One of the earliest staffers of the State Library, Emma Boilvin (1873-1881) was Secretary of State George Harlow’s sister-in-law. Boilvin is one of the earliest examples of Secretaries of State family members to find work in the library. 1
Born in Pekin in 1852, Boilvin (nee Bailey) received her early education both in the Pekin schools and in the Sisters’ Convent School in nearby Peoria. An Episcopalian, she came to Springfield in 1865 and married William F. Boilvin on June 2, 1869. A child, William F., Jr., died of cholera on June 23, 1873. Soon after, the senior William Boilvin was dead as well, leaving Emma a widow at age 21. Following her husband’s death, Boilvin resided with the Harlow family in famous quarters. From 1869 to 1877, the Secretary and his family rented the former home of Abraham Lincoln at the corner of Eighth and Jackson streets. There, the Harlow family boasted one of the earliest telephones in the Springfield area. Boilvin subsequently moved with the Harlow family to their new residence on South Fifth Street. 2
In 1873, Boilvin began working for her brother-in-law, also a Pekin native and former mayor of that town. Old State Capitol historians believe Boilvin was the first female employed in the building. Her job position was listed in the 1877 library catalogue as “clerk in charge of the State Library.” According to Harlow, she performed her duties very well. In his 1876 Biennial Report, Harlow wrote of the “very satisfactory manner” of Boilvin, whom he described as “admirably adapted for the position she so well fills.” He also praised the “earnestness and zeal in the performance of the work assigned her.” The Illinois Legislative Manual of 1877-1878 reported that Boilvin was “very efficient in her position.” 3
Boilvin did not leave her position in the State Library when her brother-in-law’s second term expired in January 1881, but remained for a few months under the administration of Harlow’s successor, Henry Dement. Boilvin was succeeded by Edith Wallbridge, the first person to hold the title of Assistant State Librarian. 4
On July 2, 1891, Boilvin married John J. Allen of Cook County, who was later employed with the Mexican Central Railroad. She moved to Mexico with her husband, who died in London in 1903. Emma Boilvin Allen died in the Woman’s Hospital in Chicago late in the evening of Aug. 15, 1905. She is buried in Joliet. 5
- 1880 Sangamon County Census Vol. 1, part 1, 282.
- 1874-75 Springfield City Directory 28; 1877 Springfield City Directory 14; 1879-80 Springfield City Directory 25; 1880 Sangamon County Census Vol. 1, part 1, 282; Illinois State Journal Aug. 16, 1905; Illinois Legislative Manual of the 30th General Assembly, 181; Sangamon County Death Records; Sangamon County Marriage Records.
- Illinois State Journal Jan. 8, 1874; Howlett 85; Illinois Legislative Manual of the 30th General Assembly, 181; Biennial Report 1876, 21, 31; Interview with Mark Johnson; Catalogue of the Illinois State Library 1877, title page.
- Illinois Libraries Dec. 1942, 283; Biennial Report 1884, 238.
- Sangamon County Marriage Records; Illinois State Journal Aug. 16, 1905.