News From Terre Haute, Indiana

November 17, 2013

GENEALOGY: A little about the lives of the non-famous Dreiser children

Tamie Dehler
Special to the Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — After the Dreiser family returned to Terre Haute from Sullivan in 1871, they began to endure a life of increased poverty. Their father had lost his woolen mill to a fire in 1869 and was also injured when a beam fell on him. He was deeply in debt and not working steadily. He turned more and more to his strict interpretation of religion and became obsessive about it. Their mother, on the other hand, was a romantic optimist, always wanting to move and hoping the grass would be greener somewhere else. She was lenient and forgiving toward the children. Without money or structure, the family began to spiral out of control. The boys got into trouble — they drank, visited brothels and ran away. The girls were flirtatious and became involved in romantic liaisons.

Around 1883, their mother, the older sisters, and the younger children moved to Chicago. When things didn’t work out there, they moved to Warsaw, then back to Chicago. Most eventually moved to New York. Their mother, Sarah, died in Chicago on Nov. 14, 1890. Without her love and acceptance, the family deteriorated even more. This week will focus on the non-famous Dreiser children, who led very colorful lives in their own right.

Mark Roman Dreiser (“Rome”) was born on Feb. 12, 1860, in Terre Haute and was baptized in St. Joseph’s Church. He is listed in the 1874 Terre Haute City Directory as working for the newspaper, the Terre Haute Journal. He can be found three times on the 1880 census — twice in the households of his parents in Sullivan and Terre Haute, where he is listed as a printer, and then in a hotel in Springfield, Ohio, where his occupation is a traveling agent. It has also been reported that he was a “train butcher,” which is a vendor on the railroads. One source said that he was an alcoholic and disappeared for 20 years. I could not find him again on the census. Many of his siblings lived in New York and it appears he was there also, at least at the end of his life. He died on March 21, 1940, in Metropolitan Hospital, Welfare Island, New York, N.Y.

Mary Frances Dreiser (“Mame”) was born on July 7, 1861, in Terre Haute, and baptized in St. Joseph’s Church. It is said that when her brother Paul was arrested, she secured his release by having an affair with an influential politician. In 1879 she had an illegitimate still-born child, father unknown. She moved to Chicago with other family members, including her mother, about 1883. She married Austin Daniel Brennan there on June 12, 1897. By 1900 she can be found living in Rochester, Monroe County, N.Y., with her husband, her father Paul Dreiser Sr. (age 78), and her nephew Carl (age 12), who was the son of her sister, Sylvia. Her father died later that year in New York and the body was sent back to Chicago for burial next to his wife. In 1920 Mame was living in Manhattan with her husband. In 1940 she was a widow living as a tenant in Queens County, New York. Her sister, Sylvia, was also with her, a widow and a tenant. Mame died on June 2, 1944 in Queens, N.Y., of cancer of the bladder.

Emma Wilhelmina Dreiser (“Em”) was born Jan. 29, 1863, in Terre Haute and was baptized in St. Joseph Church. She moved to Chicago in 1883. While there, she ran off in 1886 with a married man, Lorenzo A. Hopkins, who had embezzled money from his employer. She married John Nelson, an architect from Sweden in 1898 in Chicago. Her children were George Kates Nelson and Gertrude Amelia Hopkins. She became a madam in New York. In 1905-06 her brother, Paul Dresser, was living with her in New York City at the time of his death. In 1930 she was in Brooklyn, a widow, with her daughter, Gertrude, residing with her. Em died on Feb. 23, 1936 in Queens, N.Y., of encephalomyelitis.

Continued next week.