Guide to the Lawrence Shields Letters

MSN/MN 5021

 

Collection Summary

Title: Lawrence Shields Letters
Dates: 1898-1903
Collection No.: MSN/MN 5021
Creator: Shields, Lawrence (1872-1946)
Creator: Kinney, Clara (1873-1972)
Extent: 86 folders; 4 containers; 2 linear feet
Language: Collection material in English
Repository: University of Notre Dame. Hesburgh Libraries, Department of Special Collections. 102 Hesburgh Library, Notre Dame, IN 46556
Abstract: More than 300 personal letters written by Dr. Lawrence Shields (1872-1946), mostly as a member of the American expatriate community in Mexico City, 1898 to 1902. The letters are directed to Shields's future wife, Clara Kinney, of Xenia, Ohio.

Selected Search Terms

Mexico -- History -- 1867-1910
City and town life -- Mexico -- Mexico City -- History -- 19th century
Americans -- Mexico -- History
Americans -- Travel -- Mexico -- History -- 19th century

Administrative Information

Restrictions: There are no access restrictions on this collection

Preferred Citation: [Identification of item], Lawrence Shields Letters, [Collection and folder no.], Department of Special Collections, Hesburgh Libraries of Notre Dame.

Acquisition and Processing Note: The Shields letters were purchased by the Hesburgh Libraries in March 2015. The letters were previously sold by Forsythes' Auctions LLC of Russellville, Ohio (auction of 30 March 2014, lot 201); this lot included several hundred Shields letters to Kinney not in the present group, mainly, it appears, from 1902-03. Arranged and described October 2015, by Selena Ponio. Finding aid November 2015, by Selena Ponio and George Rugg.

Biographical Note

Lawrence Shields was born on 3 October 1872 in Cincinnati, the son of John and Margaret McMillan Shields. He graduated from the Medical College of Ohio in Cincinnati in 1895 and subsequently worked as receiving physician at the Cincinnati Hospital (July 1896 to December 1898). In December 1898 Shields moved to Mexico City, having accepted a post as associate to Dr. A. W. Parsons, who operated a private hospital there. In the year before his departure Shields met and (by later accounts) fell in love with Clara Allen Kinney (1873-1972) of Xenia, Greene County, Ohio, daughter of the lawyer, journalist, and poet Coates Kinney. Over the following years Shields became a member in good standing of the substantial and influential American "colony" in Mexico, during the last years of the Porfiriato. In June 1900 he broke with Parsons, and after a brief return to the United States established his own practice at Avenida Juárez 6 in Mexicio City. In February 1901 he was elected surgeon of the American Hospital in Mexico City. Shields married Clara Kinney on 14 April 1903, in Xenia; the couple took up residence in Mexico City. They appear to have returned to Ohio between 1908 and 1911, as the poltical situation in Mexico deteriorated. Shields served in the military from 1917 to 1919, but otherwise seems to have worked as a physician and surgeon in southwest Ohio for the remainder of his life. Both the 1920 and 1940 Federal censuses place him in Coates Kinney's old home on East Second Street in Xenia. Shields died on 8 January 1946.

Scope and Content Note

The collection includes 316 personal letters, 313 of which were written by Lawrence Shields to Clara Kinney, June 1898 to May 1902. Most of the letters were written from Mexico, with the notable exception of those from 1898 (before Shields's departure) and June-November 1900 (when Shields was in Seattle, Washington). Through 1899 and 1900 Shields typically wrote Kinney 6 to 10 times per month, without expressing the profundity of his feelings for her. In March 1901 he wrote Kinney of his love, and was rebuffed; his response, severing the relationship (16 March 1901), includes a resume of his feelings over the previous several years. In August Kinney resumed writing, to Shields's delight; a subsequent visit to Ohio (December 1901/January 1902) appears to have resulted in plans to wed. On his return to Mexico Shields wrote on an almost daily basis, until the letters break off at the end of May 1902.

While the letters of 1902 are first and foremost love letters, those of earlier years (1899 and 1900, especially) provide an extended account of Shields's experience of Mexico, as a newly arrived member of the American expatriate community. By the turn of the 20th century most of Mexico's industry, and a great deal of its land, were in the control of foreign interests, American, British, French, and German. In the main, Shields worked and socialized within this "colony," and his opinions reflect its biases. His profession did allow for interaction with prosperous Mexicans, whom he visited in and outside Mexico City, on their rural estates. He had some occasion to travel, to Cuernavaca (February-March 1899); Tehuacán (November-December 1899), and Silao (January 1900), among other places. His letters incorporate descriptions of the places he lived and traveled, his recreations (the bullfight, the theater, parties and festivals), members of the business and diplomatic communities, Mexican life and customs, the social classes, and politics. On the occasion of President Porfirio Díaz's fifth inauguration (December 1900), he writes: "He has ruled this turbulent country for twenty years with a more despotic power than that of the czar: he is the government. But all give him credit of being a statesman: under his rule rebellions and revolutions are a thing of the past. Now the government is upon a sound and stable basis. Never in its history has Mexico made such progress." (letter of 7 December 1900).

Arrangement Note

The letters are arranged chronologically, with multiple items per folder.

Container List