Each month, the Presbyterian Historical Society is diving deep into the archives and sharing stories from the family and personal papers in its collections. This month, PHS is highlighting the Florence Helen Ray Boyes Papers.

After visiting Lebanon’s Kennedy Memorial Hospital in 1950, Dr. Paul S. Rhoads, working for the Board of Foreign Missions of the PCUSA, typed up a descriptive account of all he’d witnessed. The report is full of praise for the clinic, its staff and the medical missionary couple who ran it. Through Rhoads’s words, we are offered a glimpse into the world of Kennedy Memorial — the world of Florence and Henry Boyes.

Florence Helen Ray Boyes with text from personal papers collection in Record Group 311. All images courtesy of the Presbyterian Historical Society.

Florence Helen Ray Boyes with text from personal papers collection in Record Group 311. All images courtesy of the Presbyterian Historical Society.

From the moment he stepped foot on the hospital grounds, Rhoads quickly realized “that something rather special was going on in these quite ordinary surroundings.” He goes on to describe the facilities, which, since the first building was established 30 years before, had grown to contain “100 beds, an out-patient department in which 50 to 100 patients are cared for daily, a nurse’s home, classrooms for nurses, a laundry and a chapel large enough to accommodate all of the hospital personnel — in addition to the usual hospital units for operations, deliveries, x-ray department, laboratory, kitchen, etc.” Plus, plans were already underway for the construction of an additional building.

“All these physical evidences of growth bespoke a healthy, effective organization but the ‘phenomenal’ feature was the way in which the competence, good cheer and truly Christian character of Dr. and Mrs. Boyes were reflected in the entire personnel of the hospital and their patients,” Rhoads wrote.

So, who were the Boyeses, these competent and cheerful medical missionaries?

The original copy of Rhoads’ article, “Modern Hospital in Ancient Tripoli,” lives in PHS’s Record Group 311 — an archival collection consisting of the Florence Helen Ray Boyes Papers. Five folders make up the entirety of the collection, but don’t let the small size fool you: the collection is chock full of evidence showing the Boyes’ dedication to their lives of service in Lebanon.

The couple applied to the Board of Foreign Missions in 1919. They were married in September of that year and left for the PCUSA's Syria-Lebanon Mission shortly after — enroute to the Kennedy Memorial Hospital in Tripoli, the place they’d call home for the next 37 years. They worked tirelessly, dedicating themselves to the hospital until 1958, when they were evacuated from Tripoli during an uprising against the government of Camille Chamoun and returned to Detroit; both were about 70 years old. Dr. Boyes passed away shortly after they returned stateside, in May 1959.

The records in the Florence Helen Ray Boyes Papers reveal a period of political and societal tensions between Lebanon and Syria during the mid-20th century. 

Letter from personal papers collection in Record Group 311.

A “Presbyterian Life” article from October 5, 1957 described the Boyes work in the face of such unrest: “The situation in Syria is far more ominous for both Lebanon and the United States than it has been since the end of World War II,” Henry L. McCorkle wrote. “But because of a medical team doing an amazing job in an even more amazing building, the health of thousands will be maintained in one of the most unpredictable places on earth.”

In their three decades of work, the Boyeses medical team at Kennedy Memorial served more than 100,000 patients, including refugees, orphans, soldiers and famine victims.

The Boyeses devoted the entirety of their energy to their missionary work, and their legacy lives on through the collection of papers preserved by the Presbyterian Historical Society.

Read the collection guide to learn more about the Florence Helen Ray Boyes Papers, or begin with a longer version of this article on the PHS blog: https://www.history.pcusa.org/blog/2024/02/archives-sneak-peek-florence-helen-ray-boyes-papers