Frank Polk

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Frank Lyon Polk
Frank Lyon Polk, LC-DIG-npcc-01132, trimmed.jpg
Secretary of State of the United States
In office
July 1, 1919 – June 15, 1920
PresidentWoodrow Wilson
Preceded byRobert Lansing
Succeeded byBainbridge Colby
Personal details
BornSeptember 13, 1871
New York City, U.S.
DiedFebruary 7, 1943 (aged 71)
New York City, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Elizabeth Sturgis Potter
Alma materYale College (1894)
Columbia Law School (1897)

Frank Lyon Polk (September 13, 1871 – February 7, 1943) was a prominent United States lawyer and a name partner of the law firm today known as Davis Polk & Wardwell, and for some years held prominent diplomatic positions.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Polk was born on September 13, 1871, in New York City,[1] son of William Mecklenburg Polk (1844–1918), dean of the Cornell Medical School, and grandson of bishop and Confederate general Leonidas Polk (1806–1864),[2] who was a cousin of President James K. Polk.[3]

He graduated from Yale College[4] (B.A., 1894) and Columbia University Law School[4] (LL.B., 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, Mayor Mitchel appointed him corporation counsel, in which office he remained until his appointment on September 16, 1915, as counselor for the United States Department of State at Washington, D.C.,[5] confirmed by the Senate on December 17, 1915.[6] On April 17, 1914, Polk was wounded by gunfire when a former city employee attempted to assassinate Mayor Mitchel.[7]

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

Personal life[edit]

Polk was married to Elizabeth Sturgis Potter.[9] Elizabeth was the daughter of James Potter (d. 1934), the Cunard Line representative in Philadelphia, and Elizabeth (Sturgis) Potter (d. 1942).[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.

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.[1]

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


Polk is the grandfather of financier Lewis Polk Rutherfurd (b. 1944) who 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 c "Frank Lyon Polk papers". Retrieved 2015-04-17. 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". New York Times. February 7, 1943. Retrieved 2015-04-17. 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 6 August 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. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg Rines, George Edwin, ed. (1920). "Polk, Frank Lyon" . Encyclopedia Americana.
  6. ^ "Senate Confirms Polk's Nomination". The New York Times. December 18, 1915. Retrieved 6 August 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 5 August 2016.
  10. ^ "Mrs. James Potter". The New York Times. May 15, 1942. Retrieved 6 August 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 5 August 2016.
  12. ^ Staff (May 9, 1966). "Janet Jennings Auchincloss Betrothed". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 March 2016.

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Robert Lansing
Secretary of State (Acting)
February 14 - March 12, 1920
Succeeded by
Bainbridge Colby
First Under Secretary of State
July 1, 1919 – June 15, 1920
Succeeded by
Norman H. Davis
Non-profit organization positions
Preceded by
Henry M. Waite
President of the National Municipal League
1923 – 1927
Succeeded by
Richard S. Childs