Pharmacy Grad’s Letters to Professor Kleinsinger During WWII, by Lynnette Henshaw
“I haven’t heard from Sid Willig in a heck of a long time. I hope he is OK, and I’ll knock off a few lines to his MRS…. correspondence with most of the others has ceased, and I earnestly hope they are OK” –Feb. 16, 1945, Letter written by Lenny S. to Professor Harold Kleinsinger.
From 1944 to 1945, Lenny, who graduated from the St. John’s University College of Pharmacy in January, 1944, wrote several letters to his old professor. These letters were typed and a few handwritten. In the letters he asked Professor Kleinsinger how everything at school was going and he wondered about former peers of his who he lost contact with. I can’t imagine the thought of just graduating from college with all your friends to be suddenly split apart and in some cases never hear from them again. This was unfortunately common for young adults in college during World War II. Kids went off to college thinking when they graduated in four years they would find a simple pharmacy job and start a family. Instead, St. John’s University opted to accelerate their pharmacy program because of the war and give the students opportunities to take summer sessions and graduate in just three years, which is only half the time it takes pharmacy students to graduate now. Instead of two semesters, they would have a trimester.
Lenny and his classmates still found time to be a part of various organizations and clubs, such as A.Ph.A, (American Pharmaceutical Association) and the student council for the College of Pharmacy, where Lenny was secretary. He was vice president of his sophomore class as well.
It’s hard enough for me, as a first year full-time pharmacy student to try to keep a certain G.P.A. to graduate and also to try to make time for family and friends, but I can’t imagine the pressure that these young students had to face. Lenny, who wasn’t much older than I am now, says in his letter to Professor Kleinsinger “I think I told you that I am the sole Pharmacist Mate on this ship. We carry ca. 100 men, and most of them are permanent crew.” He had just graduated and his first job was being deployed on a ship where he was responsible for 100 crew members who were just about the same age as him. He says that he is not overworked, however, but he doesn’t learn too much either.
I can understand why he often wrote to his professor. He was in search of guidance and he took comfort in reminiscing in his college days where he could focus on being a student and being with friends. As Lenny wrote in one of the other letters, “I wish I were back at good old St. John’s again. No kidding, you would be surprised how often I think of the old joint, and laugh to myself, when I think of all the things we fellows thought were so serious, and which in retrospect are really so unimportant.” It must have been a dramatic change for Lenny to go directly to military service after college, he wasn’t fortunate enough to have a choice in where he worked, he was away from his friends and family. This leaves me thinking of my years to come in the pharmacy program here at St. John’s and how much will change after I graduate as well. I hope I stay close with all my friends and still have time for my family when I start my career as a pharmacist.
Lynnette Henshaw is a first year student in the St. John’s University PharmD program from Hammonton, NJ.
This references the correspondence from a former St. John’s pharmacy student found in the Harold Kleinsinger Papers (1941-45). The collection includes letters from Lenny along with those from more than 70 other former students written to Dr. Kleinsinger during the World War II era. Kleinsinger was a professor of analytical chemistry and physics in the School of Pharmacy, from 1931 (not long after the school’s founding in 1929) until 1973. His impact on his students in the classroom and lab as well as a mentor and advisor for several pharmacy clubs and fraternities is clearly evident from the letters. In particular, the Jewish students training to become pharmacists at St. John’s at the time, found in Professor Kleinsinger a supportive role model.