An American Saga: The Story of Helen Thomas and Simon Flexner

By James Thomas Flexner | Go to book overview

7
Puritan to Quaker

As immigrants to America arriving in the 1850’s, the Flexners Awished to start out altogether anew in a new world. As far as they could, they drowned their heritage and their past in the Atlantic Ocean. However, the Thomas clan into which Simon was to marry, and which had been on the North American continent for more than two centuries, felt no such need to discard what had gone before, either in the New World or in the Old. They regarded themselves as exemplars and continuers of traditions of which they were proud.

The Thomases boasted two talismans, which were believed to have come to Maryland with their first American ancestor: a silver-headed cane and a ponderous silver service. In Helen’s lifetime, the cane was said to be in the possession of an unidentified relative. The service was said to have been melted down, at the command of a pre-Civil War Thomas bride, and recast into what she considered more fashionable. A skeptic may wonder whether the objects existed, or if they did, whether they were actually brought to the wilderness on the banks of the Chesapeake by the Thomas immigrant some two hundred years before. No matter! Since the family fully believed in them, they were part of the psychological heritage Helen Thomas brought to her marriage with Simon Flexner.

Every member of the family could describe the coat of arms engraved on the cane and on each piece of the silver service: a shield bearing a chevron and three ravens; on top a fourth raven flapped its wings. The motto greatly amused Helen: “God feeds the Ravens.” Most delightfully, the arms were those of Rhys ap Thomas (1449–1525), who could therefore be claimed as an ancestor.1

-53-

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An American Saga: The Story of Helen Thomas and Simon Flexner
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • List of Illustrations (between Pages 238–239) xi
  • Prologue xiii
  • I - New Americans 1
  • 1 - Bohemia — Strasbourg — Kentucky 3
  • 2 - Germany — Paris — Kentucky 11
  • 3 - Simon Flexner, Delinquent 21
  • 4 - Hard Times 32
  • 5 - Simon Flexner, Unemployable 39
  • 6 - New Departures 44
  • II - Old Americans 51
  • 7 - Puritan to Quaker 53
  • 8 - Manumission and Aftermath 60
  • 9 - The Midnight Cry 70
  • 10 - Testimony against War 77
  • 11 - Private Intercourse with God 84
  • 12 - A Young Marriage 93
  • III - The Long Road Upward 101
  • 13 - The Gate Opens 103
  • 14 - Jacob’s Drugstore 108
  • 15 - Microscope with Wings 114
  • 16 - An Unprepared Student and a New University 120
  • 17 - Pathways for Escape 131
  • IV - Privileges and Traumas 141
  • 18 - Helen’s Childhood 143
  • 19 - Evangelists 156
  • 20 - Helen Growing 166
  • 21 - Sexual Divisions 174
  • 22 - Sexual Revulsion 181
  • 23 - Catastrophe 188
  • V - Miraculous Destiny 197
  • 24 - A New Life Starts 199
  • 25 - Settling in at the Hopkins 210
  • 26 - Breaking Trail 218
  • 27 - Rising 225
  • 28 - Danger at the Crossroads 236
  • 29 - Mission to the Philippines 276
  • 30 - The Further Adventures of Abraham 286
  • VI - Chiaroscuro 295
  • 31 - Seesaw 297
  • 32 - Entrapments and Escapes 308
  • 33 - Exploding Horizons 316
  • 34 - Friday’s Hill 326
  • 35 - Death of a Father 336
  • 36 - The Vellum Sanctuary 339
  • VII - Approaching Lives 347
  • 37 - Settling in at Philadelphia 349
  • 38 - Helen Thomas and Bertrand Russell 356
  • 39 - A Lion in Philadelphia 361
  • 40 - The Black Death 366
  • 41 - The Valley of Despair 373
  • 42 - Enter the Rockefeller Institute 382
  • 43 - An Offer and a Refusal 393
  • 44 - Abraham and Anne 403
  • VIII - Joining Together 415
  • 45 - Consummations 417
  • 46 - Great Changes 427
  • 47 - Lucy and Other Troubles 438
  • 48 - A Hectic Departure 448
  • 49 - The Mildness of a Strong Love 457
  • IX - Conclusion 463
  • 50 - The Later Years 465
  • Acknowledgments Acknowledgments for the Use of Photographs Cast of Family Characters Bibliography Abbreviations Used in the Source References Source References 479
  • Acknowledgments 481
  • Acknowledgments for the Use of Photographs 483
  • Cast of Family Characters 485
  • Bibliography 489
  • Abbreviations Used in the Source References 501
  • Source References 503
  • Index 517
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