The Remarkable McAndrews

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, Summer 2004,
Summer 2004
Original Images:






Author: William McAndrew

(Edited reprint of the story “The McAndrews” written by their son William and published as a memorial for Dr. Helen McAndrew by the Ypsilanti Business and Professional Women's Club in 1931.)



DR. HELEN WALKER McANDREW 1826-1906

O'Henry once told an interviewer that you can change type name of any place in any good story to any other place and have the narrative just as true, which means that Ypsilanti is just as full of romance, heroism, surprise and wonder as any other settlement of its size. Ypsilanti has just as many heartbreaks, just as many smiles, just as many honest men, and just as many noble women. This is the story of two Ypsilantians.

Helen Walker, daughter of Thomas and Margaret Boyd Walker, was born February 6, 1826, at Kirkintillock, Scotland. William McAndrew was born November 28, 1824, in Perth.

In the shifting time of 1849, William, a young Scottish cabinetmaker, moved from Perth to Glasgow. There, at the frequent gatherings of a little church, he met a girl who had come up from Paisley to work in a bookbinding shop. After the usual time that elapses before Scottish people reach an important decision, the minister announced that William McAndrew and Helen Walker were to be married and go to America on their honeymoon. In due time, they added up their shillings. William packed his tool chest and Helen packed the Burns, Bunyan, Shakespeare and big Bible she had bound for herself.

Fergus Ferguson married them, and they climbed into the steerage of a sailing vessel that gave them a wedding trip of eleven weeks from the Clyde to Sandy Hook, New York. At Sandy Hook, a genial stranger with a fine Scottish burr in his voice welcomed the young couple to the land of the free and offered to show William a lodging house. Generously shouldering the new arrival's chest of tools, he disappeared in the crowd and the immigrants never saw him nor his burden more. Another Scot convinced them that New York was a squeezed orange. It was on an island, couldn't grow any more. Perth Amboy, at the head of Raritan Bay across from Staten Island, was on the mainland, much nearer the ocean and had a railway, the first one in America. Perth Amboy would be the metropolis of the United States. So, ho for the Raritan and the big city to be.

But one must eat. While Perth Amboyans are sitting on their corner lots waiting for the ships of the world to sail into their harbor, certain Cornelius Vanderbilts, William B. Astors, Peter Coopers and A.T. Stewarts, not knowing the great destiny of Perth Amboy, are doing business at the old stand in New York and getting all the trade. Grass is growing in the streets of Perth Amboy. The McAndrews must try elsewhere. Baltimore looks promising. But here they get themselves into trouble teaching Negroes to read. The neighbors don't like it. It is not respectable. Friends fall away. Better try some other place.

Out of Baltimore every morning a long white packet boat is towed by a steamer up the Chesapeake Bay and gets itself somehow or other into the wonderful West. As soon as the passage money is saved, the two McAndrew adventurers are aboard. At Havre-de-Grace, their smoky tugboat turns them over to a trio of mules driven tandem; the leader has a loop of bells springing over his collar. The lock-gates are opened and in goes our long white boat into a stone box. We float up on foaming, gurgling masses of water, until the upper gates are opened; the mule-boy shouts, the bells tinkle, the rope stiffens, and away we go through the long curves of the canal with blue hills on both sides. They take the Susquehanna all the way to Harrisburg. Then our watery road winds among the mountainous hills along the blue Juniata. Day after day we sit upon the yellow deck and watch the landscape unfold a great book, each page showing a new and charming picture; farms, factories, bridges, villages, cascades galloping down the mountains, charcoal-kilns reddening the cliffs at night, until at last mere are no more streams that may be tapped to float a boat.

We are at the very heart of the Alleghenies. But wonders have not yet ceased. A huge cradle rides down the mountain on an iron track and dangling on the end of a rope. It slides under the canal-boat. Ropes are made fast to the upright stakes protruding from the water. A man waves his arms toward an engine house up the mountain. Out of her element crawls our great boat with all its company, and like that tropic fish that climbs up trees, the packet ascends the mountain. This is Portage, then counted one of the wonders of the world, now an inconspicuous station four miles south of the Horseshoe Bend on the Pennsylvania railroad. Over the summit the boat advances and then, head foremost, down the western slope. There is a reservoir made by a dam of earth across a valley and holding water for the upper reaches of this canal in time of drought. It is a pretty lake. The passengers admire it. Yet forty years later, long after this canal had gone to ruin, this lovely mountain pool, neglected, was to break bounds and visit Johnstown with death and terror.

Into Pittsburgh, down the Ohio, then by another canal to Cleveland and so by side-wheel steamer to Detroit the travelers came. They heard of another promising settlement, destined to surpass the city of Straits. Its name was Rawsonville. It had a piano factory, woolen mills, flour mills, stores, and hotels. The river boats from Detroit, long, narrow, flat-bottomed scows with a slim walk each side down which the poleman alternately glides, slowly pushing the vessel up the Huron River, brought merchandise up and carried back the products of the region. Here William MacAndrew settled and plied his trade, constructing piano and melodeon cases from the native walnut and cherry of the valley.

Last move of all, in 1850, they came farther up the Huron River to the first station on the post-road west of Detroit, where the coaches rolled up in the evening in front of the long white Hawkins house for hot supper and a night's lodging.

To the life of Ypsilanti for half a century, the two McAndrews contributed according to their dispositions. William had acquired a religion of peculiar cast. It magnified the mysticism of Daniel the Prophet, stressed the wheels within wheels, the flying scrolls, and the prophecies of an early coming of the Lord. Not finding satisfaction in existing churches, the cabinetmaker turned carpenter and built one on the level ground northeast of town. Here he was preacher, choir and sexton; his congregation, two families besides his own. Convinced of an early dissolution of the world he saw no need of laying up treasures on earth. What he earned he turned over to a religious society appearing to him nearest in sympathy with his own belief. Ambition, worldly success, the opportunities of a growing state he sets himself steadfastly against; yet rises before the sun and works his fourteen daily hours in summer, twelve in winter, year in and year out, setting forward from time to time, the day when the heavens shall be rolled together like a scroll and the land shall be soaked with blood and the first heaven and the first earth shall pass away.

But the little wife saw different visions. She inhaled the spirit of this new land. There was employment for everybody. She found she had a talent for nursing. She could hire her own housework done and have money over from what she earned.

The McAndrews' first home was at 16 South Huron street, where their son Thomas was born June 24, 1852. Influenced by his father's example, Thomas has been identified with the furniture business during his whole business career. On January 11, 1878, he married Alice Rowley, who had filled the place of a daughter in the McAndrew household since her early girlhood.

Helen thought, why not become a physician? There was no school of medicine west of New York that would admit a woman. A colored mammy is secured as housekeeper. Helping the cook on the steamer and Erie canal boat, the pioneer woman reaches the metropolis of New York and argues the college into taking her in. She works at her bookbinding trade for her board.

Mrs. McAndrew graduated from Trall Institute, New York City, October 25, 1855. In time she grasps the coveted diploma and with a few medical books returns to the growing town, as a doctor. It isn't nice; it isn't respectable. The men physicians turn up their noses. The town doesn't think it likes this sort of thing. Only Negroes and poor whites come into her office.

Then comes the turn. The big man of the town has had a long siege of illness in his home. The gentle lady of the household doesn't get any better. He has the highbrows from Ann Arbor come and hold learned consultations by the quiet sufferers bedside. The judgment is unfavourable. The big man walks sadly in the garden. The gardener comes to home and says, “Samuel, ye might try the little Scotch woman; she pulled my Jenny through just fine.” The big man chances it. The little woman is called. She opens all the windows. She empties the bottles of bitter drugs into the drain. She cooks plain and tasty dishes. She moves the bed so as to permit a view down the green lawn and the shady street. She keeps repeating, “How much brighter you look, little lady! If you keep on like this you'll be lifting full flour barrels soon.” The sick lady at length got up and lived for many years thereafter. And the big man of the town, Samuel Post, flouted the traditions and prejudices of those who had belittled the woman doctor. “She knows what she's about,” he said. “She's a very superior woman. There's no nonsense about her, she knows the laws of health and she works along with them.” He sang her praises to the Uhls, the Folletts, the Kings and the Lays. She was great in confinement cases. Whatever men and women born in Ypsilanti are now between forty-five and sixty-five, the chances are more than even that Helen McAndrew first held them in her hands and gave them their first baths.

She was a water enthusiast. She built a water cure on Huron street and swimming bath in the river. She put in vapor baths, shower baths, mineral baths, sitz baths and preached a new gospel of scrubbing the mind clean of all meanness, selfishness, greed, conceit, intolerance, and sin. It was called outside and inside washing.

The McAndrew couple were forever in the salvage movements of the day. First it was the abolition of Negro slavery. William McAndrew helped hide the runaway Negroes in barns and drove them in wagons at night, covered with loose hay, to the outskirts of Trenton, where rowboats ferried them to Canada.

Next the McAndrews entered heart and soul into the war on the liquor saloon. They ran an afternoon temperance Sunday school in a barn on the flats, not far from the present pumping station of the city water works. They had the best part of the membership of the Normal school working in the barn and in Hewitt hall, where dramatic representations*Their son, William McAndrew, born August 20, 1863, was the producer of the dramatic representations. After graduation from the Ypsilanti High School, the Normal and the University of Michigan, Mr. McAndrew began his career as an educator, and has won distinction as a strong and militant leader, exhibiting the initiative and fearlessness which had characterized his pioneer parents. He spent thirty years in New York, first teaching at Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, and then becoming principal of the Washington Irving High School. During this period his marriage to Miss. Susan Guerney occurred. He left New York to assume the superintendency of the Chicago schools. Upon leaving Chicago, Doctor McAndrew spent two years in Europe. He now lives at Silvermine Hill, Norwalk Connecticut, and is engaged in editing “The Educational Review.” every fortnight gave entertainment and hammered home the lessons. They organized a juvenile temperance society, the Band of Hope,**In 1829 John Dunlop, Scottish justice of the peace, formed the first temperance society in Greenock, Scotland. By 1847 the need of starting the work with children was apparent, and the Band of Hope was formed. Helen Walker was then twenty-one years old and worked in the Band of Hope in Glasgow. Starting a Band of Hope in Ypsilanti about 1870, she kept it running for a decade or two. Ypsilanti men and women cherish memories of the Band of Hope and the earnest and inspired figure of the woman who dominated the weekly meetings held with absolute regularity every Wednesday afternoon. and held the children together by means of picnics, festivals and shows.

Into the woman suffrage movement both William and Helen went. Susan B. Anthony, Frances Willard, Mary Livermore and Lillie Devereux Blake came by their invitation to lecture and stopped at their home. Her experiences led her to work vigorously for the admission of women to the University of Michigan.

Into the Salvation Army they went when that elaboration of Christianity reached town. They marched the streets in their old age with the same grim determination to back up some despised reform that they had shown for abolition when it wasn't respectable, for women doctors when they were despised, for temperance when it was unpopular, for woman suffrage when it was ridiculous.

Indeed they charged themselves to obey some call of some power greater than themselves to lift up the down trodden, to heal the sick, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and freedom to those that are bound.

Withal they were quite a pair. No one ever knew of their either pushing for high place or for notice. William McAndrew always wrote “I” as a small letter and when he was told that it was incorrect replied, “It is not incorrect for me.” Both spoke in public when called upon, but you never heard them talk of themselves. Their addresses were full of anecdote, short, and to the point. They were constant readers throughout their lives, devouring history, travel, religious periodicals, current magazines and newspapers. William McAndrew, when going to fairs or expositions, wore an odd dressing-gown because the pockets generously held all the circulars given away by exhibitors and enabled him at home to extend for many evenings the pleasure of the show. Helen McAndrew held that mental exercise was as essential for the health of the intelligence as bodily exertion is needful for the physical tone. She used to carry herself for exercise. William McAndrew was fond of old tunes, but as no one else seemed to enjoy them he would retire to his room and sing several pages through at a sitting. If visitors would say, “What is that funny noise?” Mrs. McAndrew would answer, “Oh, that is William giving himself a concert.” He had the habit of work so ingrained that once when he visited a former employee at Portage Lake, doing nothing for three hours so bored him that he said he guessed it was time to go home. His host couldn't take him to Dexter to catch a train until the next noon. In the morning McAndrew walked over to a neighbor's new barn. Help was needed to finish it. He borrowed a suit of overalls, worked morning, afternoon and evening for two weeks, took his pay, paid his board at his host's, came home, and ever afterward revived memories of the best visit he ever had.

Both had singular courage. None of their acquaintances recall ever seeing either of them exhibit any trace of fear or nervousness on any occasion. She responded to calls, as a doctor, at all hours of the night, driving alone sometimes twenty miles. She led committees of women to town officials and laid down the law like a political boss, and yet she was a quiet, modest woman, with a genius for friendship, loving nothing so much as a chat and cup of tea before the fire.

Both loved Ypsilanti and its people as nothing else in the world. They were especially fond of the approach from the East up to the edge of the slope, from which one looks over the trees and the roofs of the houses and gleam of the river to the western rim of the valley and the great school on the hilltop, a lighthouse for all Michigan and beyond.

William McAndrew passed away October 22, 1895. His wife survived him eleven years, her death occurring October 26, 1906.

Photo Caption: The water-cure made necessary a three-story addition to their home at 105 South Huron street. This octagon house speaks eloquently of the energy and persistence of Mr. McAndrew, for he built it almost entirely himself in 1853 and 1854.