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Boyce-Gilbert family papers

Identifier: Midwest-MS-Boyce

Scope and Content of the Collection

Collection contains reproductions of journals and correspondence of Le Roy and Simeon Boyce and Elisabeth Boyce Gilbert, in addition to a family tree, genealogical information, and biographical sketches of the Boyce and Gilbert families.

Le Roy Boyce's journals and correspondence discuss the pharmacy business, Chicago real estate, health conditions, and family events and concerns. Simeon Boyce's diaries discuss his years at Yale, including many descriptions of various societies and their rituals, scores of regattas against Harvard, and descriptions of social and academic events. As Boyce visited Ithaca, New York frequently to see his grandmother and extended family, he describes the founding, early campus, and events pertaining to Cornell University. Additionally, Boyce's diary includes several passages dedicated to describing and mapping the damage of the Chicago Fire in 1871 which destroyed his commercial property. Elizabeth Boyce Gilbert's journal contains details of her time at Vassar College, her social engagements there, and her travels back home to Chicago. Additionally, her later journal describes her life as a wife and mother in Kenilworth, Illinois.

Collection also contains reproduced photographs with watercolor embellishments of the Boyce household at 3735 Grand Blvd. by Helen Boyce circa 1900.


  • Creation: 1831-2000



Materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The Boyce-Gilbert family papers are open for research in the Special Collections Reading Room; 1 box at a time (Priority III).

Ownership and Literary Rights

The Boyce-Gilbert family papers are the physical property of the Newberry Library. Copyright may belong to the authors or their legal heirs or assigns. For permission to publish or reproduce any materials from this collection, contact the Roger and Julie Baskes Department of Special Collections at

Biography of the Boyce-Gilbert Family

Chicago family of scholars, real estate moguls, and pharmacy entrepreneurs.

The Boyce family (once the DuBois or Boies family) fled France in 1685 when the Edict of Nantes was revoked by Louis XIV, limiting the rights of Huguenots. They settled briefly in Scotland and Ireland, eventually landing in Massachusetts in 1727, where David DuBois raised his son Samuel Boies with his wife, until David’s death in 1752.

The Boies family eventually migrated to Cortland, New York, where Le Roy Merrick Boyce was born in 1810. Le Roy worked in drugstores throughout his teenage years, both in Cortland and Lockport, New York. Le Roy took great pride in his work and began managing employees from a young age. Boyce moved to Chicago and started the city’s fifth pharmacy on Lake Street in 1837. He married Helen Maria Williams in 1845. The couple spent much of their marriage separated by distance due to Le Roy’s constant traveling in New York and Canada to maintain the inventory of his store. When Le Roy was back in Chicago, his wife and children fled the city for upstate New York in order to avoid the cholera epidemic that would claim Le Roy’s life in 1849. Charles Williams Boyce, born 1846, struggled with illness throughout his infancy, but recovered in his boyhood and lived until 1889. His brother, John Le Roy, died in infancy in 1849.

Simeon Leonard Boyce was born in 1850, shortly after his father Le Roy Boyce’s death. He attended Yale University and kept extensive records of his time there, including details of societies, regattas, tutorials, and Yale traditions. Boyce struggled with his decision to attend college instead of immediately entering the business world. As a college sophomore, Boyce had his first foray into business. He demolished the family home in Chicago in order to construct a commercial building in its place at State and Madison. However, the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 destroyed all construction on this building, and Simeon took a leave of absence from Yale to consider his options.

Simeon Boyce married Helen Isabel Adams and had six children: Helen (1875), James Leonard (1879), Marguerite (1883), Le Roy Merrick (1887), Leonard (1890), and Elisabeth (1892). Helen became a teacher at various women’s schools throughout the Northeast and even taught briefly at the Woman’s College in Constantinople. She was awarded her PhD in History from the University of Chicago in 1920, the year of her death. Helen was also an important family historian, as she created a book of photographs and paintings of the family home at 3735 Grand Blvd.

Helen’s sister, Elisabeth, attended Vassar College. She then married, became Elisabeth Boyce Gilbert, and raised children in Kenilworth, Illinois.


0.4 Linear Feet (1 box)


Reproductions of diaries, correspondence, photographs, and genealogical information about the Boyce-Gilbert family, beginning with the diary of Le Roy Boyce, a Cortland, New York native and successful Chicago drugstore owner. Collection also includes diaries from Simeon Leonard Boyce beginning in 1869 and Elizabeth Boyce Gilbert beginning in 1910. Collection contains an extensive family tree documenting the genealogy until 1898, and biographical sketches of Boyce family members.


Materials arranged alphabetically.

Collection Stack Location

1 7 7


Gift of John C. Williams, 2001.

Processed by

Emma Martin, 2011.


This inventory was created with the generous support of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this inventory do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Inventory of the Boyce-Gilbert family papers, 1831-2000
Emma Martin
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the The Newberry Library - Modern Manuscripts and Archives Repository

60 West Walton Street
Chicago Illinois 60610 United States