Frank Polk

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Frank Lyon Polk
Frank Lyon Polk, LC-DIG-npcc-01132, trimmed.jpg
Official portrait, 1920
1st United States Under Secretary of State
In office
July 1, 1919 – June 15, 1920
PresidentWoodrow Wilson
Preceded byOffice established
Succeeded byNorman Davis
United States Secretary of State
Ad interim
In office
February 14, 1920 – March 12, 1920
PresidentWoodrow Wilson
Preceded byRobert Lansing
Succeeded byBainbridge Colby
4th Counselor of the United States Department of State
In office
September 16, 1915 – June 30, 1919
PresidentWoodrow Wilson
Preceded byRobert Lansing
Succeeded byR. Walton Moore (1937)
Personal details
Born(1871-09-13)September 13, 1871
New York City, U.S.
DiedFebruary 7, 1943(1943-02-07) (aged 71)
New York City, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
SpouseElizabeth Sturgis Potter
Alma materYale College (B.A.)
Columbia Law School (LL.D.)

Frank Lyon Polk (September 13, 1871 – February 7, 1943) was an American lawyer and diplomat, who was also a name partner of the law firm today known as Davis Polk & Wardwell.[1]

Early life[edit]

Polk was born in New York City.[1] He was the son of William Mecklenburg Polk, the dean of the Cornell Medical School, and the grandson of Bishop and Confederate General Leonidas Polk,[2] who was a cousin of US President James Polk.[3]

He graduated from Yale College[4] in 1894 and Columbia University Law School[4] in 1897. He was a member of the Scroll and Key Society.


In 1897, Polk began his law practice in New York City. He served on a variety of City boards and commissions. He was member of the civil service commission of New York from 1907 to 1909, and in 1907 and 1910 was a member of the New York City Board of Education. On January 24, 1914, New York City Mayor John Purroy Mitchel appointed him corporation counsel, which he remained until his appointment on September 16, 1915, as counselor for the US Department of State at Washington, DC,[5] confirmed by the United States Senate on December 17, 1915.[6] On April 17, 1914, Polk was wounded by gunfire when a former city employee attempted to assassinate Mitchel.[7]

He served in the Department of State as Counselor until 1919, US Under Secretary of State in 1919 and 1920, and then as Acting US Secretary of State in 1920. Polk headed the American Commission to Negotiate Peace in 1919, and after President Woodrow Wilson's and Secretary Robert Lansing's departure from Paris in 1919, he represented the United States at the Paris peace conference.[8] He also managed the 1924 Democratic presidential convention campaign of John W. Davis, another name partner of his law firm.

Polk served as president of the New York Public Library from April 13, 1932 until his death on February 7, 1943.

Personal life[edit]

Polk was married to Elizabeth Sturgis Potter.[9] Elizabeth was the daughter of James Potter, the Cunard Line representative in Philadelphia and former Philadelphia Phillies owner, and Elizabeth (Sturgis) Potter.[10] The Polks lived at 6 East Sixty-eighth Street in New York City, had a home in Syosset on Long Island and in Boca Grande, Florida.[11] Together, they had five children: John, Elizabeth, Frank, James, and Alice.[9]

His portrait was painted by Sir Oswald Birley in 1923.

He was elected a member of the North Carolina Society of the Cincinnati in 1919. He was also a Grand Officer of the French Legion of Honor.

Frank Lyon Polk died on February 7, 1943, in New York City.[2]


Polk is the grandfather of financier Lewis Polk Rutherfurd. Rutherfurd was married to Janet Jennings Auchincloss, the half-sister of former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, from 1966 until her death in 1985.[12]


  1. ^ a b "Frank Lyon Polk papers". Retrieved April 17, 2015. 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).
  2. ^ a b "Frank Lyon Polk". The New York Times. February 7, 1943. Retrieved April 17, 2015. His father, dean of the Cornell Medical School, had been a pupil of Stonewall Jackson's at the Virginia Military Institute and at 17 Jackson's drillmaster. His grandfather, Bishop and Lieutenant General, another Bishop called 'a man whom noble men might love and meaner men might fear.'
  3. ^ Sesser, David. "Leonidas Polk (1806–1864)". Encyclopedia of Arkansas. Retrieved August 6, 2016.
  4. ^ a b Frank Lyon Polk "Frank Lyon Polk was a partner of the law firm of Davis, Polk, Lansing, Wardwell & Reed of New York City."
  5. ^ Rines, George Edwin, ed. (1920). "Polk, Frank Lyon" . Encyclopedia Americana.
  6. ^ "Senate Confirms Polk's Nomination". The New York Times. December 18, 1915. Retrieved August 6, 2016.
  7. ^ "More Powerful Than Dynamite" Thai Jones
  8. ^ Reynolds, Francis J., ed. (1921). "Polk, Frank Lyon" . Collier's New Encyclopedia. New York: P. F. Collier & Son Company.
  9. ^ a b "MRS. FRANK L. POLK". The New York Times. October 27, 1960. Retrieved August 5, 2016.
  10. ^ "Mrs. James Potter". The New York Times. May 15, 1942. Retrieved August 6, 2016.
  11. ^ "ELIZABETH POLK ENGAGED TO WED: Descendant of President Polk Will Become the Bride of Raymond Guest". The New York Times. March 5, 1935. Retrieved August 5, 2016.
  12. ^ Staff (May 9, 1966). "Janet Jennings Auchincloss Betrothed". The New York Times. Retrieved March 17, 2016.

Further reading[edit]

  • Mitchell, Kell Freeman, Jr. "Frank L. Polk and the Paris Peace Conference, 1919." (PhD dissertation, University of Georgia; ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 1966. 6703575).

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by Counselor of the United States Department of State
Title next held by
R. Walton Moore
Preceded by
Office established
United States Under Secretary of State
Succeeded by
Preceded by United States Secretary of State
Ad interim

Succeeded by
Non-profit organization positions
Preceded by
Henry M. Waite
President of the National Municipal League
1923 – 1927
Succeeded by
Richard S. Childs