Skip to main content

Logan Clendening’s Unattainable War

Nancy Hulston, MA
Adjunct Associate Professor of the History of Medicine and Archivist
University of Kansas School of Medicine

Logan Clendening   -   the greatest popularizer of Medicine in America in the first half of the twentieth century   -   was a close friend of H. L. Mencken the newspaper columnist, one of publisher Alfred Knopf’s most productive authors, and writer of his own widely syndicated column appearing in 383 newspapers, Diet and Health. Born in 1884 he was a graduate of the University of Kansas School of Medicine in 1907 and, after postgraduate work, was an Instructor in Medicine there five years later. Though he served honorably as a physician in the Medical Corps of the US Army during the First World War, his posting was a great disappointment, he yearned to serve in France, not Texas.

Edward Clendening, father of Logan Clendening Lide Clendening, mother of Logan Clendening Logan Clendening
Edward Clendening Lide Clendening Logan Clendening

In 1911 Clendening, the only child of E.M. and Lide Clendening, joined the Reserve Medical Corps of the United States Army with the rank of first lieutenant, clearly showing his interest in military medicine.  Three years later, his father, unbeknown to Clendening, wrote to his friend, United States Senator William J. Stone of Missouri:

I am also frank to say that his Mother never thought he might
be called upon to have somebody shoot at him, however, in
the course of time, things develop.  It now happens that this
boy of ours is engaged to be married and the date of his wedding
is set for July 22nd. 

You can imagine, under these circumstances, how my wife
regards the Mexican situation and as she is naturally a
nervous woman, she is having at present but very little
peace.  I want you to thoroughly understand that there is
no “yellow streak” in the Clendening family and that I am
writing this letter without the knowledge of my son and
only because his mother is so much perturbed.

The letter concluded that if young Clendening was to be called upon to serve in the field, please let it be after the wedding, or even better, after the honeymoon.  His father closed with, “Be good to my boy if you can.”

Dr. and Mrs. Clendening (nee Dorothy Hixon)
Dr. and Mrs. Logan Clendening

Logan Clendening met Dorothy Hixon while she was visiting friends in Kansas City.  Dorothy was the daughter of wealthy LaCrosse, Wisconsin, lumber and banking baron, Frank Pennell Hixon.  They courted, mostly long-distance, for several years and were married on July 22, 1914, then living happily in a rented apartment in Kansas City, Missouri, until Logan was called up on June 5, 1917, to serve his country in World War I.  Thanks to his father’s letter to Senator Stone, Clendening, now a captain, was permanently stationed at the Fort Sam Houston Base Hospital, in San Antonio, Texas, and never served overseas. As the holiday season approached, Clendening’s mother, Lide, missed her son dearly.  On December 7, 1917, Clendening’s father wrote to him declaring:

My heart fairly bleeds for your mother, and if there ever was an
incentive for a man to do right and make good for himself in any
position to which he may be assigned, it is yourself.  For the depth
of her affection and deep love for you should always be an inspiration
in your mind.  I have never known anything like it and I feel at times
that I should compel her to go to San Antonio to see you, if it were
only for a day.

In writing to you in this vein, I recall the words of my own mother:
perhaps I might give it to you for at my time of life I realize the
opportunities there are for all of us to yield to temptations of various
kinds.  My mother’s last words to me were:  “Goodbye, and be a good
boy.”  May I not, by this means, give you this message as coming from
a grandmother whom you never saw?

Clendening’s letters home were often concerned with his frustration at not receiving a promotion to major.  In a letter to his father dated December 7, 1917, he listed the men that he served with who had been advanced over him, and complained:

The thing is humiliating and discouraging, and I won’t stand for it. 
I have worked as hard down here as I ever worked in my life; my
work has been satisfactory to two commanding officers.  Other men
in the same position have been raised. 

On December 20, 1917, in a letter that must have chilled his mother’s soul, he wrote regarding service in France:

I’m likely to go over anyway, because Dr. Binnie’s Base Hospital
has been ordered to prepare for mobilization.  That means they
sail about Feb 1-March 1.  I want to go.  It’ll be a great sight.  As
someone said the other day, “A year from now this will be the
greatest army in the world.”  It’s the character of the men – the
finest young men, fine types.  We’ve had some forty or fifty first
lieutenants down here, young doctors, who have just gone into the
medical corps of the regular army.  Finest bunch of young men I
ever saw – All damn good doctors.

He was passed over, did not go to France, and remained in Texas for the duration of the war. Clendening wrote to his parents on October 13, 1918, and reported:

I have been quite laid up and so have not had the ability to write you
this last week.  We have over a thousand cases of influenza here and
I promptly came down with it myself – a very mild attack except that
it prostrates you terribly.

The war news seems to be fairly promising for an early peace.  I rather
regret it.  Since we have them so much on the run I’d like to make a
nice clean, satisfactory job of it, and hang the Kaiser.

Having finally achieved the rank of major, Logan regretted that the war ended and he had not been able to serve overseas.  He was discharged in December 1918, and returned with Dorothy to Kansas City in time for Christmas. He became a very popular Professor of Medicine and a widely acclaimed author and columnist, until his death in January 1945, just before the end of the next world war.

The Academic Dr. Logan Clendening
The Academic Dr. Logan Clendening

Clendening's Best Seller of 1927
Clendening's Best Seller of 1927.

The background information and images are from The Archives of the University of Kansas Medical Center.

Last modified: Aug 26, 2018
ID=x22620