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

By James Thomas Flexner | Go to book overview

18
Helen’s Childhood

FROM the summary of the year 1871 in Mary Thomas’s journal: “In the eighth month a little girl was born and named Helen Whitall Thomas. A black-eyed, red-headed little puss, the merriest, smartest baby that ever was seen. Nellie’s nursery was the great point of attraction in the house, and she soon got to know all her sisters and brothers and love them very much.”

The sisters and brothers, whom the mother stated that the newborn infant almost instantly loved, were to look down on Helen year after year from the higher rungs of a ladder that increased in height as Helen grew, so that the distances remained always the same: Carey (sixteen years her senior), John (twelve), Harry (ten), Bond (eight), Grace (five), and Margaret (two). Events in the lives of her elder siblings, even if they took place before the younger child was born, foreshadowed Helen’s existence. As for Helen’s personal experiences, however important they were to her, they seemed to the others trivial happenings after the parade had passed. Helen in her book of reminiscences, A Quaker Childhood, was to reconstruct the lives of her elders, her siblings as well as her parents, as part of her own life, to dwell again and again on the burden and loneliness of being so far down in so large and energetic a family.

When she was eighteen months old, a little brother, Frank, was born. “A great pleasure to Nell, who did not know,” Mary commented, “that her privileges were somewhat curtailed by ‘the cry baby’ as she called him at first. Afterwards, she called him ‘little felly,’ until it became almost his name.” She was pleased that Frank could not come down to

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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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