Collection ID: MS 656

Collection context


Polk, Frank L. (Frank Lyon), 1871-1943
The papers consist of correpondence, letterbooks, documents, diaries, subject files and other materials documenting the personal life and professional career of Frank Lyon Polk. The bulk of the material relates to Polk's Department of State service and includes correspondence with political figures, letterpress copybooks (1915-1917), and diaries (1915-1920). Materials relating to the American Commission to Negotiate Peace and the League of Nations are also included.
28 Linear Feet


Acquisition information:
Gift of Elizabeth Polk and her children, 1943.
Rules or conventions:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Scope and Content:

The Frank L. Polk Papers consist of twenty-two linear feet of correspondence, diaries, memoranda, telephone logs, memorabilia, and miscellaneous printed and mimeographed-material. They are arranged in five series:

  • I. Correspondence
  • II. Diaries
  • III. Subject Files
  • IV. Chronological Files
  • V. Politics and Memorabilia

Most of the papers in Series I and all the papers in Series II-IV are related to Polk's service as Counselor and Under Secretary in the State Department. Series V spans most of his life but relates mainly to his diplomatic service and to his political and civic activities in New York. There are only a few items related to his practice of law.

The Polk Papers were reprocessed in 1978 because the original arrangement and description by Charles Seymour and his staff had proved unsatisfactory to many researchers. The principal change was to separate most of the correspondence from the miscellaneous papers that are now arranged by subject (roughly as Seymour left them) in Series III. "Partial Index to Series I" is a listing by subject of correspondents whose letters have been removed from Seymour's subject arrangement.

Series I, Correspondence, is related mainly to Polk's service in the State Department. The major correspondents include Gordon Auchincloss, Ray Stannard Baker, Henry Bruère, Frederic R. Coudert, Sir Richard Crawford, John W. Davis, Henry P. Fletcher, David R. Francis, Norman Hapgood, Edward M. House, Jean Jusserand, Robert Lansing, Irwin B. Laughlin, Clarence H. Mackay, Walter Hines Page, William Phillips, Sir Cecil Arthur Spring Rice, Frederic N. Watriss, and Woodrow Wilson. Most of the letters are arranged alphabetically by correspondent, but there are also letterbooks containing copies of outgoing letters in chronological order from 1915 to 1917.

Notwithstanding the modification of Charles Seymour's arrangement of the papers, there are still some letters filed by subject in Series III. The series description for Series I and the introduction to the "Partial Index to Series I" explain how to find correspondence by writer and by subject.

There is also a small amount of correspondence in Series V, consisting mainly of personal letters, congratulations on Polk's various appointments, and exchanges with historians about events in World War I diplomacy.

Series II, Diaries, spans from 1915 to 1920. It consists partly of memoranda of conversations with representatives of foreign governments. Copies of individual memoranda were circulated within the State Department, and some of these copies are mixed with other papers in Series III.

Series III, Subject Files, consists of memoranda, correspondence, and miscellaneous papers spanning mainly from 1915 to 1920. Polk himself created very few of these items; the series consists rather of papers submitted to him and papers circulated among State Department staff. There are a great many carbon and mimeographed copies, some of which bear handwritten notations.

Series IV, Chronological Files, consists of transcripts of telephone conversations and several sequences of State Department mimeographed materials. The transcripts resulted from government wiretapping between 1915 and 1917.

Series V, Politics and Memorabilia, consists of certificates, clippings, photographs, routine correspondence, mementoes, and miscellaneous papers related to Polk's education, military and diplomatic service, and political and civic activities.

Biographical / Historical:

Frank Lyon Polk was born in New York City on September 13, 1871. He graduated from Yale College (B.A., 1894) and Columbia University Law School (LL.D., 1897). Polk served on a variety of New York City boards and commissions (1906-1913) and as Corporation Counsel (1914-1915). He also served in the Department of State as Counselor (1915-1919), Acting Secretary of State (1918-1919), and Under Secretary of State (1919-1920). Polk headed the American Mission to Negotiate Peace (1919) and managed the 1924 Democratic presidential convention campaign of John W. Davis. Polk died in New York City on February 7, 1943. Here are some principal events in his public and personal life:

Date Event
1871 Sep 13 born in New York City to William M. and Ida A. (Lyon) Polk
1890 graduated from Groton School
1894 graduated from Yale College
1897 graduated from Columbia University Law School
1897 served as clerk in the law firm of Evarts, Choate and Beaman
1898 served as Captain and assistant on the Quartermaster Staff of General Ernst's Brigade
1900 formed the legal partnership that became Alexander, Watriss and Polk
1906 served on the New York City Board of Education
1907 served on and presided over the Municipal Civil Service Commission of the City of New York
1908 married Elizabeth Sturgis Potter
1911 served as treasurer of the Bureau of Municipal Research
1913 supported the candidacy of John Purroy Mitchel for Mayor of New York
1914 served as Corporation Counsel of the City of New York
1915 served as Counselor of the State Department
NaN suffered from a nervous disorder
NaN served as Acting Secretary of State
NaN served as Under Secretary of State
NaN headed the American Mission to Negotiate Peace in Paris
1920 formed the legal partnership that became Davis Polk Wardwell Gardiner and Reed
1924 managed John W. Davis's pre-convention and convention campaign for the Democratic nomination to the presidency
1943 Feb 7 died in New York City

For additional information about Polk's honors and appointments, see the Yale University Obituary Record of Graduates, 1942-1943. For brief assessments of Polk's career, see John W. Davis's memorial in the Association of the Bar of the City of New York Year Book, 1944, and Lawrence E. Gelfand's article in the Dictionary of American Biography,1941-1945.


Arranged in five series: I. Correspondence, 1898-1942. II. Diaries, 1915-1920. III. Subject Files, 1912-1921. IV. Chronological Files, 1915-1919. V. Politics and Memorabilia, 1883-1941.

Indexed Terms

Adriatic question
Armed Forces
Armenian question
World War, 1914-1918
United States. Department of State
Haight, Sandford, & Smith
League of Nations
United States. Council of National Defense
Yale University -- Students
Paris Peace Conference (1919-1920)
Adamson, Robert
Anderson, Chandler P. (Chandler Parsons), 1866-1936
Atherton, Gertrude Franklin Horn, 1857-1948
Auchincloss, Gordon, 1886-1943
Baker, Newton Diehl, 1871-1937
Baker, Ray Stannard, 1870-1946
Bernstorff, Johann Heinrich, Graf von, 1862-1939
Bowman, Isaiah, 1878-1950
Bruère, Henry
Carey, Francis King, 1858-1944
De Cartier de Marchienne, Émile, 1871-1946
Clemenceau, Georges, 1841-1929
Coudert, Frederic R. (Frederic René), 1871-1955
Creel, George, 1876-1953
Davis, John W. (John William), 1873-1955
Debevoise, Thomas M., 1874-1957
Dix, William C.
Dresel, Ellis Loring, 1865-1925
Dulles, John Foster, 1888-1959
Egan, Martin, 1872-1938
Egan, Maurice Francis, 1852-1924
Elkus, Abram I., 1867-1947
Fletcher, Henry Prather, 1873-1959
Fosdick, Raymond B. (Raymond Blaine), 1883-1972
Gama, Domicio da, 1862-1925
Garrison, Lindley M. (Lindley Miller), 1864-1932
Garvan, Francis P. (Francis Patrick), 1875-1937
Gerard, James W. (James Watson), 1823-1900
Glynn, Martin Henry, 1871-1924
Godson, William Frederick Holford, 1896-
Gregory, Thomas Watt, 1861-1933
Grew, Joseph C. (Joseph Clark), 1880-1965
Hapgood, Norman, 1868-1937
Harrison, Leland, 1883-1951
House, Edward Mandell, 1858-1938
Houston, David Franklin, 1866-1940
Jusserand, J. J. (Jean Jules), 1855-1932
Kelley, Francis C.
Lane, Franklin K.
Lansing, Robert, 1864-1928
Lodge, Henry Cabot, 1850-1924
Long, Breckinridge, 1881-1958
McAdoo, W. G. (William Gibbs), 1863-1941
Metz, Herman A., 1867-1934
Mezes, Sidney Edward, 1863-1931
Miller, David Hunter, 1875-1961
Palmer, A. Mitchell (Alexander Mitchell), 1872-1936
Phillips, William, 1878-1968
Polk, Frank L. (Frank Lyon), 1871-1943
Polk, Ida Ashe Lyon
Reading, Rufus Daniel Isaacs, 1st Marquis, 1889-1960
Redfield, William Cox, 1858-1932
Riaño y Gayangos, Juan, 1865-1939
Roosevelt, Franklin D. (Franklin Delano), 1882-1945
Rowe, L. S. (Leo Stanton), 1871-1946
Shaw, Gardiner Howland, 1893-1965
Spring Rice, Cecil, Sir, 1859-1918
Tardieu, André, 1876-1945
Tumulty, Joseph P. (Joseph Patrick), 1879-1954
Warren, Charles, 1868-1954
Wilson, Woodrow, 1856-1924
Woolsey, Lester Hood, 1877-1961
New York (N.Y.)
New York (State)
United States -- Foreign relations -- 1913-1921
United States -- Politics and government


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