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William Lyon Phelps papers

Call Number: MS 578
Scope and Contents

The William Lyon Phelps Papers include correspondence, writings, lecture notes, student notebooks, research notes, memorabilia, and scrapbooks of clippings which document Phelps's career as a professor of English at Yale University and his role as a popularizer of literature, public lecturer, and syndicated columnist. Phelps's lecture notes and annotated volumes on English literature comprise half the papers. The papers include only scattered items from Phelps's voluminous correspondence. The larger quantity of correspondence is located in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University. The papers also contain a small quantity of family papers relating to Phelps's father and wife.

The estate of William Lyon Phelps donated a major portion of the Phelps Papers to the Yale University Library in 1943. Thomas S. Brush donated a significant addition to the papers in memory of Katherine B. Ingersoll in 1957. Additional gifts were received from several individuals between 1955 and 1984.

The papers are arranged in five series: I. Correspondence, 1888-1944. II. Research Files, 1889-1936. III. Student Notebooks, 1878-1904. IV. Personal Files, 1883-1943. V. Family Papers, 1826-1930.

Series I contains the bulk of the correspondence in the papers. Most of the letters are incoming and include family letters, Yale announcements, students' correspondence, queries concerning Phelps's research on Robert Browning, and requests from the public relating to Phelps's syndicated newspaper columns. Some items concern Yale faculty and administration. The series also includes architectural plans by Murphy and Dana for Phelps's study, prescriptions for his eyes, printed copies of Phelps's writings, and a transcript with photographs of James S. Ennis, Jr.'s letters to his father during his military service in World War I.

Series II is the largest in the papers. It includes seven boxes of printed volumes annotated with Phelps's notes on the works of several major English authors. The most complete notes are those on the works of Browning. The NOTES section of the series includes Phelps's lecture notes, either for his course lectures or for his public lecture series, along with occasional items of correspondence, clippings, and printed material. Most lecture notes are on specific American, English, or European novelists, playwrights, and poets, but there are also notes on more general literary subjects. The section also includes notebooks from Phelps's research at the British Museum in 1900.

Series III is composed of volumes of notes taken by Phelps during his graduate course work and research at Yale and Harvard and later studies in Germany. The notebooks record course work with Professors Wheeler, Beers, Ladd, Sumner, and Dexter at Yale, and with Professors Baker, Wendel, Royce, Child, Kittredge, and Briggs at Harvard. In addition the series includes notebooks from the Yale University Bible Club under Dr. Sanders, Phelps's 1887 honors thesis on the "Idealism of George Berkeley," notebooks on mathematics from Phelps's high school studies at Hartford Public High School, and Phelps's lecture notes from his year of teaching at the Westminster School.

Series IV includes Phelps's writings, notes, scrapbooks, student papers, and memorabilia. The articles and speeches include typescripts of Phelps's column on books, "Billy Speaks," while folders 233-246 contain mounted clippings in notebooks of Phelps's syndicated newspaper column from 1933 to 1937. Folder 247 contains a copy of Phelps's address as Hartford High School class orator, while folder 250 includes poems written by Phelps. These writings represent a limited sample of Phelps's work. Folder 231 contains additional lecture notes by Phelps and others, while folder 228 is composed of the tributes to Yale honorary degree recipients which were read by Phelps at commencement. Phelps's notes and other research material on Browning are contained in folders 226-227.

The series also includes several one act plays written by students, exam questions and students' exams, and Phelps's gradebooks. In addition the series contains memorabilia of the Metaphysicals such as invitations and parodies for their feast for the sons of John Donne at which Phelps acted as toastmaster. Folder 251 contains a scrapbook of clippings about Phelps, many of them chronicling his activities during summers spent in Huron City, Michigan.

Series V includes a small quantity of family papers, which relate primarily to Sylvanus Dryden Phelps, father of William Lyon Phelps, and to Phelps's wife, Annabel Phelps. The series contains a brief daily diary of Annabel Phelps for January and February 1899. Sylvanus Dryden Phelps's autobography of his life from 1817 to 1839 is in folder 269. Portions of this memoir are transcribed in the biographical sketch in folder 268. Poems by Sylvanus Phelps are included in folder 270. Folder 267 contains an 1841 autograph book of Hannah B.C. Phelps, whose relation to William Lyon Phelps, if any, is unclear. The volume was purchased as a gift for Phelps by a Michigan friend.

Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Unpublished materials authored or otherwise produced by the creator(s) of this collection are in the public domain. There are no restrictions on use. Copyright status for other collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gifts of the estate of William Lyon Phelps, 1943; Thomas S. Brush, 1957. Additional gifts from various donors, 1955-1996. Gift of John J. Burns Library, Boston College, 2004.


Arranged in five series and one addition: I. Correspondence, 1888-1944. II. Research Files, 1889-1936. III. Student Notebooks, 1878-1904. IV. Personal Files, 1883-1943. V. Family Papers, 1826-1930.

Associated Materials

Related material: William Lyon Phelps Papers, (Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University).

Majority of material found within 1887 - 1943
10.5 Linear Feet
Related Names
Phelps, William Lyon, 1865-1943
Language of Materials