Archives Sneak Peek: Florence Helen Ray Boyes Papers | Presbyterian Historical Society

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Archives Sneak Peek: Florence Helen Ray Boyes Papers

February 5, 2024
A portrait photograph of Florence Helen Ray Boyes, taken around the time of her marriage in 1919. Background image is the first page of a "Dear Friends" letter penned by Mrs.Boyes in 1954.

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


After visiting Kennedy Memorial Hospital in 1950, Dr. Paul S. Rhoads, working under 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 Dr. Rhoads’s words, we are offered a glimpse into the world of Kennedy Memorial—the world of Florence and Henry Boyes.


"Modern Hospital in Ancient Tripoli," written by Paul S. Rhoads, M.D., the Board of Foreign Missions of the PCUSA. From RG311.

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 thirty 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 Dr. Rhoads’ article, titled “Modern Hospital in Ancient Tripoli,” lives in PHS’s Record Group 311—an archival collection consisting of 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 passion, photographs, and evidence of the Boyes’ dedication to their lives of service in Syria.

Because the majority of items within the folders were penned by or belonged to Florence—the singular photograph is a portrait of her around the time of her wedding—the collection bears her name. As a result of this, the biographical information included in the collection and its documentation focuses only on Florence, whose maiden name was Florence Ray.

After graduating from Detroit Business University in 1909, 20-year-old Florence Ray remained in her hometown, spending the following decade working in various offices in the city. At some point during those ten years, she met and became engaged to Dr. Henry R. Boyes. Henry Boyes, a graduate of both the Moody Bible Institute (1912) and the Detroit College of Medicine and Surgery (1916), spent two years serving as a surgeon in France with the American Expeditionary Force during World War I.

The couple applied to the Board of Foreign Missions in 1919. They were married in September of that same year and left for the PCUSA's Syria-Lebanon Mission shortly after—en route to the Kennedy Memorial Hospital in Tripoli, the place they’d call home for the next thirty-seven years. They worked tirelessly, both dedicating themselves entirely to the hospital, until 1958, when they were evacuated from Tripoli during the 1958 uprising against the government of Camille Chamoun, and returned to Detroit. Both were just about seventy years old. Dr. Henry Boyes passed away shortly after they’d returned stateside, in May 1959. In an article published in the October 5, 1957, edition of Presbyterian Life, Kennedy Memorial is referred to as “The Hospital That Just Won’t Fold,” thanks to “a busy couple and their 120 ‘children’ bring health to thousands despite a spate of problems.”

"The Hospital That Just Won't Fold," by Henry L. McCorkle, from Presbyterian Life, October 5, 1957 edition. From RG311.

Written just two years before the Boyeses would retire from mission service, the article discusses the political and societal tensions between Lebanon and Syria during the mid-twentieth century and the tireless work of the Boyes amidst 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 writes, “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.”

The 120 “children” mentioned in the subtitle of the article are the doctors, nurses, technicians, and students that made up the Boyeses medical team at Kennedy Memorial. In their three decades of work, the “family” had served over 100,000 patients, and more: “plus countless thousands of political refugees, orphans, soldiers, and flood and famine victims who have plodded over the world’s heartland since 1920.”

According to the article, Kennedy Memorial, despite the unequivocal growth it had experienced since the Boyeses arrival in 1920 and the widespread reach of their influence, had been “reported ready to fold for almost fifty years.” It hadn’t, though—not yet, and not while the Boyes had any say in the matter. Despite the financial pressures the hospital was experiencing—loss of revenue, low pay—most of the staff members stayed put, loyal to their supervisors and to their work. McCorkle writes that the hospital’s head pharmacist had recently turned down a job offer, complete with a monthly salary double what he was making at Kennedy, to continue working with Dr. Boyes. He had been working at the hospital for twenty-eight years—and, apparently, had no plans to leave.

Images taken from a “Dear Friends” letter written by Florence, dated April 26, 1954. From RG311.

The list of methods and practices used by the Boyeses during their time in Tripoli is long—it includes the x-ray, radio, electro-cardiogram, and basal metabolism—but they were perhaps best known for the nursing schools they kickstarted. The women’s school was originally established in 1921, though not formally recognized by the Lebanese government until the late 1940s. At the time of the article’s publication, the school had already seen 125 graduates go on to gain jobs throughout the Middle East. The couple also spearheaded the creation of a men’s nursing program, the only one of its kind in the area.

In the New York Times article announcing his death in 1959, we learn that Dr. Henry Boyes was awarded the Gold Medal of the Lebanese Order of the Cedar in 1946 for his medical services. Over the course of their service in Syria-Lebanon, the couple held weekly worship services in the hospital complex. Dr. Boyes would take to the pulpit, putting his degree from the Moody Bible Institute to work, while Mrs. Boyes played the organ. The Boyeses tried to treat the whole person, in the ways they knew how–prayer and worship.

"Dear Friends" letter, penned by Florence Helen Ray Boyes, dated April 26, 1954. From RG311.

As a means of updating their supporters, friends, family, and others back in the States to the work being done in the Middle East, Florence often wrote correspondence in the form of “Dear Friends” letters. These letters detailed the goings-on of Kennedy Memorial, and often included a number of small black and white photographs pasted along the margins. A paragraph or two would be devoted to thanking their friends and supporters for any and all donations sent their way, and Florence would then go one step further to detail exactly how they put those donated materials to work.

In the conclusory paragraph of one such letter, dated April 26, 1954, Florence writes:

All who enter our doors are welcome—day and night—the doors are never closed. One doctor is always on duty to give instant aid and the evangelist is always anxious to help each one with his problems and to give the message of salvation to patients and visitors. Some of the seed falls on hard ground, some among the weeds but also there are those that take root and bring forth fruit...It is such cases that give cause for thanksgiving. For the others we ask your prayers that the seed sown may bring forth fruit. We may never know of the fruition but we know that we plant the seed, another may water it and it is God who gives the increase. Dr. Boyes joins me in asking that you continue to uphold the work in prayer that all will be ready for every good work and in all things glorify our Father, thus making our lives count in His service.

The Boyeses devoted the entirety of their energy into their missionary work, and their legacy lives on through the collection of papers being preserved by the Presbyterian Historical Society. Though the collection may be small, it is powerful—and we are honored to have it live amongst the hundreds of other stories in our archives.