Pennsylvania Council of National Defense and Committee of Public Safety records
Held at: Historical Society of Pennsylvania [Contact Us]1300 Locust Street, Philadelphia, PA, 19107
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
George Wharton Pepper was a distinguished lawyer and U.S. senator from Pennsylvania. He was born in Philadelphia on March 16, 1867, to George Pepper, a physician, and Hitty Markoe Wharton, both of whom were descendants of prominent, established Philadelphia families.
Pepper graduated first in his class with a B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1887. He went on to the University of Pennsylvania Law School, again graduating at the top of his class in 1889. On November 25, 1890, Pepper married Charlotte Root Fischer, the daughter of George P. Fischer, a Yale professor and dean of the Yale Theological School. They had three children.
Pepper developed a private law practice while also serving as a professor at the University of Pennsylvania until 1910. He became a trustee of the University in 1911. In his mid-twenties, Pepper became a loyal and conservative Republican. When World War I broke out, he took a strong interest in foreign affairs and was named chairman of the Pennsylvania Council of National Defense and Committee of Public Safety in 1917.
The Pennsylvania Council of National Defense was established in March 1917 as a civilian organization to provide safety for the state (it was originally named the Committee of Public Safety for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania), and later became a cooperative agency of the Federal Council of National Defense. This group advised Governor Martin Brumbaugh, promoted civilian affairs, and assisted businessmen in the war effort. The council was divided into several departments and organized at a national level. The council’s activities included promoting Liberty Loans, the draft, relief aid, and Red Cross work, and it served as a patriotic institution to support and maintain the civilian war effort.
After the war, Pepper became a vocal opponent of President Wilson’s policies, including the harsh reparations inflicted on Germany in the Treaty of Versailles and potential U.S. entry into the League of Nations. For his loyal service to the Republican Party and his well-regarded leadership, Pepper was appointed to the U.S. Senate to fill the vacancy of Senator Boies Penrose, who died on December 31, 1921. He was sworn in on January 9, 1922 and won a special election later that year to remain senator for the remaining four years of Penrose’s term. While in the Senate, Pepper served on the Military Affairs, Naval Affairs, and Foreign Relations committees, and was chairman of the Committee on the Library and the Committee on Printing. He was defeated in the Republican senatorial primary in 1926 by William S. Vare, and never ran for public office again.
Pepper returned to his Philadelphia law practice and remained involved in the political world. He served on the Republican National Convention platform committee in 1940 and 1948, and was strongly opposed to the New Deal programs of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Along with his positions as a trustee of the University of Pennsylvania and the Carnegie Foundation, Pepper filled leadership roles in many professional organizations, including the American Law Institute, Pennsylvania Bar Association, and the Philadelphia Bar Association. He also published four books: In the Senate (1930), Family Quarrels (1931), Philadelphia Lawyer (1944), and Analytical Index to the Book of Common Prayer (1948).
George Wharton Pepper died May 24, 1961 at his home in Devon, Pennsylvania.
The Pennsylvania Council of National Defense and Committee of Public Safety records, in three boxes and two volumes, document the war effort on the home front and the actions that were taken to provide assistance for people and businesses throughout the state. The records date from 1917 to 1921, and documentation includes financial reports and executive papers that offer insights about the day-to-day handling of business, as well as correspondence and newspaper clippings. All material has been processed and remains in original order.
Box 1 contains the correspondence of the Pennsylvania Council of National Defense and Committee of Public Safety from 1917 to 1920, and Box 2 contains various records of the council from 1917 to 1920. There are copious records of the speaking tour that Pepper and a few others embarked upon to promote War-Food Conservation and the Third Liberty Loan. This includes correspondence and newspaper clippings from many of the local stops made throughout the state. There are several folders relating to a testimonial awarded by the Council to Col. Lewis S. Sadler, who had been executive manager of the committee of public safety and later became State Commissioner of Public Highways. Other materials included are minutes of the first meeting of the organization, as well as memoranda about the U.S. Council of National Defense and instructions for states on how they should organize their councils.
Box 3 contains correspondence from the Philadelphia Council of National Defense, the city’s branch, from 1918 to 1921. Major subjects include the Welcome Home Committee, the Committee on Foreign Intelligence, and the Textile Manufacturers and Workmen. The Welcome Home Committee planned a parade, which occurred May 15, 1919 in Philadelphia. A Committee on Foreign Intelligence was formed to bring about a better understanding of world relations by American-born citizens. It held one meeting (which Pepper did not attend), was ruled unnecessary, and disbanded. The textile workers held a labor strike in Jan/Feb 1919 regarding weekly work hours, for which Pepper helped in negotiating a settlement. Notable correspondents include Howard Heinz, Mayor Thomas B. Smith of Philadelphia and Felix Frankfurter, then-chairman of the War Labor Policies Board.
The two volumes are the minutes of the Advisory Committee, Direction of Civilian Activities & Supplies, etc. They range from April 23, 1917 to December 23, 1918.
Note: The agency was originally named the Committee of Public Safety for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and was later renamed the Pennsylvania Council of National Defense and Committee of Public Safety circa July 1918.
This collection is arranged into three boxes and two volumes:
Box 1: Correspondence of the Council (1917-1920)
Box 2: Third Liberty Loan Speaking Tour, Sadler Testimonial, Memos (1917-1920)
Box 3: Philadelphia Council of National Defense (1918-1921)
Volume 1: Minutes of the Advisory Committee, Direction of Civilian Activities & Supplies, etc. (April 23, 1917-June 20, 1918)
Volume 2: Minutes of the Advisory Committee, Direction of Civilian Activities & Supplies, etc. (June 24, 1918-December 23, 1918)
Gift of George Wharton Pepper, 1948 and 1955.
- Liberty loans
- Pennsylvania Council of National Defense. Four Minute Men (Philadelphia, Pa.)
- World War, 1914-1918--Civilian relief--Pennsylvania
- World War, 1914-1918--Economic & industrial aspects--Pennsylvania
- World War, 1914-1918--Food supply--Pennsylvania
- World War, 1914-1918--War work--Pennsylvania
- Historical Society of Pennsylvania
- Finding Aid Author
- Finding aid prepared by Peter Garavuso
- Finding Aid Date
- ; 2010.
- Access Restrictions
The collection is open for research.