 5th Ward. Henry worked as a machinist for the New York Central Railroad. Listed as living with the family were their sons Henry (13), Valentine (11), and John (2). I don’t know where Polly is. I have not yet found any record of her other than the 1870 census in which she is 7 years old. She may have died in the intervening five years, and if so, that would have been another tragedy for Rosa and the family. (I find it difficult to believe that she has married as she would only be 12 in 1875, and I don’t think the family has the money to send her away for schooling.)

Rosa and Henry had two more sons: George H., born on November 7, 1876, and Frank J. Born in February 1879.

Rosa and Henry’s family is found in the 1880 Census under the name “Stroch”. In this census Henry is shown to have been born in New York (& his parents are listed as from Prussia), but the rest of the family has the right first names and approximate ages so I think it’s the right family, and Rosa and her parents are shown as being born in Baden as appropriate. Rosa and Henry are both listed as age 42; Henry is a laborer. Henry, Jr., is 18 and also listed as a laborer, as are Valentine (age 16) and John (age 6) [ I hope the latter is a mistake of the enumerator going too far with the ditto marks but child labor laws did not go into effect until the 20th century so it could be accurate]. The family list also includes George, age 3, and Franki, age 1. 

Climbing My Family Tree: The Syracuse Morning Standard, Saturday Morning, June 18, 1881
The Syracuse Morning Standard, Saturday Morning, June 18, 1881
Contains story of the inquest into the death of Henry Strauss, jr
Click to Make Bigger
In 1881, another tragedy struck the family when Henry, Jr.,died as a result of an injury incurred in a street fight. The newspapers picked up the story and we learn that Henry, Jr., was what we might today call somewhat of a juvenile delinquent. He was described as very smart and a good workman who had a tendency to quit jobs without notice after a few weeks of employment; the newspaper further stated that Henry Jr., was “somewhat dissipated”, frequently intoxicated, and a bully.  In the incident that caused his death, on Saturday June 11, 1881, he was picking on a young man named David McClure, who although about his own age, was known as an “imbecile”.  Henry participated in taunting him, overturning a cart in which McClure had been collecting coal and wood to help heat his family’s home, and McClure hit him in the head with a stick. After Henry, Jr., died, on June 14, a warrant was issued for McClure and he was arrested and held on $1000 bail. Three days later an inquest was held into the cause of Henry junior’s death. After hearing the testimony and evidence presented, the grand jury deliberated and returned a verdict that Henry was killed by the blow struck by McClure but that said blow was provoked and was done in self-defense, or justifiable homicide.  Therefore the charges against McClure would have been dropped.  (Next week I will do two posts – part 1 & 2 - of transcriptions of the article reporting the fight and of the article reporting on the inquest. The differences between the two accounts are interesting, as is the look into the operation of an inquest in the 19th century.)

Can you imagine Rosa’s sorrow not only at the death of her first born son, but at the disgrace in how he died? Both Rosa and Henry were visibly grief-stricken at the inquest. Thereafter, Rosa appears to have had real problems coping with the cascade of tragedies that befell her children. I described what I had found to a friend, who asked me Rosa’s age at that time (45) and commented that that would be more than enough to tip any peri-menopausal woman into a mental health crisis.

The next mention I found of Rosa was in The Syracuse Daily Journal, May 5, 1887, “Deputy Superintendent of Poor Barber made his arrangements to take Mrs. Rosa Strauss, who is insane, to the Utica Asylum yesterday afternoon. When he was already to go after her, word came to him that she had taken ill and could not make the journey. The illness turned out to be a fit of madness, and she was taken to Utica this noon.”  The article does not explain what happened to Rosa’s remaining children when she was committed. I presume the youngest remained in the home in the care of their father and oldest brother, Valentine, who was 23; John Henry was 14, George was 11, and Frank was 8.

The Utica Insane Asylum was the first publicly funded treatment center for the mentally ill in New York. Until 1887, I would have used “treatment” sarcastically as the treatment of the poor and insane in these institutions was rather appalling, but fortunately for Rosa New York was in the midst of a reformation in the treatment of the mentally ill and, as of mid-January 1887, the asylum was no longer using the form of restraint known as the “Utica Crib” (see picture below) as reformers had protested sufficiently to raise awareness, and the new Superintendent made it his mission to get rid of them (Here is an interesting article on the treatment of the insane in 1880). 

Climbing My Family Tree: The Utica Crib, a restraint device used as a restraint device in Insane Asylums in the 19th Century
The Utica Crib, a restraint device used as a restraint device in Insane Asylums in the 19th Century.
Removed from the Utica Insane Asylum in January 1887.
Click to make bigger.

The next year, 1888, Rosa and Henry’s home was listed repeatedly in the paper as one of many properties on which back taxes were owed; $1703 in back taxes was owed on the home. I found it odd that the property was listed solely in Rosa’s name but have not yet been able to find a reason for this.   The County Treasurer put the property up for sale on October 30, 1888, but it did not sell at that time. That stroke of luck did not hold for long. Unfortunately, the Onondaga County Savings Bank subsequently initiated foreclosure proceedings against both Henry and Rosa for the house and lot at 344 West Fayette St, and then sold it on April 19, 1889 for $1725. Now Rosa didn’t even have a house to come home to if she were to get well.

Postcard of Onondaga Savings Bank building in Syracuse NY, now the Gridley Building – ironically, designed by Horatio White, with whom Rosa had worked before her marriage.
Click to make bigger.

On July 12, 1889, the manager at the Utica Asylum telegraphed the County authorities that Rosa Strauss had proved to be chronically insane and should be moved to another asylum for such cases, and on November 15, 1889, the Syracuse Evening Herald reported that Mrs. Rosa Strauss, wife of Henry Strauss, was adjudged a lunatic by a Sheriff’s jury at the Courthouse. She was 53; younger than I am.

She was subsequently remitted to a new facility for the insane, the St. Lawrence Hospital, at Ogdensburg, after it opened in December 1890. I don’t know for sure where she was in the year before St. Lawrence opened but a 1901 "Report of the Rise and Progress of the State of The Care of the Insane", by the Ex- NY Commissioner for the Insane stated prior to the state’s recent reforms that the “Utica Insane Asylum was only intended for a small number of supposedly curable cases. When a patient failed to recover after the lapse of a few months, or a year or two at most, if a public charge, he was returned to the poorhouse of the county whence he came, there to remain until his tormented spirit took flight.” The report went on to reference a report by Dr. Sylvester Willard which described those County Poorhouses as barbaric and “revealed conditions which shocked the entire state”. (The conditions were detailed in the report should you choose to read it, and they definitely do shock the conscience.)  

Climbing My Family Tree: Causes of Insanity (1890-1910)
 Illustration from Quebec Heritage News , July –August 2006, Vol. 3, No. 10, p.4
 I found similar data for NY Asylums for approx. the same period
Click to make Bigger

In 1890, the New York State Care Act passed in which, for the first time, the state assumed full responsibility for all mentally ill, including the mentally ill poor in the county almshouses. Distinctions between acute and chronic mentally ill were eliminated as it was believed that hospitals could provide care that was more individualized and economical. St. Lawrence Hospital at Ogdensburg was one of the new hospitals designed and built to enhance the new more humane theories of treatment. St. Lawrence Hospital was located on 1300 acres on the scenic banks of the St. Lawrence River with such a retreat-like landscape that nearby residents of the city of Ogdensburg would come on Sundays to stroll the grounds, relax, and basically treat it like a park. The buildings were built to support a family-style institution with groupings of small buildings so that patients could be housed according to their particular psychiatric disorder. The buildings housed sleeping quarters on an upper floor, and rooms for day activities below.

A program of morale enhancing treatment was created, aimed at both attitude and environment, described as “a nurturing routine of rest without stress in comforting surroundings”. The Hospital asylum community was created to be self-sustaining, with patients participating in occupational tasks to their ability. Patients grew vegetables and fruit in the garden and raised livestock to feed all the patients. The food served was reported to be both nutritional and aesthetically pleasing. There was also a sewing room and looms at which patients made rugs, blankets, sheets, towels, and underwear. Women patients were also allowed to sew for themselves. There was a library patients were encouraged to use. Patients were also encouraged to participate in recreational activities, such as boat rides, teas, dances, music, art, games, theatre (musicals and comedies), sleigh rides, etc. Family visits were encouraged.

It sounds a wonderful place to live when you can’t cope with life. If Rosa had to be in an insane asylum, I’m glad that she ended up in the St. Lawrence Hospital Asylum at that time.

Climbing My Family Tree: Postcard of St. Lawrence State Hospital in Ogdensburg, NY
Postcard of St. Lawrence State Hospital in Ogdensburg, NY
(handwriting at bottom has nothing to do with our family - who knew there were post cards of insane asylums?)
Click to Make Bigger  

Unfortunately, even while in this nurturing environment, the tragedy in Rosa’s life was not yet over. Her husband Henry died in 1891. The 1892 NY Census showed 14 year old Frank living with his older brother Valentine’s family (listed as George V.); Valentine was 28, a clerk, and married, with one child of his own. I don’t know where 19 year old John Henry or 16 year old George were at that time. However, I do know that on September 19, 1898, when he was 23, George was one of two men who burned to death in a huge fire in Elmswood NY, which destroyed 7 buildings, one of which was the hotel in which George worked as a barber and where he also lived in a room on the second floor. Newspapers of the time were rather explicitly gruesome: “the body of Strauss was in far worse condition, only the ribs and a portion of his trunk being intact. It was also burned to a crisp. Later his legs were found and brought to the city...” He was mainly identified by the room in which he was found. The article identified him as a son of the late Henry Strauss, and stated that he was survived by his mother in the state hospital at Ogdensburg, and three brothers: Frank Strauss of Syracuse, and Valentine and John Strauss of Solvay, NY.

I wonder if Rosa was told or if she could understand if she was told. I think I hope that she was never told, if she didn’t have to know.  It is just too much to have four children die, and two of them (that I know of) in such horrible ways.

Rosa was enumerated in the 1905 NY census as a patient at St. Lawrence at age 67. She remained there until her death, at age 70, on August 31, 1908, and then her body was taken to her son John’s home. The funeral services were held both at the home of John H. Strauss and at St. Joseph’s German Church in Syracuse. Her bearers were her three remaining sons and a nephew. Burial was in the family plot at St. Joseph’s cemetery.  The graves from St. Joseph’s Cemetery were removed to Assumption Cemetery in 1965-1966.

Climbing My Family Tree: Memorial stone for those graves  transferred from St. Joseph's Cemetery  to Assumption Cemetery, Syracuse NY
Memorial stone for those graves (Rosa's among them) transferred from St. Joseph's Cemetery
to Assumption Cemetery, Syracuse NY in 1965-1966.
 Taken  by& posted to Memorial No. 49928491 by Bob Tallieu
Used with permission

I would still like to find out:

how Rosa and Henry met and when they were married;

Polly’s birthdate and what happened to her and when;  

why Charles died at only 8 days old (death certificate);

why the house was in Rosa’s name, and not Henry’s, on the tax rolls; 

find the property records; 

what Rosa’s diagnosis was & more about her life after being committed;

where she was  in 1899 after the Utica Asylum and before the St. Lawrence Hospital; and

how Henry and the boys lived during after Rosa’s commitments.

If anyone has information they would like to share with me about Rosa, please leave a comment below or email me at the address on the “Contact Me” page.
------------------------------ Germany, Select Births and Baptisms, 1558-1898 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2014; "New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1891", index and images, FamilySearch ( accessed 10 Jul 2014), Joseph Henn, 1853; U .S Census for 1860, 1870, 1880; NY Census for 1855, 1875, 1905; Find A Grave Memorial# 49928491, created by Bob Tallieu (found at; The Oswego Daily Times, Thursday Evening September 2, 1908 (found at Oswego Palladium, Friday, June 17, 1881 (Found at ) ; The Syracuse Standard for Tuesday Morning, June 14, 1881, Wednesday Morning, June 15, 1881, Saturday Morning, June 18, 1881  (found at; Syracuse Daily Journal [??] 1888 (found at, Syracuse Daily Journal 1888 – 0921.pdf) ;The Syracuse Daily Journal, May 5, 1887, April 19, 1888,  (found at and at; The Syracuse Daily Journal, Tuesday, September 1, 1908,  Wednesday, September 9, 1908 (found at Syracuse Daily Courier, July 12, 1899 (found at; The Syracuse Evening Herald, November 15, 1889, September 19, 1898, & September 3, 1908 (found at; In The Shadow of the Poorhouse: A Social History of Welfare in America, by Michael B, Katz, pp. 103-107, published by Basic Books, copyright 1986 and 1996;   The Prisoners’ Hidden Life, or, Insane Asylum’s unveiled: As Demonstrated by the Report of the Investigating Committee of the Legislature of Illinois, together with Mrs. Packard’s Testimony, by E.P. W. Packard, and Mrs. Sophia Olson, Published by the author, A.B. Case, printer, Chicago (1868), at ; Reprint from The International Review, The Treatment Of The Insane by William A. Hammond, Volume VIII, March 1880, New York: Barnes & Company, Pages 225-241 (found at; Reprint from “The New York Times” Published: November 10, 1901, Copyright @ The New York Times (found at ); Return: A History of  the St. Lawrence State Asylum, Ogdensburg, NY by Andrea Ray (found at;


  1. What a terrific job you did on th I very sad story. You added so much context to the bar facts that it really comes alive. Poor Rosa!

  2. I see THA my phone garbled my message. That's" this very sad story." And "bare facts."

  3. Wow, what a sad saga. And I can only imagine the amount of research you had to do to piece this together! Thank you for sharing what you learned about Rosa and family.

    1. Thank you for stopping by to read it! I'm deeply indebted to the Old Fulton Postcard website ( for free online NY newspaper archives and to the for information on insane asylum in NY both of which made it a whole lot easier than it should have been to find the information I sought.

      By the way, I like the name of your blog! ;) ....& since it looks like you've been around longer than me, I'm sorry that I inadvertently stole it. It was the only thing I could think of when I was trying to name it and I didn't know it was already in use.

  4. If you think the house was purchased before 1870 - you mention that they live in the 5th Ward several times, so if they did not move, those records are available for free at Onandoga County. If you need more information about how to find or look at them, please feel free to ask.

    1. Jacquie, Thank you for the suggestion. I did not know that. I'll take a look this weekend, but might well end up needing help. I'll give it a go first though. Thanks for stopping by and telling me about that!

  5. How sad, Jo. You did a wonderful job writing her story.


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