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Guide to the Parsons Family Papers
1824-1956 (Bulk 1889-1939)
  MS 481

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
Phone: (212) 873-3400


@ 2011 New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Maurita Baldock

This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit on November 02, 2011
Description is in English.

Biographical Note

John Edward Parsons was born in 1829 in New York City to Edward Lamb Parsons and Matilda Clark Parsons. He attended a private school in Rye, New York and graduated from New York University in 1848. Parsons continued his schooling with a Master's degree at NYU in 1851 and was admitted to the bar in 1854. He formed a legal partnership with Lorenzo B. Shepard and became his assistant when Shepard was named District Attorney in 1854. Parsons was a partner in the law firm Man & Parsons as well as in Parsons, Shepard, & Ogden which became Parsons, Closson, & McIlvaine in 1902. In addition to his legal career, Parsons was also recognized for his efforts to reform the corruption of Tammany Hall and for his philanthropic work with the New York Cancer Hospital, the Woman's Hospital, Cooper Union, the Presbyterian Board of Home Missions, and the American Bible Society.

On November 5, 1856 John E. Parsons married Mary Dumesnil McIlvaine, the daughter of Bowes Reed McIlvaine and Catherine Dumesnil. Together they six children who lived to adulthood: Mary (1864-1940), Edith (1865-1942), Helen (1867-1892), Herbert (1869-1925), Gertrude (1870-1927), and Constance (1873-?). John E. Parsons's successful career and his efforts for civic and political reform brought further social respect to the family. The family members divided time between their home in New York City and Stoneover, their estate in Lenox, Massachusetts. In 1896, Mary Dumesnil McIlvaine Parsons died and John E. Parsons remarried to Florence Bishop in 1901. He had no children with his second wife. In 1915 after only a short illness, John E. Parsons died of the lung disease pleurisy.

The oldest daughter Mary never married and lived at Stoneover after her father's death. She was active in wildlife preservation and in several Lenox and New York City charities until her death in 1940. Edith married David Percy Morgan and had four children, and Helen died unmarried at the age of twenty-five. Herbert became a Republican, unlike his father, and was a member of the House of Representatives from 1905 to 1911. He had four children with his wife, anthropologist and folklorist Elsie Clews, and died suddenly in 1925 from injuries sustained while riding his son's motorcycle. Gertrude Parsons also never married and lived at Stoneover with her sister Mary until her death while traveling in Perugia, Italy in 1927. Constance married attorney Montgomery Hare and had two children.