1853: Theophilus Parvin to Mary Steel

Dr. Theophilus Parvin in later years

Dr. Theophilus Parvin in later years

This letter was written by Dr. Theophilus Parvin IV (1829-1898) who was born in Buenos Aires, Argentine, while his father, Rev. Theophilus Parvin III (1799-1835), labored as a missionary there. His mother, Mary Rodney (1795-1829), was the daughter of Hon. Caesar A. Rodney of Wilmington, Delaware. Theophilus’ mother died a few days after his birth and his father died a few years later, leaving the youngster an orphan. From this letter, we learn that Theophilus was raised by Rev. Robert and Mary Steel of Abington, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.

The Steel’s are also credited with raising the orphan, Rev. Alfred Ryors (1812-1858), who grew up to become the President of Ohio University (1848-1852) and also Indiana University (1852-1853). Rev. Ryors is mentioned in this letter in the second paragraph.

Mary Steel's gravestone

Mary Steel’s gravestone

Dr. Theophilus Parvin was “the first Indiana physician to enter medical journalism. His scholarly attainments particularly fitted him for the work. In 1866 he began the publication of the Western Journal of Medicine, at Cincinnati. It might properly be classed with the Indiana journals. In 1870, this journal was transferred to Indianapolis, and the name changed to Indiana Journal of Medicine. In 1882 the name was changed to Indiana Medical Journal. This name continued to 1908.”

Dr. Theophilus Parvin IV graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1852 and married Rachel Butler in 1853 — a few months before this letter was written. She was the youngest daughter of Amos Butler, a Quaker who emigrated from Chester County, Pennsylvania, and settled at Brookville, Franklin County, Indiana.

Indianapolis Medical Journal said of Dr. Theophilus Parvin that he was “for thirty years (1853-1883) practitioner and teacher in Indianapolis and for fifteen years professor of obstetrics in Jefferson Medical College.”

Stampless Envelope

Stampless Envelope

Addressed to Mrs. Mary Steel, Abington, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania

Indianapolis, Indiana
November 2nd 1853

Dear Ma,

1028Your kind letter was duly received, as well as one from Bessie, recently; and still more recently one from Mary via Abington.

The Northern Synod of Indiana has recently been holding its annual meeting in the city, while the Southern has been meeting in a town by the name of Franklin some twenty miles below this. Dr. Condie presided over the deliberations of the former, and Dr. [Alfred] Ryors over those of the latter.

John Lowire and Mr. Wilson, formerly of India, were here a part of the time of the meeting of the Synod. We met with several acquaintances and had some relatives to visit us. A sister, Mrs. McThill with two children and her Reverend husband, a cousin also married to a clergyman in this state, with her partner, were with us for some days. It seems so queer to do the honors! Sometimes I find myself without sufficient dignity for the post.

Scan 20One of our greatest troubles in house-keeping has been not so much in getting as in keeping help. We have only had four girls in eight weeks! One was an Ethiopian so much given to superstition that she would not sleep in a room by herself and so she left at the expiration of a week. Another was a Hoosier who left because Rachel objected to her being absent every afternoon and evening. The third was a half-grown colored girl who did very well on the principle that half a loaf is better than no loaf — until we got a better. But one morning some two weeks since a daughter of Erin, recently from Brooklyn, fresh and blooming, came upon us hunting for a place. She might have dropped from the clouds so far as we could understand the circumstances which led her to us. However, she was soon installed into the kitchen, and she has thus far shown herself most faithful and industrious.

Scan 21A day or two since we were obliged to suspend housekeeping. We rented a house for two months with the understanding that we could have it for a year longer. Meantime the owner, who then was absent in the East, returned and contrary to his previous intentions, decided to reside here. Consequently we bought a house of which possession was to have been given us yesterday, but as it was not, we are going to board and visit for two or three weeks until we can get possession. The house is a two-story brick, with a lot fifty-three feet front and one hundred and ninety-five feet deep; and for house & lot we pay nearly three thousand dollars. The house is about six squares from my office but in the course of a year I hope to have my office adjoining the house.

My practice is still increasing. Last month I received twenty dollars and booked fifty.

We both thank you very much, dear Ma, for your kind advice, and we hope we may often receive just such affectionate, maternal letters. A family altar was established the first day of our married life, and we hope ever that it may be continued.

And this reminds me that we intend initing with the 3d Presbyterian Church (Mr. [David] Stevenson’s) ¹ of this city. Please, therefore, ask Pa to send me a letter of dismiss ion for that purpose.

In a day or two, we expect to leave on a visit of a week to Brookville where Rachel’s brother resides. We will also go to Cincinnati to purchase some furniture.

I operated recently with entire success in a case of cataract.

Rachel joins me in much love to all the family. Please write soon.

Affectionately yours, — Theophilus Parvin


¹ Rev. David Stevenson was ordained June, 1851. July, 1852, he was installed pastor of the Third [Presbyterian] Church, of Indianapolis. In October, 1860, this pastoral relation was dissolved on account of the failing health of the pastor.


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