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George W. Wilbur family papers

Call Number: WA MSS S-1611

Scope and Contents

The George W. Wilbur Family Papers consist of correspondence, case files, financial papers, notebooks, documents, writings, diaries, maps, photographs, and printed material which document the life of Chicago attorney George W. Wilbur and his family. The collection spans the years 1737-1954, but most of the material dates from the period of George Wilbur's adult life, 1870-1931. George Wilbur inherited his mother's papers upon her death, and his daughter, Susan Wilbur Jones, inherited them in turn with those of her parents when they died in 1931 and 1932.

The Papers document Chicago history, nineteenth century family life, Colorado mining, life in the West, and women's history. Housed in 126 boxes, the Papers consist of six series:Personal Correspondence,George W. Wilbur's Professional Papers,George W. Wilbur's Personal and Business Papers,Other Family Papers,Printed Material, and Photographs. Boxes 111-113 contain Oversize material; boxes 114-119 contain Restricted Fragile Papers.

Series I,Personal Correspondence , occupies 31 boxes and contains a mixture of family gossip and business discussions across four generations of family members. The series has been organized into seven subseries: George W. Wilbur, Sarah Ann Cook Wilbur, Susan Wilbur Jones, Ellen Rice Wilbur, Albert H. Wilbur, Susan W. Rice, and Other Personal Correspondence. Each subseries contains the personal correspondence of a principal figure from the collection. Within each subseries the letters have been arranged by correspondent with incoming and outgoing correspondence interfiled chronologically. Undated letters have been grouped by addresses when possible and filed after dated correspondence. Correspondence among the people described at the subseries level are placed in the earliest relevant subseries. Thus George Wilbur's correspondence with his mother, Sarah Ann Cook Wilbur, is filed in the first subseries, George W. Wilbur.

The largest body of correspondence in the Wilbur Family Papers is that between George Wilbur and his mother, Sarah Ann Cook Wilbur (folders 1-251). George wrote his mother frequently, often sending her money; this regular correspondence was carried on for more than three decades, and provided opportunity for a continuing discussion of a multitude of details of family life. Their letters carry the constant refrain of worries about money, to such an extent that often the details of their daily lives are given solely in proof of its scarcity. Other common refrains in the correspondence are their imperfect health, family and friends, and the scheduling of visits.

George's letters to his mother after his marriage to Ellen Rice in late 1888 are especially revealing of the personal and familial dynamics of his marriage (folders 160-186). George wrote about Ellen's jealousy of their close relationship, his arguments with his mother-in-law, and the disruption of the household caused by Susan Rice, Ellen's mentally ill sister.

Susan Rice began to suffer from mental illness in the mid 1880s. The collection contains letters written by Susan to George before the onset of her mental illness (folder 373); later letters (some written from an asylum) reveal a drastic change in her handwriting and her anxiety over her increasingly unstable state. In one letter of November 1888 she wrote of her fear of becoming "a maniac" and described her wish to see George before losing "all my reason" (folder 373). George's letters to his mother contain descriptions of Susan's behavior, with reminders about the need for discretion outside the family. Other correspondence includes scattered references to her illness. Letters from the Peoria Sanatorium updating Ellen on Susan's condition, dating from 1922 to 1928, may be found in Series IV, folder 1710b.

Susan Rice's life is also documented by small files of correspondence with her sister Ellen and George Wilbur's mother Sarah Ann. Letters between Susan Rice and Sarah Ann Cook Wilbur are essentially thank you notes (folder 494). No reference to her mental illness is made in this correspondence. Letters between Ellen Rice Wilbur and Susan Rice (folder 567), were written while apart from one another. Ellen's letters in particular contain a great deal of information about her daily schedule.

George and his wife Ellen Rice (Nellie) were friends for many years before their marriage, their letters consisting of an exchange of hometown gossip and details of their daily life, with few hints of a romance between them (folders 324-326). As might be expected, the collection contains little correspondence between George and Ellen Wilbur except when one or the other traveled away from Illinois. George wrote Ellen from Colorado in 1890 and 1891 (folders 327-328), in which he describes his work at the mill he co-owned and other daily details of his life there. For the period when George returned to Colorado in 1896, the collection contains only Ellen's letters to him (folders 328-329). These letters, and those of later years, include news about their daughter Susan, and describe Ellen's daily life in Oak Park. George's later letters while on business or while Ellen traveled contain passing references to his work and domestic details. Ellen's correspondence with George's mother Sarah Ann (folders 475-476) consists of letters mostly written by Ellen, and are primarily notes settling visiting times, with news of Susan Wilbur.

George Wilbur also maintained an extensive correspondence with his brother Albert (folders 252-323). The correspondence consists principally of Albert's letters to George, with some later carbon copies of George's letters to Albert. They begin with Albert's departure from home in 1875 and are descriptive of the places to which he traveled, work, mine accidents, fires, and other news he found unusual. Albert's letters to his mother (folders 421-474) are similar in content, but his letters to George occasionally reflect an understanding between brothers that their mother was not to be worried unduly. On October 29, 1878, Albert wrote, "Burn this letter & do not tell mother its contents" at the top of a note in which he confided that "I have seen 18 men killed & shot since I left home & seen many others that ought to have been." (folder 261) The correspondence between Albert and his mother is represented here by his letters to her, which he sent frequently, as he was also sending her money. In the first years in the West, he often described opportunities he had to make money and promised that he would be able to support her more fully in the future. He was also very involved in family matters at home, and gave advice about handling the renovation of the house in Belvidere (Illinois), George's health, companionship for Sarah Ann, and financial matters.

George and Albert Wilbur also discussed business, specifically George's interest in the Pittsburgh Stamp Mill in Crested Butte, Colorado. There is considerable correspondence in 1896 when George wrestled with the mill's financial difficulties (folders 285-288). Albert drew on his experience as a stockholder in several mining companies, and on the easy access he had to Western miners and millers to offer George frequent advice about the mill. Another perspective on the matter can be found in George's letters from Colorado to his mother during the summers between 1890 and 1896 (folders 163-192) in addition to the letters to Ellen mentioned above.

After his marriage in 1891, Albert Wilbur relied on his wife Laura Bofinger Wilbur to write to his family, (folders 370-372, 477-487) and with the exception of his lengthy correspondence with George in 1896, Albert wrote less frequently than before. Laura's letters to George and her mother-in-law contain much domestic detail, including news of her daughter Helen, descriptions of her house and neighborhood, along with candid evaluations of Albert's economic instability.

Beginning in 1902 a large gap occurs in the correspondence between the brothers and their families. With the single exception of a 1907 letter from George to Albert detailing how he dispersed their mother's estate, there are no letters until 1923. The letters of 1923 do not, however, suggest that a long silence has been broken, and as the period of this gap correlates with a gap in George Wilbur's personal diaries, it may be that the brothers remained regular correspondents and that the correspondence and diaries have been separated from the rest of the collection. Albert wrote two letters to Ellen after George's death in 1931 expressing his sense of loss (folder 655c).

Other letters from the West can be found in George's Correspondence with Others, from his friends C. B. Loop, who traveled to California in 1874, (folder 384); M. C. Kasson, who traveled to Colorado via Dodge City, Kansas in 1875 (folder 386); and W. S. Thompson, who worked in the Quartermaster's office at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas 1871-1873 (folders 378-382).

The collection contains few letters to Albert Wilbur due to the fact he did not live with the Illinois branch of the family for very long. There is a folder of correspondence from others to Albert (folder 581), which contains a few letters written to him by his cousins while he visited Belvidere, Illinois. Also present in the folder is the invitation to his wedding.

George Wilbur's correspondence with his daughter, Susan Wilbur Jones (folders 341-369) contains letters she wrote to him as a young child. There is also a substantial run of letters she wrote from Wellesley. There are very few letters between Susan and her mother and aunt from this period. Susan describes her life at Wellesley, thanks him for presents, and comments on his news. It should also be noted that there is additional correspondence located in her Wellesley scrapbooks in series IV (folders 1776-1787). Carbon copies of George's letters to her appear in their later correspondence, which includes details about her three children while on vacation in Massachusetts.

Susan's correspondence with her mother and her aunt (nicknamed "Aunt Foo") were written while separated from them on trips, and contain miscellaneous descriptions of day to day life (folders 552-553). Susan's correspondence with her grandmother contains some of her earliest letters (folders 488-493), and some of the few letters written by Sarah Ann Cook Wilbur to someone other than George Wilbur in the collection. Susan's correspondence with Llewellyn Jones (folder 553a) includes letters from before their marriage. She also corresponded with her cousin E. P. Warren, an author and art collector who bought many pieces for the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and recognized Susan's artistic nature (folder 553b), and "Mary," a companion to her parents in the 1920s (folder 553c-e). Susan's correspondence with others (folders 554-562) includes letters from Wellesley classmates after graduation and letters from other Warren cousins, including E. P. Warren's sister Cornelia Warren, a trustee of Wellesley. Later correspondence includes letters to, from, and about her children.

Sarah Ann Cook Wilbur's correspondence includes a set of correspondence about another unstable marriage within the family, that of Albert Gale and Carrie Cook, Sarah Ann's niece (folders 495-503). After Carrie left Albert for another man, Albert wrote Sarah Ann and, to a lesser extent, George Wilbur many letters full of creatively phrased denunciations of his ex-wife (folders 375-377). Carrie's letters are fewer in number, but they reveal her point of view of the marriage.

Sarah Ann Cook Wilbur's Correspondence with Others (folders 504-548) includes a letter from her husband George dated November 12, 1848, which is the only letter signed by him in the entire collection (folder 504). Sarah Ann Cook Wilbur was one of at least eight children, and lived far away from her siblings. The correspondence that her siblings and their children generated in exchanging news resulted in an extensive family correspondence. The letters are almost all incoming, and from family members, with a few scattered letters from friends. Included are letters from a young Helen Wilbur, Albert's daughter. Family charts have been appended to help identify family members.

George Wilbur's Correspondence with Others (folders 378-403) includes letters from friends at Champaign University, friends in Belvidere, postcards written in code (possibly masonic), and later letters written mostly by relatives, including a few carbon copies of George's letters to them. Ellen Rice Wilbur's Correspondence with Others (folders 568-577) is all incoming, and includes early letters from her mother, her sister Mary, her aunt Cornelia Warren, and friends from Rockford Female Seminary, as well as condolence letters after the death of her sister Susan and George.

Other Personal Correspondence (folders 586-597) consists of letters written to Susan C. Rice from her sisters, most written in 1861; Cook family members writing to other family members; letters possibly written to George Wilbur Senior; one letter written by Susan Wilbur Jones' husband Llewellyn Jones; and other letters written to unidentified recipients.

Series II,George W. Wilbur's Professional Papers document George Wilbur's legal career and is organized into twelve subseries, Cases: Contract Files, Cases: Long Term Individual Client Files, Cases: Mining Company Files, Cases: Probate Files, Cases: Real Estate Files, Cases: Street Improvements Files, Cases: Other Case Files, Cases: Fragments From Files, Professional Correspondence, Financial Records, Notebooks, and Printed Material. The series is housed in Boxes 28-77.

The Case files make up a large part of the collection, Boxes 28-66. Correspondence that was found filed with case records was left in the Case files, but readers should also consult the Professional Correspondence, as there is often correspondence relating to specific cases to be found there. Similar considerations apply to Bills and receipts, as some are to be found in the Case files, and the rest in the Financial Records. Much of the material in the Case files is fragile.

The Case files reflect the range of civil suits which made up the bulk of George Wilbur's practice. The Contract Files (folders 598-656) include suits over violations of contract for house decorating, plumbing, broken leases, failure to pay doctor's bills. Wilbur's Long Term Client Files contain the records of Michael and Robert L. Burke (folders 657-702). Michael Burke was a Chicago land owner that George defended in personal injury suits, who left his son $750,000 when he died in 1920. George Wilbur handled his estate and represented Robert Burke in a number of different cases. Burke was court-martialed for being absent without leave from the Army in 1918, sued by a woman for slander, had an auto accident in North Carolina, bought real estate in Florida, and sought treatment for chronic alcoholism.

Thomas Hulbert was another long term client of George Wilbur's (folders 703-730). Hulbert dealt in residential real estate in Chicago and Oak Park, Illinois and George Wilbur represented him from 1900-1930. Roswell Jones, a mortgage broker in Bellwood and Oak Park, Illinois, was George Wilbur's client from 1922-1930. Wilbur also defended his wife's aunt and uncle, Charlotte and Francis H. Rice, who were involved in a land dispute from 1886 to 1900 (folders 750-770).

There are two mining companies represented, the Pittsburgh Concentrating and Mining Company and the Ruby Chief Mining and Milling Company, both located outside of Crested Butte, Colorado. The Pittsburgh Company case (folders 771-782) involved a suit for improperly processing ore contracted to them. The Pittsburgh Company appealed and attempted to have the case moved to another county, then tried to get the case dismissed but could not because previous court fees had not been paid. Later correspondence revolves around the attorney's fees. There are also three printed pamphlets of appeals concerning the case. George Wilbur was not an attorney for the company, but was involved in the case as a stockholder and member of the Board of Directors. This is an anomaly in the Case files, for Wilbur served as attorney in every other case in the collection. The Ruby Chief Mining and Milling Company (folders 783-799) involved some of the same parties in a series of suits over stock. George Wilbur was both stockholder in and attorney for the company. The first folders in this section contain documents, correspondence, and receipts regarding the company that was collected as background information for the cases. Correspondence about these cases appears in Wilbur's Professional Correspondence in series II beginning in 1887.

There are twenty-one Probate cases (folders 800-881), in which Wilbur handled estates and filed suits on behalf of relatives challenging wills. His clients came from both Chicago and Oak Park, Illinois. The largest case file concerns the settlement of the estate of Agnes Weaver, described as a "distracted person," who owned property in Oklahoma and Michigan. The Real Estate cases (folders 882-945) concern the purchase of property, foreclosures, and the rights of property owners in Chicago, Oak Park, and Cicero, Illinois. There are a large number of Street Improvement cases (folders 946-1154), which concern the taxes associated with the cost of the improvements. The Street Improvements section is divided into Paving, Sewers, and Subway Cases in Chicago and Oak Park. The cases contain much information on Chicago and Oak Park city planning and residents. The Other Case Files (folders 1155-1255) contain records on assorted civil actions, including one, Gaskill vs. Forest Home (folder 1187), involving a suit brought by an African-American in 1913-1914 to bury his children in the same cemetery in which he had buried his wife, which, since her death, had become an all-white cemetery.

The Professional Correspondence files (folders 1264-1372) include correspondence pertaining to specific cases found in the Case files. The early correspondence, which dates from the time Wilbur first considered attending Union College of Law in Chicago, contains several letters of introduction to lawyers in Chicago. A Letterpress book (folder 1844) contains copies of his outgoing correspondence from the years 1879 to 1884. Correspondence prior to 1896 which is not in the Letterpress book is incoming. From 1896 forward the correspondence not in the Letterpress book switches to carbon copies of his outgoing letters only. Most of the letters from the 1890s and 1900s are about street improvement cases. There is a gap in the correspondence from 1907 to 1911, and then for the next eight years only a few letters from each year.

The Financial Records (folders 1373-1425), as mentioned above, should be used in conjunction with the Case files, as some of the Bills and receipts refer to specific cases represented in the Case files. The Notebooks (folders 1426-1433) include a pocket notebook which contains references to the Ruby Chief Mine's docket information and a few notes on the case in the back. The Notebooks also contain several case directories that George Wilbur devised to keep track of his cases.

Series III,George W. Wilbur's Personal and Business Papers , is organized into five subseries: Diaries, Personal Financial Records, Business Records, Writings, and Other Papers. The series is housed in boxes 78-94. The Diaries (folders 1442-1470) contain brief entries detailing both his personal life and his daily activities at the office. George Wilbur makes passing references to marketing the McLaughlin Smoke Consumer in the late 1880s, and writes during his trips to Colorado in the summers of 1890 and 1891. The diaries run from 1874 to 1895, skip 1896, and include one for 1897. There are no diaries from 1898 to 1925, but five volumes cover 1925, 1926, 1928, 1930, and 1931. The diaries in the 1920's and 1930's contain sporadic entries, which continue up to three weeks before his death.

Personal Financial Records contain a large and comprehensive run of Bills and Receipts kept by George Wilbur, his wife Ellen, and his sister-in-law Susan Rice, who lived with them (folders 1472-1536). The Bills and Receipts have been left in the order that they were found, seven roughly alphabetic runs over varying spans of years between 1872 and 1926. Large numbers of receipts from single merchants have been gathered into separate folders and placed in appropriate alphabetical order within each run of bills. Other materials in George's financial papers include a long run of Canceled Checks and Check Registers (folders 1537-1549). The thoroughness of the records, especially the Bills and Receipts, Canceled Checks, and Check Registers should provide an informative view of the spending habits of a middle class Chicago family at the turn of the century.

Also included in the Personal Financial Records is Housekeeping Correspondence (folders 1550-1559), with a file of correspondence from Irving Terwilliger, George's banker and good friend. Some of these letters contain personal content, but their principal focus is domestic finances so it was decided to keep them together here.

Business Records include records for the McLaughlin Smoke Consumer Company (folders 1569-1573), of which Wilbur owned part beginning in 1884. He marketed the Smoke Consumer, with only moderate success, until 1896. Included in this subseries are Bills and receipts, Contracts, and Correspondence with those who purchased the device.

Also in Business Records are the records for Wilbur's activities as stockholder in Ruby Chief Mining and Milling Company and Pittsburgh Concentrating and Mining Company, as well as his purchase of the Pittsburgh Mill (folders 1574-1625). Included here are Bills and receipts, Canceled checks, Contracts and deeds, Correspondence, Diaries and expense books, Maps, and Printed material. This subseries contains material pertaining to Wilbur's business interests in mining and milling. Many closely related items concerning his legal services to mining companies are located in series II in the Professional Correspondence, and Bills and Receipts section of the Financial Records subseries, and in the subseries Cases: Mining Company Files.

Series IV,Other Family Papers , is organized into seven subseries: Cook and Rice Family Papers, Sarah Ann Cook Wilbur, Ellen Rice Wilbur, Albert H. Wilbur, Susan W. Rice, Susan Wilbur Jones, and Unidentified. The series is housed in boxes 95-107.

The Cook and Rice Family Papers consists of a small section of Cook family material and a larger section of Rice family material. The Cook Family Documents (folders 1638-1640) contain material from 1737, the earliest in the collection. The Rice Family materials focuses on Francis H. Rice, Ellen's uncle, and George H. Rice, her father (folders 1643-1674). These two men were partners who bought and sold merchandise, mostly shoes, boots, hats, and gloves which they sold in a store in Belvidere, Illinois. An account book (folder 1645) indicates that they sold goods to a man named M. M. Walker and that Francis H. Rice later became involved in the ownership of that store. Present in the collection are their Correspondence, Financial Papers, and Documents. There are many papers involving the transactions with the shoemakers Whipple, Alley & Billings of Chicago. This section also includes research notes on Stephen Flagg, who served in a Massachusetts regiment in the American Revolution (folder 1642).

The family papers for each individual include Account books, Bills and Receipts, Canceled Checks, Business Correspondence, Writings, Printed Material, Notebooks, and Realia. Ellen Rice Wilbur's papers (folders 1687-1723) contain correspondence about her property in Oak Park and Belvidere, principally concerning the rental of the property in Belvidere and later the proposition to sell it to the town as a site for the Carnegie Library. Other correspondence includes mail from S. D. Warren & Company, which sent her stock dividends, three letters spanning 1907-1909 regarding arrangements to board her daughter Susan with Katharine Lee Bates at Wellesley (folder 1709), and three folders regarding her involvement in the 1916 Rockford College reunion (folders 1711-1713). The printed material includes aRockford Alumna from January 1932 which carries a brief obituary (folder 1859). A small collection of similar letters from S. D. Warren & Company, bills and receipts and writings, belonging to Susan W. Rice follow Ellen Wilbur's papers.

Susan Wilbur Jones' papers include a long run of Canceled checks which illuminate her daily expenses (folders 1741-1758), and seven folders of juvenilia (folders 1764-1770). A brief notice from the society page describes a party she attended as a child at Mrs. Frank Lloyd Wright's house in Oak Park (folder 1771). There are also a few items that probably belonged to her husband, Llewellyn Jones. There are several sources of Wellesley College material in her papers. Most memorabilia is found in two Scrapbooks (folders 1776-1787), while the printed material includes programs and handbooks and a short run of theCollege News (folders 1861-1866).

A final subseries of Unidentified Items (folders 1788-1792) contain materials written in an unknown hand or for which the correlation to the Wilbur, Cook, or Rice families has not been determined. They include a curious "Account book," containing entries at three or four day intervals in 1883-85 under predominantly women's names, most of whom resided in Belvidere (folder 1788).

Series V,Printed Material , is organized into three subseries, Church Publications, Newspapers, and Miscellaneous. The Newspapers subseries includes issues of theBelvidere Standard, for which George wrote unsigned articles on Belvidere happenings, with his pencilled signature at the end of the articles indicating his authorship (folders 1871-1877).

Series VI,Photographs , is organized into three subseries, Identified People, Unidentified People by Place, and Other Photographs, and is housed in boxes 109-110. The photographs are mostly cabinet cards and cartes de visite with a few cyanotypes and tintypes represented. Photographs of unidentified people have been organized by place of photographer, as they represent the specific parts of the country in which George's family and friends lived. The names of Western photographers represented here (from California and Kansas) have been noted. The Other Photographs include Cyanotypes of the St. Louis Sampling & Testing Works, as well as another factory, and probably have something to do with George's mining interests (folders 1834-1835).

The Restricted Fragile Papers in Boxes 114-119 consist of originals for which preservation photocopies have been made.


Series I. Personal Correspondence

--Correspondence with Sarah Ann Cook Wilbur
--Correspondence with Albert H. Wilbur
--Correspondence with Ellen Rice Wilbur
--Correspondence with Susan Wilbur Jones
--Correspondence with Laura Bofinger Wilbur
--Correspondence with Susan W. Rice
--Correspondence with Albert and Carrie Cook Gale
--Correspondence with Others
--Invitations and Christmas Cards

--Correspondence with Albert H. Wilbur
--Correspondence with Ellen Rice Wilbur
--Correspondence with Laura Bofinger Wilbur
--Correspondence with Susan Wilbur Jones
--Correspondence with Susan W. Rice
--Correspondence with Albert and Carrie Cook Gale
--Correspondence with Others

--Correspondence with Ellen Rice Wilbur
--Correspondence with Susan W. Rice
--Correspondence with Llewellyn Jones
--Correspondence with E. P. Warren
--Correspondence with "Mary"
--Correspondence with Others
--Invitations and Christmas Cards

--Correspondence with Albert H. Wilbur
--Correspondence with Susan W. Rice
--Correspondence with Cornelia Warren
--Correspondence with Others
--Invitations and Greeting Cards

--Miscellaneous Correspondence

--Miscellaneous Correspondence


Series II. George W. Wilbur's Professional Papers


--Burke, Michael and Robert L.
--Hulbert, Thomas H.
--Jones, Roswell N.
--Rice, Charlotte and Francis H.

--Morris Glick and Joseph Ingham vs. Pittsburgh
--Concentrating and Mining Company
--Ruby Chief Mining and Milling Company



--Paving in Chicago
--Paving in Oak Park
--Paving in other cities
--Sewers, water mains in Chicago
--Sewers, water mains in Oak Park
--Sewers, water mains in West Hammond
--Subway in Chicago







Series III. George W. Wilbur's Personal and Business Papers


--Account books
--Bills and receipts
--Checks (canceled) and check registers
--Housekeeping correspondence
----With Irving Terwilliger (banker)
----With Others

--McLaughlin Smoke Consumer Company
--Milling and mining
--Other Business Papers



Series IV. Other Family Papers

--Cook Family
--Rice Family
----Rice, Francis H. and George H.
----Rice, Susan C. and Mary C.

--Financial papers
--Other papers

--Oak Park/Belvidere Property
--Other Personal Business Correspondence
--Other papers
--Printed material



--Personal Business Correspondence
--Financial papers
--Other papers
--Printed material


Series V. Printed Material




Series VI. Photographs

--Wilbur Family

--New York



--Cases: Long term individual client files
--Cases: Milling and mining files

--Business Records
----Milling and mining
--Other Papers

--Cook and Rice Family Papers
----Rice Family
--Wilbur, Ellen Rice
----Printed material
--Jones, Susan Wilbur
----Financial papers
----Printed material

----Belvidere playbills and announcements
--Restricted Fragile Papers


  • 1737 - 1954
  • Majority of material found within 1870 - 1931


Conditions Governing Access

Boxes 114-118: Restricted Fragile Papers. Reference surrogates have been substituted in the main files. For further information consulte the appropriate curator.

Conditions Governing Use

The George W. Wilbur Family Papers are the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The papers were purchased from an antiquarian bookseller in three parts in 1992, 1993, and 1995 on the Frederick W. and Carrie S. Beinecke Fund for Western Americana.


54.05 Linear Feet (123 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The George W. Wilbur Family Papers consist of correspondence, case files, financial papers, notebooks, documents, writings, diaries, maps, photographs, and printed material which document the life of George W. Wilbur and his family.


The George W. Wilbur Family is characteristic of many American middle class families of their time. It was headed by George W. Wilbur (1851-1931), a Chicago attorney, whose brother Albert H. Wilbur (dates unknown) lived in many parts of the West while working on the railroads. Their mother was Sarah Ann Cook Wilbur (1816-1904), a resident of Belvidere, Illinois, where George and Albert Wilbur grew up. George Wilbur and his wife Ellen Rice Wilbur (d. 1932) had a daughter, Susan Wilbur Jones (1893-1969), who attended Wellesley and became an editor and translator while living first in Chicago and then Cambridge, Massachusetts.

George Wilbur's mother Sarah Ann Cook Wilbur was born in October 1816 in Oneida, Madison County, New York, one of at least eight children. Her husband George Wilbur (sometimes spelled Wilber) was originally from Chatham Four Corners, Columbia County, New York. Together they moved to Belvidere, Boone County, Illinois (about sixty miles northwest of Chicago), where he made a living as a house painter and furniture refinisher.

Sarah Ann and George Wilbur had two children: George Willis Wilbur (born November 6, 1851) and Albert Harper Wilbur (born December 13, year unknown). George senior died in April 1858 at the age of 35, leaving Sarah Ann with two young children. It is not clear whether Sarah Ann had been a milliner before George's death, but afterwards she supported herself and her sons with this trade until the early 1870s when George and Albert jointly assumed her financial support.

Sarah Ann Cook Wilbur kept in close contact with her brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews. As she grew older, she assumed the role of family matriarch. The widow developed an especially close relationship with her sons; after Albert moved west in 1875, she lamented the fact that he chose to live so far away, and encouraged George to visit and write often after he moved first to Chicago and then to Oak Park, Illinois. She suffered from asthma and increasing blindness in her later life, yet lived to the age of 88, passing away in December 1904.

Very little is known of the early life of George Wilbur. While he lived in Belvidere he was the secretary of the local "America Base Ball Club," worked in the livery business, and taught school briefly in Flora, Boone County, Illinois. Wilbur enrolled at Champaign University in the fall of 1872 to study civil engineering. Lack of funds caused him to end his studies there in March 1873. He went back to the livery business in the spring of 1873, working for W. G. Leonard. George occasionally wrote unsigned articles for the Belvidere Standard about local happenings; the earliest such article in the collection dates from the middle of 1873.

George Wilbur began his legal career in 1874 with a brief stint as Deputy County Clerk of Boone County. After this, he found employment as a clerk in several law firms in Chicago. He continued to work after enrolling at the Union College of Law in Chicago, jointly run by the University of Chicago and Northwestern University. In June 1876 he received his Bachelor of Law, which carried with it automatic admission to the Illinois bar.

In 1888 George Wilbur married Ellen Georgette Rice, known as Nellie, a neighbor of his when he lived in Belvidere. In 1890, an infant son, named George Rice Wilbur, died of pneumonia. A daughter, Susan Warren Wilbur, was born in 1893. George doted on Susan and developed a very close relationship with her much as he had with his mother. The year after Susan was born, George and Ellen moved to Oak Park, Illinois, though he continued to practice in Chicago.

Early in his career, George Wilbur worked for many different law firms: Palmer & Colt; Monroe, Bisbee & Ball; Sheldon & Waterman; Wallace Heckman; and Rogers & Appleton. In the mid-1880s he formed a partnership with James H. Ward (Ward & Wilbur); in the 1890s he and William R. Hauze formed Wilbur & Hauze. After dissolving this partnership, Wilbur maintained his own practice for the remainder of his working life, dealing primarily with civil cases: real estate transactions, contracts, probate, and street improvements. Wilbur had several longtime clients, including two mining companies in which he held stock, the Pittsburgh Concentrating and Mining Company, and the Ruby Chief Mining and Milling Company.

Wilbur was active outside the legal profession, joining the Covenant Lodge in Chicago, and, like his brother Albert, investing in various businesses. In 1884 he became a co-owner of the McLaughlin Smoke Consumer Company, which marketed a device that lessened the emission of smoke in a boiler and made it more efficient. He marketed this device, with only moderate success, until 1896.

Wilbur had other financial interests in the West. In 1900 he purchased a stamp mill in Pittsburgh, Colorado, which he had previously co-owned. The mill was not a success, as it was situated too far from the mine it was meant to serve to operate efficiently. In 1923, James W. Sheridan, a client, gave Wilbur a fifty year oil and gas lease for 160 acres in Hartley County, Texas. The same year Wilbur and his wife sold 599 acres of Colorado farm land.

George Wilbur never retired, for while he spent a great deal of time with his daughter and grandchildren, he continued to practice law until his death June 23, 1931.

George Wilbur's wife Ellen Georgette Rice (Nellie) was the daughter of Susan C. Rice and George H. Rice. Ellen Rice's uncle was Samuel D. Warren of Boston, founder of the paper manufacturing firm S. D. Warren & Company. The Warrens helped George and Ellen financially, as when her aunt Cornelia Warren bought a house in Oak Park, Illinois and gave the title to Ellen and her sister Susan. Ellen and her two sisters, Susan Warren Rice and Mary C. Rice, attended Rockford Female Seminary in Rockford, Illinois. Ellen remained active in the affairs of Rockford College, as it later came to be known, and served as corresponding secretary for the reunion in 1916.

After graduating from Rockford in 1872, Ellen returned to Belvidere, where her family lived next door to the Wilbur family. The two families were close, and Ellen's sister Susan often cared for Sarah Ann Cook Wilbur when she was ill. Ellen is listed as librarian for the Belvidere Library in The Past and Present of Boone County, Illinois (Chicago, 1877).

Ellen Rice Wilbur's sister Susan suffered from mental illness and lived with Ellen for many years, occasionally staying in asylums. Later Susan was permanently committed to a sanitarium in Peoria, Illinois. Susan Rice died February 25, 1928. Ellen Wilbur survived her husband George by a year, passing away on November 28, 1932.

Albert Harper Wilbur was the younger brother of George W. Wilbur. Very little is known of his early life; he was in school in Belvidere, Illinois during the Civil War, and later studied at least one year at Champaign University. He worked at the P & A railroad office in Belvidere after attending college, and then became a telegraph operator and ticket seller for the Chicago and North Western Railway Company.

In 1875 Albert Wilbur moved west, where he hoped a hard working man could acquire wealth and experience the adventure lacking in Belvidere. His restlessness led to a nomadic existence, rarely staying anywhere more than three years.

Albert first stopped in Nebraska, where he worked on the Union Pacific Railroad Company. From there he went to the Utah Territory and worked at the Western Union Telegraph Company as a telegraph operator, transferring to Carson City, Nevada, and then Reno, where he served as office manager until 1879. During this period, Albert speculated in mining stocks and real estate, with only marginal success. In Reno he became the Grand Worthy Secretary of the Independent Order of Good Templars, Grand Lodge of Nevada.

In 1879 Albert moved to Bodie, California where he worked for a lumber company, G. L. Porter & Company, as bookkeeper and later as business manager. The next year, seeking to avoid another winter in Bodie, Albert moved to Maricopa, Arizona Territory and then to Lathrop, California, working for railroads as train master and agent.

In 1883 Albert Wilbur moved to Deming, New Mexico; San Francisco; then Suisun, California, where he stayed for four years, working as an agent for the Central Pacific Railroad. After moving to Red Bluff, California in 1887, he met Laura Bofinger, daughter of a prominent family there, a Christian Scientist who became a healer later in life. Albert was transferred to Pomona, California in 1890 but returned to Red Bluff the next year to marry her. They had one daughter, Helen, born January 26, 1892.

Albert and Laura lived in Pomona until 1896. During the Depression of 1893 he moved briefly to San Francisco to find work, then became resident agent of the Transatlantic Fire Insurance Company and the Magdeburg Fire Insurance Company in Pomona. His discouragement over tardy commissions prompted his return to the railroads, and in 1896 he moved to Toano, Nevada to work for the Southern Pacific Company.

At the time George Wilbur was involved in an attempt to save the mill he bought near the Pittsburgh Concentrating and Milling Company in Colorado from financial collapse, and Albert, seeking to get out of Toano and the railroad business, seriously entertained the idea of joining George in Colorado to help him with the mill. Albert transferred to Wadsworth, Nevada to work as a ticket clerk, with hopes of being transferred to Colorado, which never happened. Albert returned to San Francisco the next year and worked in the accounting department in the office of freight auditor of the Southern Pacific Company until at least 1902. Nothing is known of Albert or his family for the next twenty years.

Albert is next found in Los Angeles in 1923, retired from the railroads, living on a pension, and actively working on projects to supplement his pension. His daughter Helen had died, and his wife had become a Christian Science healer. Albert invested in land, worked on his "Nature's Own Beauty Clay," a mud-pack for women, and fought stiff opposition, including some from his wife, while attempting to market a tuberculosis cure. In 1926 they moved back to San Francisco. Nothing is known of them after 1931.

George and Ellen Wilbur's daughter Susan Warren Wilbur was born in Oak Park, Illinois January 6, 1893. She attended the public schools in Oak Park and Wellesley College from 1909 to 1913, where she boarded with Katharine Lee Bates, majored in Greek and English Literature, and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa.

Upon graduation, she returned to Chicago and attended the University of Chicago, receiving a master of arts in English Literature in 1914. She began her career in literature by reviewing books for Llewellyn Jones, literary editor of theChicago Evening Post.

In March 1917, Susan Wilbur and Llewellyn Jones were married. They had three children: Llewellyn, Jr. (1919-1995), Cornelia Warren (1920-1990), and George Wilbur (b. 1930). Susan's sons both attended Harvard; her daughter Cornelia was mentally ill and was institutionalized at an early age.

From 1917 to 1922 Susan was assistant editor of Poetry, literary editor of theContinent, and staff editor of Compton'sPictured Encyclopedia's volume on the ancient Mediterranean world. From 1923 to 1933 she joined her husband at theChicago Evening Post as associate literary editor of the newly established book supplement. During this time she also served as literary editor forChild Life, and for the Chicagoan.

Susan Wilbur Jones had been a supervisor of the Illinois WPA Writer's Project for three years in 1938 when her husband accepted the editorship of theChristian Register in Boston. She moved her household, which as she described in a letter to her alma mater as including "125 years of attic my parents left me in 1931," and returned to school to pursue a masters in Slavic Languages from Radcliffe College. She received her degree in 1944.

Susan wrote several short works, as well as a history entitled Egypt and the Suez Canal (Chicago, 1925). She began a career in translation with theSatyricon of Petronius Arbiter in 1927. A Rockefeller grant obtained upon receiving her degree enabled her to translate Gudzy'sHistory of Early Russian Literature in 1949, which she followed with a translation of Romanov'sRussia in Manchuria (Ann Arbor, 1952). She switched to Japanese in the 1950s and translatedAges Ago: Thirty-seven Tales from the Konjaku Monogatari Collection (Cambridge, 1959).

Susan's husband, who was British, was a translator of Swedish and Danish works, but was better known for his books of literary criticism, including First Impressions (Freeport, 1925),How to Criticize Books (New York, c. 1928),Art and the Worth-while (New York, c. 1929), andHow to Read Books (New York, c. 1930).

In her later years, Susan kept house in Cambridge for her youngest son George, and dabbled in translating. She died November 25, 1969.

The information in this biographical sketch was gleaned from the collection and from biographical information kept in the bibliographic files maintained in the office of the curator of Western Americana.


Note: Names of major correspondents in the collection are underlined.

Joseph Wilbur

Simon Wilbur m. Phebe Roberts

-----Phebe Wilbur m. ? Peck

-----sister m. ? Simmons

----------Mary Adella

----------Annie E.


----------William F.

-----Betsy Jane m. ? Clows

-----George Wilbur (1823-1858) m.Sarah Ann Cook (1816-1904)

----------George Willis (1851-1931) m. (1888) Ellen Georgette Rice (d. 1932)

---------------George Rice (1889-1890)

---------------Susan Warren (1893-1969) m. (1917) Llewellyn Jones (1884-1961)

--------------------Llewellyn (1919-1995)

--------------------Cornelia (1920-1990)

--------------------George (1930- )

----------Albert Harper m. (1891) Laura L. Bofinger

---------------Helen (b. 1892)


Note: Names of major correspondents in the collection are underlined.

J. Watson (1803-1885)

-----Charles E. (d. 1881)


-----Mary (d. 1880) m. Lewis ?


-----Henry G. (d. 1886) m. Helen


-----George W.

-----Marion A. (Kittie)

Nelson (1808-1897) m. Jane

-----Harper (d. 1923)

-----Lydia (d. 1923)

-----Addie L.

-----Sarah A.

Sarah Ann (1816-1904) m.George Wilbur (1823-1858)

-----(see above)

Thomas (1822-1872)

Harper (d. 1825) m. Candace

-----Chauncey Selah


-----Carrie (b. 1840, adopted by Candace)

----------m1 ?

---------------Fred C.

----------m2. (1876)Albert Gale

Harmon (d. 1882)


Moses H.

-----Alice M.


Polly (d. 1888) m.Buel Benton (d. 1888)

-----George m. Mary (Libbie)



-----Willis m.Hattie E.


----------Willis H. m. (1896) Mattie A. Waldron (d. 1902)


Note: Names of major correspondents in the collection are underlined.

George H. Rice m. (1842)Susan Caroline Warren (1813-1893)

-----Ellen Maria (1846-1848)

-----Susan Warren (1848-1928)

-----Ellen Georgette m.George Willis Wilbur

----------(see above)

-----Mary C. m. Philetus A. Terwilliger

Francis H. Rice (d. 1897) m.Charlotte Smith

Mary Gough


John Warren m. Susannah

-----Samuel Dennis m. Cornelia


----------Samuel Dennis

----------E. P.


-----Susan Caroline (1813-1893) m1 Joseph Rice

--------------------m2George H. Rice (see above)

-----12 other brothers and sisters


1851 Nov 6 George Willis Wilbur born

1858 Apr 1 George Wilbur, Sr. dies

1871 NovWorks in livery business

1871 Dec Teaches school in Flora, Illinois

1872 Fall Enrolls at Champaign University

1873 Mar Leaves Champaign University

1873 Apr-May Works for W. G. Leonard in livery business

1874 Feb Becomes Deputy County Clerk of Boone County

1875 Feb Enrolls at Union College of Law in Chicago

1876 Jun Graduates with Bachelor of Law from Union College

1876 Fall Contracts typhoid fever

1876-80 Works at Palmer & Colt; Monroe, Bisbee & Ball; Sheldon & Waterman; Wallace Heckman; and Rogers & Appleton

1884 Joins Covenant Lodge in Chicago

1884 Becomes co-owner of McLaughlin Smoke Consumer Company

Mid 1880s Partnership of Ward & Wilbur

1888 Marries Ellen Georgette Rice

1889 Son George Rice Wilbur born

1890 Feb4 George Rice Wilbur dies

1893-97 Partnership of Wilbur & Hauze

1893 Jan 6 Daughter Susan Warren Wilbur born

1898-1931 Maintains own practice

1904 Dec Mother dies

1923 Receives oil and gas lease to lands in Hartley County, Texas

1923 Sells 599 acres of farm land in Colorado

1931 Jun 23 Dies


1871-72 Studies at Champaign University

1872 In Belvidere, Illinois -- P & A Railroad office

1872-75 In Belvidere, Illinois -- Chicago and North Western Railway Company, telegraph operator and ticket seller

1875 To Nebraska -- Union Pacific Railroad Company

1875 Jul-Sep In Corinne, Utah Territory -- Western Union Telegraph Company, telegraph operator

1875-76 In Carson City, Nevada --Western Union Telegraph Company, telegraph operator

1876 Oct Moves to Reno, Nevada -- Western Union Telegraph Company, office manager

1879 May Leaves Reno

1879 Jun Moves to Bodie, California -- G. L. Porter & Company, bookkeeper, later business manager

1880 Oct Leaves Bodie

1880 Nov In Maricopa, Arizona Territory -- Southern Pacific Railroad Company

1880 Dec Moves to Tucson, Arizona Territory -- Southern Pacific Railroad Company, head telegraph operator

1881 Apr Leaves Tucson

1881 May-Jun In Bodie

1881 Jul In Reno

1881 Aug In Battle Mountain, Nevada

1881 Sep Moves to Lathrop, California -- Central Pacific Railroad Company, telegraph operator, later train master and agent

1883 Apr Leaves Lathrop

1883 May-Jun In Deming, New Mexico -- Southern Pacific Railroad, freight office

1883 Jul-Oct In San Francisco -- Central Pacific Railroad, steamship department

1883 Oct In Sacramento

1883 Nov Moves to Suisun, California -- Central Pacific Railroad, agent

1887 Nov Leaves Suisun

1887 Dec Moves to Red Bluff, California -- Southern Pacific Company

1890 Apr Leaves Red Bluff

1890 May Moves to Pomona, California -- Southern Pacific Company

1891 Feb Marries Laura L. Bofinger

1892 Jan 26 Daughter Helen born

1894 In San Francisco -- Southern Pacific Company, freight office

1895 Works for Transatlantic Fire Insurance Company, resident agent

1896 Magdeburg Fire Insurance Company

1896 Jun Leaves Pomona

1896 Jul Moves to Toano, Nevada -- Southern Pacific Company

1897 Feb Leaves Toano, Nevada

1897 Mar-Dec In Wadsworth, Nevada -- Southern Pacific Company, ticket clerk

1898 Jan Moves to San Francisco -- Southern Pacific Company, accounting department, freight auditor

1902 Mar Last known in San Francisco

1902-1923 [Nothing is known about Albert or his family during this period]

1923 Feb In Los Angeles, retired

1926 Feb Leaves Los Angeles

1926 Mar Moves to San Francisco

1931 Nov Last known of Albert and wife

Guide to the George W. Wilbur Family Papers
by Diana M. Smith
October 1996
Description rules
Beinecke Manuscript Unit Archival Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

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