This is the first in a multi-part series about Dr. Dorothy Leith and her home and office at 240 Main Street in Imlay City.
Last month I wrote about a special house in Imlay as it is defined in the Webster dictionary: “a building for human habitation, especially one that is lived in by a family or small group of people.” We explored the beginning of Charles Palmer’s homestead at 240 Main Street from 1869 to 1916. Now I would like to draw a portrait of the home as: “a building in which people meet for a particular activity, a business or institution,” the second definition of “house” by Webster.
In 1952 Almont historian Jim Wade was just a toddler of two and a half years old when his father was building their home in Almont. The cement blocks to the foundation were being finished up and sill plates being hammered on top of the bricks when the senior Wade’s hammer slipped and dropped into the crawl space below. Rather than go down into the confined space himself, he thought it would be easier to tilt young Jimmy into the space and have the toddler retrieve it. As he operated an awkward human version of an arcade crane game, he dropped Jimmy right on the edge of the cement block.
Mrs. & Mr. Wade immediately sprung into action, slapping a clean absorbent diaper over Jimmy’s forehead, applying pressure to the bleeding cut. The toddler had one eye peeping out like a wounded soldier. Normally a quick trip to Almont doctors Dr. Bishop or Dr. Burley would be the next step. However, it was Sunday and they were not around. Dr. Dorothy Leith, the new doctor in Imlay City was the closest doctor on call. So off went the Wades, jumping into their car and speeding toward Imlay, heading down M-53, turning down a tree lined street, that to this day is one of the most vivid memories Jim Wade recalls.
“I remember looking up at those trees, crying and my mother holding my brother’s diaper to my head. We turned the corner, got out of the car, my mom carrying me and running up into this huge house. After we went through the doors, I don’t remember anything. I think it was 21 stitches to close up the cut, and my mom was not too happy with my dad,” Jim said.
Dr. Dorothy L. Leith’s path to Imlay was complex just as Mr. Charles Palmer’s 1870s journey was. Marked by similar early financial obstacles and also by vastly different challenges, her triumph is to be celebrated just the same.
Dr. Dorothy Leith’s roots
She was born in 1910 to Tom and Ethel Duncan Leith. Dorothy’s father was born in Canada. The Leith family line came over to Canada from Ireland during the Great Potato Famine around 1840-45. Tom was only about five years old when his minister father immigrated to Michigan around 1893. They eventually settled in the Brighton area. Ethel Duncan was united in marriage to Tom in 1909 in Windsor, Canada. Ethel was 19 and a Roman Catholic, her father was a lumberman from Muskegon. Tom was the son of a Presbyterian minister and 21 years old.
The couple met while students at Ypsilanti Normal College (Eastern Michigan University). A newspaper account at the time tells of the elopement. Mr. Leith was a popular athlete there and a football coach. They went to Detroit for an outing and while there decided to be married. The plan was to keep the marriage a secret until she had completed her studies at Ypsilanti. However, a baby followed six months later and Mr. Leith received an offer to coach at the Syracuse Athletic club. He was to go on to New York and Ethel was to follow him there. For some reason the coaching in New York did not work out and they were in Ohio living with his parents when Dorothy Louise Leith was born in April of 1910 as recorded in the Census. Her sister was born the following year in Michigan.
By 1914 the family was living in an apartment in Ypsilanti. In the 1920 census, Ethel is recorded as teaching at a military school and Tom is working as an insurance agent. They have taken on an elderly lodger to help with the rent. By 1930 things are improving for the family. They now own a house worth $8,000 and own a radio set. The girls are attending school and Tom has expanded into real estate sales.
Just as Dorothy began her college years, her father defaulted on several real estate deals as the country plunged into the Great Depression. In spite of the financial hardship and distractions of lawsuits, Dorothy persisted on to attend Michigan State University.
Dorothy Leith was by all accounts a smart, athletic girl in high school. She graduated from Brighton High School in 1927. She attended Michigan State University, earning a B.S. in Health Education in 1931 and her Master’s of Arts from Wayne State University in 1940. While attending Michigan State College, as it was known as then, Dorothy was on the swim and field hockey teams and played many other sports. As a member of the Women’s Athletic Assoc. all four years, she received the coveted “S” letter. To achieve the award, one must have earned 1,000 points by participating in any of the 15 sports offered during the entire college course. To be a member of the “S” club, one must have played on 10 “first class” teams or participated in enough activities to make the equivalent points.
She made the Athletic Honor Roll, joined the Y.W.C.A. and served on the college publication, the “State News” for three years. Her Fraternity was Chi Omega. In 1904 Ethel Switzer Howard wrote that the goal of the Chi Omega was “to live constantly above snobbery of word or deed; to place scholarship before social obligations and character before appearances; to be in the best sense, democratic rather than ‘exclusive,’ and loveable rather than ‘popular;’ to work earnestly, to speak kindly, to act sincerely…” These were all goals Dr. Leith achieved in her service as a teacher and doctor.
Contact Lynn at email@example.com.