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Giles Buckingham Wilcox Diaries Collection

Identifier: RH-A-2130

Scope and Contents

This collection is composed of 37 diaries dating from 1853 to 1896, which belonged to Giles Buckingham Wilcox (b.1826 d.1922) and his wife Mary Jane (Cooley) Wilcox (b. 1835 d. 1919), from Chicago, Illinois.

The entries are filled with notable events, religious sentiments, bills paid, meetings, prayers, statements about family, and notes about traveling that share insight into the life of the Reverend through the years that these diaries cover.

Most of the diaries include more than daily entries, but the beginning an almanac, calendars, information on stamp duties, timetables, legal interest, and usury laws, distances between places, and president lists. In the back, they included space for memorandums and bills. The early diaries were made locally, so they included directories and business advertisers, lists of streets, and business card sections. A section of pages of memorable events of the Succession Rebellion of 1861-1865 can be found at the beginning of the 1866 diary. Some of the diaries include calligraphy on the inside printed in color. Some of the diaries include inscriptions from people who gave him the diaries, like his children Alfred and Charlie and some have just his name on the inside cover.

The more recent diaries go into more detail as there was more space provided to write. In 1854, he married Mary Jane Cooley and had six children with her. He initially built up his career preaching while he lived on the east coast. He stayed a pastor at Calvinistic Congregational Church for three years as a pastor before switching to Lawrence Street Congregational Church. Later, he moved on to the Second Congregational Church in New London, Connecticut, and remained there from 1859 to 1869. From 1869 to 1875, he was a pastor at the Tabernacle Church in Jersey City, New Jersey, before moving back to Connecticut to be a pastor at the Congregational Church in Stamford from 1875 to 1879. Throughout his life, he was a dedicated pastor and theologian. He became particularly active in theological study after he moved to Chicago in late 1879.

The diaries follow 43 years of his life, although there are no diaries for some of the years within that time span. They serve as a quick snapshot into his private life, giving small details as to what occurred within his day. One significant moment he shared was that his baby Edwards Ely had gotten sick. Edward died days later and the funeral was given the following day. On Sundays, he would sometimes write religious proverbs or aphorisms like “To die is to gain predestined uses of temptation”. Other entry topics include calls received, purchases, meetings - including an anti-slavery meeting in 1855 - and exchanges he had. He made note of when family and/or friends stayed in town or his home, when they arrived and departed, who he had tea with, and when he had his sewing circle. He also noted when he traveled and when he arrived at the destination and departed. He has entries in 1883 of his tour of Europe going to France and the British Isles. Once in a while, he wrote about simple activities like getting a haircut, buying envelopes, getting a watch cleaned, and putting down the carpet.

There are details on seminary and church activities such as church festivals, weddings, funerals, school visits, preaching, attending lectures, ministry meetings, prayer meetings, college prayer meetings, and bible classes. Regarding these meetings, he described how many people attended and how well it went. In his 1859 diary are drawings and dimensions of rooms in his house. In the memorandum section of many of the diaries, there are some lists with items crossed out. He does not often detail outside events or the current political climate, with the exception of some noteworthy events. These exceptions included dates such as November 6th in his 1860 diary, he commented on the victory of Abraham Lincoln and Hamlin in the 1860 presidential election. On January 2nd, 1863, he wrote “The Proclamation of Emancipation today Glory to God!”. He wrote in similar fashion following the 1864 election, November 8th: “Presidential election God Save the Right!” Then, on the day after: “God has saved the Right!” On April 15th, 1865, he shared that Abraham Lincoln was “murdered”.

The diaries stop in 1896, but Wilcox lived for 26 more years until he died in 1922 at the age of 96 in Cook County, Chicago, Illinois. He left behind a long and prosperous life as a pastor and theologian, which is reflected throughout his diaries.

In addition to the 36 diaries of Giles Buckingham Wilcox there is just one included in the collection that is of his wife Mary Jane Cooley who was born in December of 1835. Her diary is from the year 1887. She only wrote in half the diary but it details small daily events like the letters she received and ones she sent to people, meetings she attended, calls received, sewing circle, tea meetings, and when people arrived and then left. Her diary is similar to her husbands. She spent her time helping her husband with things and attending to her 6 children. Mary died in June 1919.


  • Creation: 1853-1896



1 Cubic Feet

Language of Materials


Immediate Source of Acquisition

This collection was purchased from Wenzel Books, of Chicago.

Physical Description

The collection amounts to 1 cubic foot and is composed of 36 diaries dating from 1853-1896 that belonged to Reverend Giles Buckingham Willcox (b.1826 d.1922) and one diary of his wife Mary Jane (Cooley) Wilcox (b. 1835 d. 1919) of Chicago, Illinois. Each diary ranges in size with the smallest diary being 2-½” x 3-¼” and the largest diary being 3-½” x 7-⅕”. These diaries are meant to be pocket-sized. These diaries range in length with many having upwards of 400 pages.

The diaries used were of a few different brands, namely Clayton’s Pocket diaries, Excelsior, American diary brand, and Standard diary brand. Most are bound in blue leather with tan on the inside. Some vary in color and material as well. Some of the diaries have a pocket in the back for small things and space to include a pen. A diary from 1869 still includes the pen.

The diaries are in fair condition. Some of them are in far worse condition and more fragile than others because of wear over time and being carried around. Some of the diaries are not bound together in some spots, especially the years 1853, 1877, and 1883. Many of the front and back covers are almost disconnected from the diaries, so they need to be handled with care. The leather in all the diaries is fading and some chunks of the leather are gone, leaving the pages to be exposed in some diaries. A few diaries have been water damaged, as the pages are crinkled and have large stains. Most of the diaries have stains and smudges throughout. In the 1859 diary, the inside of the front and back have a strange black and orange stain that covers up the handwriting. The diary from 1864 has a lot of scribbles on the inside covers. The handwriting over time has faded and, in some areas, it is really light against the paper.

Giles Buckingham Wilcox Diaries Collection finding aid
Nicole Page, Evan Ralph, Ajax Rork, Stephanie Chapman
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Western Michigan University Archives & Regional History Collections Repository

Charles C. and Lynn L. Zhang Legacy Collections Center
1650 Oakland Drive
Kalamazoo MI 49008-5307 US
(269) 387-8490