Man of Many Hats
Strengthening Iowa Education
Parvin was involved extensively in the development and promotion of public educational institutions in Iowa. In 1839 he helped establish the Bloomington (Muscatine) Education Society, which became one of the first fully equipped schools in the territory. In 1848 Parvin was appointed a trustee of the State University of Iowa. His term expired in 1852. In 1857 he was appointed to a committee to consider the proper instruction of natural philosophy at the university. When the university was reorganized under an amended constitution, Parvin was reappointed to the board of trustees. He was also elected curator of the cabinet of natural history and librarian. In that capacity, he was asked to prepare space at the university for a library and to procure books from the State Library that had been donated to the university. He was also required to devote a portion of his time to collecting and classifying specimens of geology and natural history. In 1859 he was named professor of chemistry and geology, and in 1861 he was named chair of the Department of Natural History. He served as a professor at the university until 1870. While at the State University of Iowa, Parvin was able to secure such free copies of national and state publications as were available to libraries. As Curator, Parvin also went on trips to collect geological specimens for the Collection in Natural History, and had great interest in meteorological studies.
The Masonic Order
Parvin became a Mason in Cincinnati in 1838, and he remained extremely active throughout his life. After arriving in Iowa, he helped found several of the early Masonic lodges in Iowa, including those in Burlington and Muscatine. He was involved with the formation of the Grand Lodge of Iowa in 1844 and was elected Grand Secretary, a position he kept until his death in 1901. In 1852-1853 he served as Grand Master of Masons in Iowa. In 1844 he recommended that the Grand Lodge of Iowa form a Masonic library. The resolution was approved, and a small allocation was provided in 1845. During its early years, the library was a nomadic institution remaining with Parvin, who was Grand Librarian. At various times, the library was located in Muscatine, Iowa City, and Davenport. In 1884 the collections had grown to include Masonic, anti-Masonic, and non-Masonic materials, and the library was moved to Cedar Rapids, where it remains as one of the premier Masonic libraries in the world. Parvin was instrumental in forming the Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons, Scottish Rite, Grand Council Royal & Select Masters, and Knight Templar Commanderies in Iowa.
Pride in Iowa History
Parvin also worked to preserve Iowa history. He was one of the founders of the Annals of Iowa, which he edited for several years, and he served as secretary of the State Historical Society of Iowa for three years (1864-1866). He authored several historical works, including Report on the Climate of Iowa, 1850-1856; History of the Early Schools in Iowa, 1830-1859; and History of Knight Templar Masonry in the United States.
Theodore Parvin married Agnes McCully on May 17, 1843, in Iowa City. They had six children. Agnes preceded him in death on November 20, 1896, in Cedar Rapids. Theodore Parvin died in Cedar Rapids at age 84. According to one biographer, "he was in public life from the time he crossed the Mississippi until he breathed his last. His life was filled with good works and they live after him."