Parkins, Leroy
Correspondence of Harvard University student Dr. Leroy Parkins, of Knowlton, Iowa and Boston, Massachusetts, and his fiancé and later wife, school teacher Lida Tennant and family, 1913-1943

Collection of 114 letters, 609 manuscript pp., (109 retained mailing envelopes), letters dated 1913 to 1943; plus 30 pieces of ephemera; the bulk of the correspondence dates between the years 1913 and 1923, with the rest (10 letters) taking place in 1943; of these 114 letters, 30 were written by Dr. Leroy E. Parkins to his fiancé, and later, wife Lida Tennent; 30 letters written by Lida Tennent to Dr. Parkins; 13 letters written to Lida Tennant by others; 11 letters written by others to Dr. Leroy E. Parkins; 2 letters written to Mr. and Mrs. Parkins by others; 10 letters written in 1943 by Dr. and Mrs. Parkins to their son Theodore Parkins when he was in military service, plus other miscellaneous letters. The ephemeral material includes used envelopes, greeting cards, newspaper clippings, a telegram, invitations, etc.

Dr. Leroy Edward Parkins (1889-1972) and Lida Tennant Parkins (1892-1990)

Dr. Leroy Edward Parkins was born on 26 October 1889 in Knowlton, Iowa and died 31 August 1972 in Brookline, Massachusetts. He earned an A.B. from Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa, and was also a graduate of its Academy. He received an honorary doctor of science degree from Simpson in 1961. He received his medical training at Harvard Medical School, Class of 1917. During his senior year, he wrote a book entitled “The Harvard Medical School and Its Clinical Opportunities.” Dr. Parkins interned under Dr. Harvey Cushing at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital and was a resident at Boston City Hospital. He contributed a number of papers to the literature in his field, and for two decades was a leader in the development of Northeast area post-graduate medical education.

The Massachusetts Medical Society awarded Dr. Parkins, its Gold Badge in recognition of 50 years in that organization. He was also a member of other medical societies and organizations. He was a one-time assistant medical director at Peter Brent Brigham Hospital and on the faculty of the Harvard Medical School and the Boston University School of Medicine. At the time of his death he was a staff member of the New England Deaconess and New England Baptist Hospitals.

Dr. Parkins enlisted in military service for WWI on 18 December 1917, while he was still a student. Volunteering for service, he was placed in reserve status through 1919 while he completed his medical studies, and remained associated with the Massachusetts National Guard until 1923. For eight years he was a member of the First Corps Cadets. From 1940 to 1946 he served as a lieutenant colonel in the First Motor Squadron, Massachusetts State Guard. The Associated Mission Medical Department awarded him a special citation for his 22 years of consulting and examinations. The U.S. War Department presented him with a Citation of Appreciation for his World War II service to the Army, Navy, and Air Force.

In addition to his medical practice, he was a lifelong sportsman, conservationist, and a student of philosophy, religion, and history. He was a member of the Old South Church, the Harvard Club of Boston, and the Hollywood Club.

At his death he left his wife Lida, two sons Theodore Robert of Brookline and Leroy Edward Jr. of New York City; and one daughter, Mrs. Larry G. Monroe of Acton.

Dr. Parkins married Lida Tennant at Brookline, Massachusetts, on 12 June 1918, at the Broomfield Street Methodist Episcopal Church. Lida was born on 17 August 1892 and died on 13 March 1990, in Brookline. In the 1915 Iowa State Census, Lida is found attending college and living in Indianola, Iowa. Her father was born in Ohio, her mother in Illinois. At the time of their marriage, Leroy was listed as being from “Mattapan” and Lida of “Grant, IA.” Tennant was a teacher of history at Winchester (MA) High School and Parkins was serving as a house physician at MA General Hospital at the time of their marriage.

In the 1920 Census the couple is found married and living in Brookline. Lida was listed without an occupation, while Leroy was listed as a doctor. They were boarding with a family. In the 1930 Census the couple was living in Boston, with two children (Theodore and Leroy Jr.). They owned their home. Leroy is listed as a physician, his wife without an occupation. Dr. Parkins and his wife were listed in the Boston city directories as late as 1941. From correspondence in this collection, their son, Private Theodore R. Parkins, served with Co. B, 86th Infantry, at Camp Hale, Pando, Colorado, in 1943.

Letters from Leroy to Lida show that he spent some time during medical school in the South, Georgia and Florida, where he appears to have at first been working as a bookseller (canvassing) and then a land speculator, or realtor in Florida grove country near Ft. Myers. This business in Florida may have been through Mark R. Tennant, who with Wm. H. Reynolds, had a land company in Fort Myers, Florida, with an office in Sioux City, Iowa. Both Mark Tennant and Wm. H. Reynolds were graduates of Simpson College, as was Leroy E. Parkins, and, his wife Lida Tennant.

Description and Sample Quotes of Letters

The correspondence begins when Leroy E. Parkins was in Georgia, and then Florida, where he went to work in Florida land speculation, possibly with a member of Lida’s family. He writes to Lida Tennant, his fiancé, later wife, who remained back home in Iowa teaching. Parkins then went to Boston where he enrolled in Harvard medical school. Lida and he correspond. While at medical school he worked for E.F. Mahady Company, a surgical and scientific instrument and hospital and invalid supply company, which also dealt in medical books. With other students from Harvard, they drum up sales for the company amongst Harvard students. In the summer of 1917 he took take a job as a camp doctor at the Seal and Porpoise Club in MacMahan, Maine. He signed up for military service in WWI with the Medical Reserve Corps. Leroy and Lida were married in 1918 and made their home in the Boston area after Dr. Parkins took a position at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital.  The Letters of 1943 were written by the Parkins’ to their son Theodore who was then in military service during WWII.

“Macon, GA, Thursday Night, Feb 3, ‘13

Dear Lida,

Prayer meeting night, but I declare I forgot -it is now 10:00 P.M. Don’t you know I haven’t been to church at night since commencement (and before). I have wondered if a person ought to go. Tell me what you think about it…

Somehow or other I feel so sober tonight – a fellow came to me this A.M. wanting to ‘sign up’ for work. I know he is handicapped, 25 yrs – out of school only ½ yr from college and slightly near sighted, but honest and sincere. I want to help him but how, I hardly know; so I told him to come back Sat. Then to I went downtown to a business college to see if I could find any ‘prospects.” Lida, I struck a boarding house where seventy girls (of all ages) and boys are staying and about one hundred fifty board there. Well is far from good. The girls surely have no home life and I know the boys live like Slavs and Poles, i.e. they are thick in the rooms as possible. Something about it put a soberness about my thoughts. I do not feel very jolly but just wonder who is responsible for such conditions. It is hard to put your finger on just what is, in such cases too. I do not let such things worry me too much, but they do make me think.

Oh yes Lida, I have been thinking about your oration on ‘Child Labor’ or whatever you entitled it. I have been reading considerably about the question and heard some good talks at the university in Chattanooga. I believe that is a ‘live’ subject, and truly one of importance. I am a believer in eugenics – at least in the negative side and the child question is one that eugenics will have to aim at I believe. But getting back to your oration – I believe you can win the home contest with that topic because you can make a mighty strong appeal for children – it surely hits a parent, and any sympathetic hearer cannot help but have a higher feeling for the child if the subject is presented in the right light.

Now that Bailey girl at Diog. who won a place on the state contest is no wonder and I know you can do as well as she. Of course, judges are erratic at times. But I just have been thinking about this for some time – rewrite the whole thing and get everything in the right words. I have the most confidence in you for good thinking on this – you may have something better but I know of no other theme that I am more certain of that you can touch every person…

…I nearly croak when the porters take our baggage. They roll those eyes around ‘Say boss what yo’ all ca’y?’ I tell them gold. Speaking of the darkies, in Chattanooga one was in police court on some charge. The judge, a jovial natured man, asked him if he was guilty or not guilty. He replied: ‘Well Judge, I’se guilty an I jes throws myself on the ignorance of the court.’ He meant mercy. The judge wiped off a smile and said ‘11 months 20 days, next…’

…Seriously about the courts, I visited police court in Chattanooga twice, also went down to the juvenile court one morning. I became well acquainted with the juvenile court man, a young fellow about my age. I had never been to juvenile proceedings before. My, it was just awful to see those little mean boys, mean thru no real fault of their own making in many cases. One boy (10 years) was sent to ‘Bonny Oaks’ (reform school) it nearly broke his heart when the judge told him he would have to go.

The young fellow knows every ‘newsie’ and messenger boy, and working boys too, in the city. They must be off the streets by 7:00 P.M. Oftentimes he catches them out gives them a good talk, pats them on the back and away they go for home. Many of the street boys are Jews, he says their parents neglect the boys a great deal…Leroy”

“Ft. Myers, Fla. June 19, 1914

My Darling Lida,

…Our trip down here was not very exciting to me as I had seen most of the scenery before. However, Florida is new and it is very interesting. Ft. M. is only 3˚ from the Tropic of Cancer, so our shadow at noon is practically a minus quantity. We are 300 miles south of the southern part of Calif. Tropical fruits of all kinds grow in abundance. You will see similar sights in Calif. And I know you will enjoy it too.

Today we motored to orange and grapefruit groves out twelve miles. Tomorrow we are going in a speed boat up the river and then walk all over ‘creation.” It is certainly giving me an appetite. There are seven of us together and we eat like Ia. thrashers. It about kills one Negro each meal as we run him to death.

I will be here until June 28th and then I will go to Chicago. I hope to get some people interested in Fla. While in Chi. I am well pleased with the country and it is a good proposition. Here’s to us. You and me! I am for us! Here is where 1+1=1 spelled with double letters all the way around.

My, I have drunk so much grapefruit juice today that I feel like a winepress. You should see the ‘classical’ way of eating the fruit in the orchard. One needs a bathing suit! This A.M. we sampled ’57 varieties’ of tropical fruit and I had enough ‘threads’ in my teeth to make a fish net. Since I had a little experience with southern cooking I find it not at all bad, ‘grits, etc.’

Of course land agents flourish with tropical growth too. Just now an old timer is trying to tell us how to get rich (?) on some land – we do the work and he gets one half the profits (Joke!). Marko knows him so we are listening and I am writing. It sure pays to keep all your eyes open when talking to a real estate man when he is a stranger…

…Goodnight a love kiss for you my darling…Leroy”

“Ft. Myers, Fla. June 21, 1914

My Darling Sweetheart,

I hear a cricket – listen dear, what does it say? Oh, we know don’t we. They are singing of a girl I love. I have thought of you so much these few days I have been here. My, I have looked at these wonderful groves and at the raw land. It is easy to figure how we could be wonderfully rich in not many years if our energies were directed this way. Really it is enticing. This is a new country just being developed and the possibilities are simply unlimited. To you men who are ambitious this is better than a gold mine.

The trips we take in a speedboat are wonderful. We went to the Gulf of Mexico. It is about fifty miles round trip. Yesterday we went about sixty miles, round trip, up the river. It is certainly a great sight to see bananas, coconuts, and the royal palm growing wild. I sure do hope we can take a trip down here together some time. Of course, I know you will see some wonderful sights on your present trip and I am sure you are enjoying it quite as much as I am this. Only I’ll warrant I am about twenty-nine shades browner than you are! I never had such an appetite, everything vanishes. The tramp over timbered land all day besides making these long boat trips, it is certainly fine exercise.

You had better get a log chain and tie me up on the Harvard Medic campus. This business life certainly gets into my blood. I have a ‘feeling’ that I could do something pretty good at it. It is a mighty big thing to engineer a good size corporation. Mark has some plans that are fine. He seems to need some assistance. You and I would work in fine. But! Something else comes knocking at my heart as I look out into the future…

If I can be a successful doctor and manage to use what executive ability I possess in helping to make a better world for people to live in I believe I will have done as much for mankind as in developing raw land into fruit bearing acres. If it should ever happen that I would lose my good eyesight or be prevented from finishing the medical course then I believe business would be my choice.

Just at present it is quite essential to sell some of this land if I hope to go back to Harvard. It is a fine proposition and anyone who invests will have a good thing. It is certainly far superior to the book business… Leroy”

“[Greenfield, IA, 11 Mar 1916]

My Own Darling: - I’m writing you a letter, all on this lovely spring day! Really, dear, it’s Spring without a doubt and with it comes that restless something within that fairly makes me miserable it is so poignantly sweet; and nothing in the world could satisfy it, just nothing but you…

I have to lead League tomorrow night and the subject is ‘The Importance of a Great Task!’ Since we are now in the midst of revival meetings, I believe we can fit the subject to the occasion quite well. At any rate, I shall do my best to make it helpful, with the aid of our Divine Father. It seems to me so natural that new spiritual life should come with the first stirrings of Spring…

So many vital and interesting experiences go with this teaching school. It never loses its intense fascination for me, and every day is a new drama. These youngsters! What possibilities do not lie dormant in them? And each one is such a distinct personality!

My roommate and I, and one other H.S. teacher are to take Sunday dinner with Mrs. & Mr. Brourin tomorrow. Isn’t that pretty nice of them? He is such a fine school man and so highly thot of by everyone. And he is a good sort to work under too. He makes us feel like doing our very level best all the time.

Please don’t go to war against Mexico! Darling, just the thot that something is actually started down there is appalling because who knows what complication may follow. Well, you be the Dr., and fight some other kinds of battles. Just eleven more weeks of school. Eleven happy crowded weeks, and then some more happiness, and maybe you! Who knows? Anyway, I’m always your own, Lida”

“[Greenfield, IA 5 Apr 1916]

My Dearest, I’ve just been studying like a good fellow tonight and I have enough papers to keep me up the rest of the night, but I shall use judgement. They, the papers, are the bane of my otherwise cloudless existence. But I shall survive. Really, I wish they’d hustle and elect so I’ll know what I can depend on. Wish you were right here where I could talk to you. I’d like to talk about a lot of things that go poorly on paper and look stupid. For instance, Miss Bohstedt, my roommate, wants German very badly next year and if we both stay I’ll feel like a cad if I raise a kick, but I’d rather be hung or shot or something than a teacher & German not in it. I’m not a History Teacher, I’m German and I shall be horribly unhappy – But ‘don’t cross your bridges’ etc. – That’s my advice, Tenny.

We’re having Spring athletics now – cross country hikes and girl’s baseball. We walked almost 5 miles last night, and tonight, our side won. Miss Buck (Prine) and I are captains – it’s great sport! Miss Buck won’t be here next year – goes to finish a course at Cedar Falls. I shall miss her dreadfully (***) (That means ‘if I stay’ which I have to attach to all remarks of future tense). Because she’s my very favorite one among all the teachers. As principal she has done everything to make it smooth sailing for us new teachers (there were 4 new H.S. teachers this year) and is a marvel of efficiency & executive. I admire her, and care a great deal for her. She is absolutely sincere and true blue. It will be harder under a new and strange principal but here’s to us (***)!!?

…I get wilder about German every day of my life. How very much I should love to extend my study of it (when we go abroad) if it could be a practical thing – but I shan’t need to give up my reading at any rate; do you think?

How goes Epworth League? I’m wishing you every success at that & I think they chose a mighty fine somebody – I’m proud of him, and dear, I love you and I do want to be pure and true, and worthwhile -just for you, Lida”

“[Boston, 28 Sept 1917]

Dearest Lida,

Your cloud and sunshine letter received and I feel about the same way! Some parts of the sky are rosy and some very cloudy. My! But I am glad this is ‘positively my last appearance’ around H.M.S. [Harvard Medical School]. I am sort of a ‘lost dog’ around here and I’ll be tickled to death when it is over.

Business has been ‘punk’! very much so!! Cheley in 2nd yr failed to get exempted and has not returned to date. Result, I lost at least $200 this week – I have made $100 where in former years it was $250 -$300. That is quite a difference, especially so when trade has departed for future times too, unless strenuous efforts are made to get it back. I almost think I ought to quit and cut out the whole affair, but I simply have to make money to finish up. Selah! However, I may turn the whole works over to Sisco (3d yr) in October. I will not go around the store regularly and will have the E.F.M. account transferred to his name. I will get a percent of the profit this year and next. I have a 2nd yr man, Daniels, who is fine, but got him too late for the big rush. He says he will pull the trade before next semester and I think he can do it; also, Cheley ought to return sometime soon and they can both go after it. I could almost have a gloom party over the above. Ha Ha! But I’ll be jiggered! I am not going to worry! Mr. Mahady and his manager ‘cuss’ me roundly for leaving the trade – and it is a loss – I do not care to be blamed for it but they naturally say I should have had another man to take Cheley’s place. Maybe I should, but I simply have not had the ginger I had in former years. I feel fine but I cannot stand to hit the pace for fifteen hours straight doing two men’s work like I did last year & other times. I may have lost 200.00 and the trade but I am not caring much, if I can only pull through to get my degree. I am not interested in business per se and will be glad to put it aside.

Well, I suppose you have that about our wedding to be. It is hard to think to any conclusions these times. No doubt you will feel better to put it off, so let it go.

I am sure undecided about the Navy. I have not heard from Dr. Freeman, he has probably been transferred to some other place. I understand another man is in charge at the Navy Yard. The more I hear about how the fellows of my class have fared the less enthusiasm I have for either Army or Navy, without at least one year of hospital training. They simply are not given responsible positions and do work that any 4th year man could do, more or less. Brady has been the lucky one of the bunch. But there is the patriotic side as the government needs men to do those jobs and someone must do it. Hence the fellows do not complain, they are doing their bit. Just how I could finance myself – rather both of us – and what to do with you -in event of taking hospital training? It is too deep to decide now! Let’s wait until I see how I ‘weather the storm’ for the next few months.

I am going to do my best to sell my book this fall and winter. It can be done and here’s to it, it can be my financial salvation…Leroy”

“Seal and Porpoise Club, Mac Mahan, Maine

Dearest Lida,

This is a most glorious Sunday morning. I sure wish I could have you here this day. My how we would walk and enjoy life.

I have been pretty busy so far today as I have seen three patients. I opened a boil on Mr. Lee’s neck. Billy stayed away from home until it was over and Gay camped in the kitchen. Mrs. Lee stayed on the job as he was nervous and apprehensive. I opened it in the usual way and he felt better, altho he almost fainted. He wants to go back to Phila in the morning. She (Mrs.) said that she was going along and of course he said she ought not to do it as she had planned on staying a few days more. I’ll warrant she goes. They are certainly a fine family, only I cannot get over the fact that the girls are not going to college.

Mark and I have ‘sized up’ the island in general on various lines. Last night he remarked that really good-looking people are uncommon and on the whole, most are homely. I agreed that there isn’t a good-looking girl on the island! Not that either of us are looking for them! Ha Ha! But we do not ‘fall for’ a lot of the stuff that is pulled off here. The old folks play bridge etc. continuously and for money I feel for sure, as they talk about ‘pay day.’ Well it looks like bunk to me.

The Allen family – Mr. A. and his four grown daughters – have been most kind to me and also to M.R.T. Mr. A. confided to me the other day that he was sorry none of his girls had enough brains to go to college! He is a Princeton grad! Well, that is quite an admission. He worries a lot about what will become of the girls – and I suppose it is a quite a job for a father to raise a family of girls. His wife died nine years ago. I think he has done well, only the girls ought to have more enthusiasm on college, etc. Various parents have told me tales of woe about their children. I suppose that will be a part of my life as a doctor. Well, I do not say much but I listen and think a few things. A Mrs. Allison has a son who is 20 yrs and she is contemplating sending him to college. She is nervous as an old hen with two chickens – and her son and daughter are similar. I saw her twice last week on account of neuralgia. She told me that she was figuring the son’s expenses for college. I noted that she had multiplied $1600 x 3 =$4800, a fair amount for three years. She said she had been alone for 4 years (husband died) and Stanton (son) would have to try the world for himself. He has never known a care nor a want. Believe me, Lida, it is a blessing to not have too much money many times…In this day of war and great sacrifices we do well to stop and think what is really essential and what is truly worthwhile…Leroy”

“The Harvard Medical School and its Clinical Opportunities’, L.E. Parkins, A.B., Publisher, 671 Boylston Street, Boston, Mass. October 14, 1917

Dearest Sweetheart Lida,

Another glorious autumn day is with us – certainly fall time is a wonderful period of the year. I am mighty glad to be alone just now – it’s great to live…

Last Friday was Columbus Day – a regular holiday. I studied all morning, pressed my suit and slept during the afternoon, and went over to see Prof. and Mrs. Birkhoff in the evening. They had a good summer in Michigan. He is teaching a little extra this year as men have left his department for the war. Student attendance is about 40%...I told them about MacMahan and they are very interested about it…

Si Egly has enlisted. He is an ordnance sergeant and in line for a commission. He has his headquarters in Wash, D.C. and he has been assigned to very important duties. He works with the ‘war machine.’ He will be a valuable asset to our Army. He went just last week.

Several men in present 4th yr H.M.S. [Harvard Medical School] are going into the Army medical corps. They can be enrolled in the Reserve Corps and called for active service, but with present rulings they cannot be transferred to the regular army. However, that will not hinder their usefulness nor their work in any way. Also, three or four are going to try out for the Navy. Gorm Norbury enlisted in the M.R.C. last July and was called for active duty last Thursday. Well, my pals are fast going into service and I feel pretty certain that I will get into the Navy ok.

I am sure getting a lot out of my medical work this fall and I am delighted with my courses. I never felt better in my life and I literally feel like ‘eating up’ the work. I am reading a great deal and correlating my work better than in any previous time. I am just beginning to learn how to work and study. I am not putting much energy into the store and I do not intend to as I am too near the end of my career in H.M.S. I am considering letting Sisco take charge December 1. It will be better for me to do so if at all possible. I am going to make a success of this medical career – and I’m glad that you are going along…Leroy”

“[Boston, 16 Dec 1917]

Dearest Sweetheart of Mine,

These are quite thrilling days – first one thing, then two things! Is it not – well, here is another one for you: I enlisted in the Army today – Medical Reserve Corps. That means that I will not come up in the draft at all, as I am in the Army already. However, I will not be called to active service until Aug 1, 1919, if I chose to take a H.Q. appointment, and the government urges every man to do so, and you know what Buzz says about that subject. So here I am minus a H.Q. job and financial plans dangling in midair, a dangle seems to fit the situation!

I felt quite non-plussed at first about future plans, etc.; but I am hopeful and optimistic. There is always some way out of the darkest forest, may have to make a road! But there is a way out and we will get out on the right road this time. I really feel relieved to have some of my future settled. I think the rational thing to do is to settle one problem at a time. I have one settled, next I’ll get a H.Q. job if possible at P.B.B.H. [Peter Bent Brigham Hospital]. I have thot of trying and for the surgical service at P.B.B.H. There are some vacancies there. I phoned Dr. Cheever today and am to meet him at 9:00 Monday A.M. to talk the situation over. Dr. C. is head of the surgical service. Dr. Cushing is in France, in charge of Base Hosp. #6. Now wont’ it be quite a reversal of my plans to finally wind up at P.B.B.H. Of course, I have not had time to settle this point and will not be able to tell for a few days…Leroy”