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Frank Lyon Polk papers

Call Number: MS 656

Scope and Contents

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:
  1. I. Correspondence
  2. II. Diaries
  3. III. Subject Files
  4. IV. Chronological Files
  5. 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.


  • 1883-1942


Conditions Governing Access

Permission of the head of Manuscripts and Archives is necessary to examine boxes 64-67.

Existence and Location of Copies

Diary is available on microfilm (3 reels, 35mm.) from Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library, at cost. Order no. HM47.

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

Gift of Elizabeth Polk and her children, 1943.


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.


28 Linear Feet (63 boxes, 5 folios)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

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

Persistent URL


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.

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:
1871 Sep 13
born in New York City to William M. and Ida A. (Lyon) Polk
graduated from Groton School
graduated from Yale College
graduated from Columbia University Law School
served as clerk in the law firm of Evarts, Choate and Beaman
served as Captain and assistant on the Quartermaster Staff of General Ernst's Brigade
formed the legal partnership that became Alexander, Watriss and Polk
served on the New York City Board of Education
served on and presided over the Municipal Civil Service Commission of the City of New York
married Elizabeth Sturgis Potter
served as treasurer of the Bureau of Municipal Research
supported the candidacy of John Purroy Mitchel for Mayor of New York
served as Corporation Counsel of the City of New York
served as Counselor of the State Department
1918 Apr - Sep
suffered from a nervous disorder
1918 Dec - 1919 Jul
served as Acting Secretary of State
1919 Jun - 1920 Jun
served as Under Secretary of State
1919 Jul - Dec
headed the American Mission to Negotiate Peace in Paris
formed the legal partnership that became Davis Polk Wardwell Gardiner and Reed
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.
Guide to the Frank Lyon Polk Papers
Under Revision
compiled by Susan Grigg and John Espy
March 1979
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

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