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Charles Seymour papers

Call Number: MS 441

Scope and Contents

The Charles Seymour Papers are divided into six series:


The material in these papers reflects Charles Seymour's two major (and lifelong) professional interests: diplomatic history and Yale University affairs. The emphasis is placed of necessity on his scholarly career since the official papers connected with his Provostship and Presidency at Yale are kept separately in the University Archives. These papers (particularly Series I, II, and IV) document at great length Seymour's wide range of specialized interests: the diplomacy of World War I and the Paris Peace Conference, the personal history and political careers of Woodrow Wilson and Colonel Edward M. House, Seymour Family history, states' rights, gardening, the many committees and boards of which he was a member, and various aspects of his affiliation with Yale: as alumnus (Class of 1908), secret society member, chairman of the History Department, provost, and president.

Series I, CORRESPONDENCE, is divided into three sections:

  1. General Correspondence
  2. Peace Conference Correspondence
  3. Family Correspondence [All Family Correspondence has been moved to the Seymour Family Papers, MS 440]

The "General Correspondence" section is the most extensive and spans the years 1918-1963. It covers a wide range of topics, including those mentioned above. Seymour's correspondents included presidents of the United States and other high government officials, educators, former classmates, business leaders, publishers, professional historians, and amateur history buffs. (Seymour's correspondence with Edward M. House is located in Series I of the Edward M. House Papers, MS 466.) Of special interest are Seymour's detailed criticisms of manuscripts submitted to him by Arthur Walworth, Laurence W. Martin, Thomas A. Bailey, and other historians.

Series II, WRITINGS, is divided into eight sections:

  1. Books
  2. Contributions to Books
  3. Articles
  4. Memoranda of Conversations
  5. Book Reviews
  6. Lectures
  7. Addresses
  8. Miscellaneous

This series consists of notes, preliminary drafts, printer's proofs, and reprints of Seymour's writings. The "Books" section is dominated by the materials connected withThe Intimate Papers of Colonel House, a four-volume work in which Seymour edited the papers of E. M. House and wrote the accompanying narrative. Included also is the draft material forLetters from the Paris Peace Conference, which was derived from the diary letters Seymour sent to his wife and her family. This book was completed by Harold Whiteman, Jr., after Seymour's death. While most of the material in this series falls into the category of Seymour's work as an historian, the "Articles" and "Addresses" sections reflect his university administrative career as well.

Series III, TOPICAL FILES, is divided into two sections:

  1. Peace Conference
  2. General

The "Peace Conference" section contains reports, recommendations, maps, and other data drawn from Seymour's files when he served as a member of the American Commission to Negotiate Peace during 1918-1919. The "General" section consists of miscellaneous background material consulted by Seymour in preparing his books, articles, and lectures.

Series IV, PERSONAL AND MEMORABILIA, contains a wide variety of personal material including Seymour Family genealogical information, recollections by Seymour of his childhood and youth, and memorabilia relating to Seymour's studies at Cambridge University, participation at The Paris Peace Conference, administrative career at Yale, retirement years, etc.

Series V, PRINTED MATERIAL, is divided into three sections:

  1. Clippings
  2. Pamphlets
  3. Authors' Complimentary Copies

The "Pamphlets" section includes items of a propagandist nature collected by Seymour at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, where he came into contact with members of the various foreign delegations and their supporters.

Series VI, HOUSE COLLECTION / ADMINISTRATION, is divided into five sections:

  1. General
  2. Financial Records
  3. Personnel
  4. Applications
  5. Correspondence

As the first curator of the House Collection, Seymour was responsible for the preliminary organization and maintenance of the Edward M. House Papers and associated collections (the Papers of Gordon Auchincloss, Vance McCormick, Frank Polk, George S. Viereck, George Watt, Sir William Wiseman, etc.)


  • 1912-1963


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright for unpublished materials authored or otherwise produced by Charles Seymour has been transferred to Yale University. These materials may be used for non-commercial purposes without seeking permission from Yale University as the copyright holder. For other uses of these materials, please contact

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 Charles Seymour.


Arranged in six series: I. Correspondence. II. Writings. III. Topical Files. IV. Personal and Memorabilia. V. Printed Material. VI. House Collection/Administration.


30 Linear Feet (88 boxes, 2 folios, 2 volumes)

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 correspondence with Edward M. House (1920-1938), personal correspondence, manuscripts and correspondence preparatory to the publication of Seymour's Intimate Papers of Colonel House (1926-1928), newspaper clippings, articles, and memorabilia. Much of the material concerns Seymour's role as delegate to the Paris Peace Conference of 1919.

Biographical / Historical

Charles Seymour was born on New Year's Day 1885 in New Haven, Connecticut, the son of Thomas Day and Sarah Hitchcock Seymour, both descendents of old and distinguished Yale families. There were numerous alumni in Seymour's family tree, including two Presidents of Yale, and a great-great grandfather who had received an honorary degree at Yale's first commencement in 1702. Thomas Day Seymour was Hillhouse Professor of Greek language and literature at Yale for over twenty-five years.

In addition to Charles, there were two daughters, Elizabeth and Clara. The children grew up in a scholarly and refined atmosphere and Charles, in particular, was given a uniquely broad education. He attended public schools in New Haven and graduated at the age of sixteen from Hillhouse High School. But although Charles passed the preliminary entrance examinations for Yale College, his family opposed his immediate enrollment believing that, since he had lived only in New Haven, he lacked sophistication and needed a broader outlook. Therefore, his parents arranged for him to spend the summer following his graduation (1901) touring the British Isles with an uncle and immediately thereafter to enter King's College at Cambridge University. The pattern was thus set which Seymour was to follow for the next ten years: study at some of the most distinguished European and American universities in combination with extensive travel abroad.

Seymour remained at Cambridge for three years and the experience had a lasting effect upon him. Although he had intended to read classics, as his father had done, he soon switched to modern European history. The Cambridge tutorial system helped Seymour develop both self-reliance and discipline. Moreover, in the various discussion groups to which he belonged, Seymour encountered an extraordinary group of men: George Trevelyan, J. H. Clapham, A. C. Pigou, Lytton Strachey, C. R. Fay, and John Maynard Keynes, among others. His holidays were spent touring the Continent. Cambridge awarded Charles Seymour the Bachelor of Arts degree in 1904. During his years in England Seymour acquired a love of academic excellence, a respect for social grace, and an affinity for British urbanity and reserve.

In September 1904 Seymour returned to the United States and entered Yale College as a member of the Class of 1908. He did well academically (he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa) and participated enthusiastically in various extracurricular activities, including the freshman and varsity crews, the glee club, and Skull and Bones. Whereas his Cambridge acquaintances later emerged as dominant figures in intellectual and political circles, most of Seymour's Yale friends were to distinguish themselves in the business world.

Following his graduation from Yale in 1908, Seymour pursued graduate studies in his usual manner: he combined extensive European travel with study at the University of Freiburg, the Sorbonne, and Cambridge University (which awarded him the Master of Arts degree in 1909). He entered the Yale Graduate School in September 1909 and received his Ph.D. in history in 1911.

On May 4 of that year Seymour married Gladys Marion Watkins of Scranton, Pennsylvania. She was the sister of his Yale classmate Thomas Law Watkins. The following September Charles Seymour began his teaching career as an Instructor in history at Yale.

The next seven years were very important ones for Seymour. His first two children were born during this period (Charles, Jr. in 1912 and Elizabeth in 1914; another daughter, Sarah, was born in 1920); and at this time Seymour began establishing his reputation in European history through the publication of several books: Electoral Reform in England and Wales, 1915; Selections from Carlyle (with Samuel Hemingway), 1915; The Diplomatic Background of the War, 1916; How the World Votes (with D. F. Frary), 1918. His scholarly reputation was further enhanced by his rapid advancement at Yale: by the time he was thirty-two Charles Seymour had become a full professor.

As World War I drew to a close, considerations of a just and lasting peace settlement became a paramount concern for United States policymakers. In late 1917, in preparation for the projected peace conference, President Wilson requested Colonel E. M. House, his close friend and confidential adviser, to gather a group of "experts"--drawn mainly from the academic world--whose purpose would be to collect and analyze information pertinent to the issues expected to arise at the peace conference. This secret organization became known as The Inquiry, a name which was meaningful enough to its members without drawing public attention to itself. Isaiah Bowman, who along with Sidney Mezes and Walter Lippmann was chosen by House to direct the work of this group, invited Charles Seymour to join the Inquiry and placed him in charge of the division studying questions relating to Austria-Hungary and Italy. Seymour--young, and as yet inexperienced in the practical world of international politics--was typical of the sort of man selected for the Inquiry; but he was probably more qualified than many of his colleagues in his area of specialization.

When the war ended, and American preparations for the peace conference began in earnest, it was decided that of the more than 120 original members of the Inquiry, only 23 would accompany the official American delegation to Paris. The group sailed on December 4, 1918, aboard the USS George Washington, and among the confident, idealistic passengers was Charles Seymour. Fully aware of the historical significance of the events in which he was about to participate, Seymour began writing a series of "diary letters" which were addressed first to his wife, and later (after Mrs. Seymour joined her husband in Paris) to his in-laws.

In Paris Seymour found himself appointed Chief of the Austro-Hungarian Division. He and the other American delegates were soon caught up in the dizzying world of global politics and diplomatic intrigue. As Seymour became more accustomed to his new role, he began to record ever more astute observations about the other actors on the Parisian scene. He felt a special kinship with the members of the British delegation, not only because of official Anglo-American ties, but also as a result of his years at Cambridge. In particular, he developed a close friendship with Harold Nicolson, and the two men considered writing a joint study on the Peace Conference, but later dropped the idea.

But as was the case with so many American "experts" (including Lippman, Clive Day, and W. C. Bullitt) Seymour's initial exhilaration at participating in one of the momentous events of the century was gradually replaced by a feeling of frustration. For one thing, he and the other Inquiry members were badly handicapped in their work by a lack of proper organization and direction. It was generally felt, for example, that Sidney Mezes was not forceful enough in his capacity as titular head of the Inquiry. Then, too, attempts made by State Department and Military Intelligence personnel in Paris to supersede the Inquiry staff created an atmosphere of suspicion and confusion. Seymour had shared the view that President Wilson, who arrived at Paris amid an unprecedented show of popularity and respect, had only to stand firm in his negotiations with the Big Three in order to achieve most of the general goals previously outlined in the Fourteen Points; and on specific territorial and economic questions he need only have followed the advice of his "experts" (such as Charles Seymour). Once in Paris, however, Wilson appeared to possess no real strategy except for his belief that the establishment of a League of Nations outweighed all other issues. Worse yet, as far as people like Seymour and Nicolson were concerned, Wilson was willing to compromise many of his most basic principles in order to insure success for the League.

For Seymour this internal conflict came to a head in the late spring of 1919 in the wake of the Fiume controversy. When it appeared that Wilson would yield to Orlando's pressures and give Fiume to Italy, Seymour, Isaiah Bowman, William Lunt, Douglas Johnson, A. A. Young, and Clive Day (all of whom had previously recommended giving Fiume to Jugoslavia) sent Wilson a letter strongly suggesting that the decision be reconsidered. Others in Colonel House's entourage (including Mezes and D. H. Miller) felt just as strongly that Wilson should accomodate Italian claims, and the result was serious dissension within the ranks of the American delegation” so much so that, to this day, certain historians see the Adriatic question as one of the principal causes for the House-Wilson break. In fact, the Fiume question was not really settled by the Peace Conference. For a while the six signers of the letter to Wilson feared that they might be reprimanded or even sent home, but nothing of the sort occurred. For Seymour the final weeks in Paris were marked by growing disillusionment and a desire to return to the less complicated atmosphere of the Yale history department. In fact, Seymour and his wife returned to the United States aboard the USS George Washington along with the rest of the delegation shortly after the signature of the Treaty of Versailles.

Nevertheless, the Paris Peace Conference proved to have been a turning point in Charles Seymour's career. In the first place, the diplomatic history of the world war and the peace conference became the principal subjects of his research, teaching, and writing. More significantly, his association with the American delegation at the peace conference had brought him to the attention of Colonel House.

The beginnings of Seymour's friendship with House coincided with the mysterious break in House's relationship with Woodrow Wilson. House always maintained that he sought neither power nor fame--only influence. Others thought differently, and said so more and more openly after June 1919. It is clear that House was, above all, deeply hurt by accusations of disloyalty to Wilson leveled against him by such persons as Admiral Grayson, Bernard Baruch, and Edith Wilson. In any event, House, who up to his return to the United States in the fall of 1919 had maintained total silence regarding his involvement in the domestic and foreign policy-making of the Wilson Administration and who insisted he would make no "revelations" in print before his death, gradually decided that silence was no longer golden. His reputation was at stake, and for posterity's sake (about which House cared a great deal) he felt the need to share some of his special knowledge of the events of the preceding and all-eventful decade with a wider public.

The main problem, as House saw it, was how to present the "evidence" so that it would justify (and indeed underline) his own contributions without appearing to be attacking or belittling Woodrow Wilson. Thus, when House decided to have his private diary and correspondence edited with a view to publication, he sought someone who possessed impeccable academic credentials, who was a "Wilsonian" at heart, but who was also in the final analysis sincerely and deeply appreciative of the Colonel's unique role in the realms of Democratic politics and international diplomacy. House found his man in the person of Charles Seymour.

Upon returning to the United States, Seymour had resumed his teaching duties at Yale and had written several articles about the peace conference and the League of Nations. Soon thereafter Colonel House enlisted his aid in organizing a series of lectures at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia entitled "What Really Happened at Paris." Approximately fifteen of the men who had been part of the American delegation spoke on areas in which they had been involved at the peace conference. (The lectures were published in 1920 under the same title, with Colonel House and Charles Seymour listed as the co-editors.)

In the meantime, Seymour continued to gain in stature at Yale. In 1921 he published his next book: Woodrow Wilson and the World War (part of the "Chronicles of America" series), and the following year he enjoyed a double honor: he was appointed Sterling Professor of History, one of Yale's most distinguished appointments, and was also appointed chairman of the History Department.

It was approximately at this juncture that the House-Seymour (and thus also the House-Yale) connection became firmly established. In effect, House wished to have his "memoirs" (or their equivalent) published, but not directly under his name. Seymour, he thought, would be the ideal editor. Seymour found the prospect irresistible, but, understandably enough, he wished to preserve his own independence; moreover, he insisted on having direct and easy access to House's immense collection of private papers. Consequently, after some careful negotiations, Colonel House arranged to donate the bulk of his papers to the Yale Library in 1923 with the understanding that Seymour would have sole use and control over them until the completion of the projected magnum opus.

Seymour embarked at once on the tasks of editing Colonel House's papers and writing the narrative to accompany them. The work was to be published in four volumes and was entitled The Intimate Papers of Colonel House. During the months that he worked on this project Seymour kept in extremely close touch with Colonel House. When they were near one another Seymour would visit House once a week in New York. When they were separated, Seymour would write frequently, enclosing drafts of the chapters in progress, and House would send back detailed suggestions, additional information, and criticism. The first two volumes were published simultaneously in London and New York in 1926. Reviews were on the whole quite favorable, but several objections were raised about the contents of the book. As might have been expected, it was claimed by some that House was confirming his "disloyalty" toward Wilson by presenting his version of recent events in this manner; that he claimed too much credit for himself; and that various other statesmen were being presented in an unnecessarily unfavorable light.

Both House and Seymour were somewhat shaken by these reactions. Thus, in preparing the second two volumes Seymour, after several false starts, succeeded in adopting a more neutral stance and (perhaps against his better judgment) avoided head-on confrontation with the most explosive issue of all--the history and reasons behind the House-Wilson break. When the second two volumes were published in 1928, they received a great deal less attention from the public at large, although the comments appearing in scholarly journals proved more favorable. The Intimate Papers of Colonel House never became a best-seller, but both Seymour and House received considerable royalties and "until restrictions on the use of the House Collection were lifted in 1950" The Intimate Papers remained a valuable source of information for historians studying the Wilson years.

During the period that he was working on The Intimate Papers, Seymour's scholarly reputation spread throughout Europe as well as the United States. This was due not only to his writings, but also to his appointment in 1924 as exchange professor to the Universities of Brussels, Ghent, Liege, and Louvain under the auspices of the Commission for Relief in Belgium Educational Foundation.

The year 1927 saw the beginning of yet another phase of Seymour's career when he was appointed Provost of Yale University, serving under President James Angell. From this time on, Seymour's interests and achievements were two-pronged: he functioned both as a respected diplomatic historian and as a succesful academic administrator. The ten years during which Seymour served as Provost were extremely significant for Yale. A massive building program was undertaken and the undergraduate residential college system was introduced. Seymour, with his memories of Cambridge still fresh, was influential in determining the form these colleges would take; and he served as the first Master of Berkeley College. He was instrumental, too, in guiding Yale successfully through the Depression.

Despite the heavy administrative claims on his time, Seymour continued teaching and writing. He produced several articles, book reviews, and two major books. American Diplomacy During the World War (1934) developed from a series of lectures he had delivered at Johns Hopkins University the previous year. In it he set forth his belief that the primary reason for American entry into the war was Germany's declaration of unrestricted submarine warfare. He further developed his position on this point one year later when he wrote American Neutrality 1914-1917, which was a reply to critics of the Wilson Administration who maintained that extensive loans by American financial institutions to Britain and France had made it impossible for the United States to remain neutral.

Seymour remained a prolific writer of book reviews and articles for both scholarly journals and popular magazines for the rest of his life. However, American Neutrality 1914-1917 was the last book he was able to complete, for in 1937 Seymour was selected to succeed James Angell as President of Yale University. He was the third member of his family to serve in that position.

Naturally, the University's normal pattern of progress and growth was severely disrupted by the outbreak of World War II. During the war years Seymour's contribution was two-fold: He organized Yale's war effort (which consisted mainly of specialized training programs for the military) in such a way that Yale was able to maintain her own identity as well; and he led a successful fight for the preservation of liberal arts programs despite their low wartime priority. Following the conclusion of the war, Seymour supervised the smooth return to peacetime activities and paid particular attention to the arrangements made for returning students whose academic careers had been interrupted by military service.

All of these activities took a tremendous toll on the President's time. Still, he managed to produce a number of scholarly articles and book reviews, and was constantly invited to deliver lectures at other institutions. He often spoke of the need to avoid the post-war mistakes which his own generation had made. In a widely-circulated article, entitled "Versailles in Perspective," Seymour advised against a single program or effort aimed at ending wartime suffering, redefining national boundaries, and establishing a new international organization. He felt that such matters should be separately dealt with. He warned, too, that any new league of nations would have to be built on the basis of public consensus aimed at removing the causes of war rather than be dedicated simply to the prevention of war.

Seymour was always a popular public speaker, and in his talks to clubs and graduating classes he found the opportunity to underline some of the moral, political, and educational issues of the times. Thus in one of his Baccalaureate addresses he said:

We have become so habituated to the ruthless use of force, to barbarous inhumanity, to the destruction of good faith, that we become numb or neutral when we face the issue of right against wrong...The danger is not that someone will try to interfere with our opinions. The danger is that we shall not take the trouble to have any opinions at all.

He warned universities not to become "ivory towers" isolated from the main currents of national thought:

There is a difference [he said] between right and wrong which cannot be destroyed by any negativist philosophy...there is a distinction between the truth and the lie, between courage and cowardice, between moral initiative and cynical irresponsibility. We believe that it is part of our university experience to make the distinction and to give effect to it.

Seymour also argued for increased educational opportunities for the disadvantaged, for expanded non-Western studies, and for broader programs for adult education. He deplored the "witch hunts" of the early 1950's, particularly when they interfered with academic freedom.

Throughout this period Seymour also retained the title of Curator of the House Collection. Although assistants had been hired to do a great deal of the day-to-day work, President Seymour personally supervised the preliminary processing of this immense collection, approved potential researchers and their topics, and wrote extensive critiques of manuscripts submitted to him by graduate students and professional historians.

In 1950, having reached Yale's mandatory retirement age of 65, Charles Seymour stepped down from the Presidency. His achievements as President had been impressive. The massive building campaign which had taken place under President Angell had been followed by less dramatic but perhaps more significant types of development under his successor. There had been important innovations in the undergraduate curriculum, including inter-departmental divisions and independent study projects. The Sheffield Scientific School had been merged with Yale College, thereby ending an unnecessary duplication of resources. The faculty was strengthened and special research institutes were established. The student body doubled; faculty salaries were greatly improved; Yale's Alumni Fund gifts led the nation. Newspaper articles about Seymour almost always mentioned the fact that he looked like a university president. But the dignity and solemnity of his appearance were tempered by a warm and easy manner. Charles Seymour, whose heritage and career were so intimately linked with Yale, was perhaps the ultimate Yale Man. As he prepared to leave Woodbridge Hall for the last time, he received a typical (and genuine) token of esteem from a former classmate who wrote, "I view your retirement as the sunset of our generation."

Seymour looked forward to his retirement as an opportunity to return to the full-time study and teaching of history. "I plan to rub off some of the administrative rust and get back to writing," he told well-wishers over and over again. Unfortunately, ill health was to prevent him from being as active as he had hoped. Nevertheless, so long as he felt well, he continued to supervise activities at the House Collection; and he never turned down requests for help from other scholars. Occasionally he lectured in the History Department, and he contributed a number of articles, book reviews, and introductions to books. "The End of a Friendship," which appeared in August 1963 in American Heritage Magazine, was his last article and was based on a confidential interview Seymour had had with Colonel House back in 1937, shortly before the latter's death. In it Seymour related House's version of his mysterious break with Woodrow Wilson. House maintained that his relationship with Wilson had not been ended by an argument over issues at the Paris Peace Conference, but had instead been slowly undermined by the second Mrs. Wilson, by Admiral Grayson (Wilson's physician), and by Bernard Baruch.

Early in 1963 Seymour began editing the "diary letters" which he had written forty-five years before at the Paris Peace Conference. Though his health was rapidly failing, he organized the papers, wrote an introduction, and began the task of deleting irrelevant material and preparing explanatory footnotes. He did not complete the project, for he died on August 11, 1963.

Guide to the Charles Seymour Papers
Under Revision
compiled by Ann Clifford Newhall, under the supervision of Nicholas X. Rizopoulos
March 1974
Description rules
Finding Aid Created In Accordance With Manuscripts And Archives Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

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