William Walter Phelps Papers mssHM 27329-27485

Gayle Richardson
The Huntington Library
July 2020
1151 Oxford Road
San Marino, California 91108
Business Number: (626) 405-2191


Finding aid last updated on March 25, 2024 by Melissa Haley.

Contributing Institution: The Huntington Library
Title: William Walter Phelps papers
Creator: Phelps, William Walter, 1839-1894
Identifier/Call Number: mssHM 27329-27485
Physical Description: 2.66 Linear Feet (3 boxes)
Date (inclusive): 1800-1925
Date (bulk): 1876-1893
Abstract: A collection of material related to the life and work of William Walter Phelps, American lawyer, politician, and diplomat.
Language of Material: Materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

Open for use by qualified researchers and by appointment. Please contact Reader Services at the Huntington Library for more information.

Conditions Governing Use

The Huntington Library does not require that researchers request permission to quote from or publish images of this material, nor does it charge fees for such activities. The responsibility for identifying the copyright holder, if there is one, and obtaining necessary permissions rests with the researcher.

Preferred Citation

[Identification of item]. William Walter Phelps papers, The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchased from Mrs. Frances Phelps Penry, December, 1963.

Biographical / Historical

William Walter Phelps (1839-1894), was a lawyer, businessman, arboriculturist, and diplomat. Phelps was born in New York, New York, and graduated from Yale University as valedictorian in 1860; in the same year he married Ellen Maria Sheffield. He was active in Republican politics and a good friend of James G. Blaine, Speaker of the House and Senator from Maine. Phelps represented New Jersey in the Forty-third (1873-1875), Forty-eighth, Forty-ninth, and Fiftieth Congresses (1883-1889). In 1881-1882, he served as Ambassador to Austria-Hungary, and from 1889-1893 Phelps served as United States Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to Germany. In 1888 President Harrison appointed him as one of the commissioners to represent the United States at the Joint Conference on the Samoan Question, which met in Berlin in 1889. Phelps died in his home in Teaneck, New Jersey on June 17, 1894.

Scope and Contents

A collection of political, business, diplomatic, social, and family correspondence of William Walter Phelps, chiefly letters addressed to him. The collection numbers 199 items, including items related to American politics and the Republican party, Phelps' diplomatic service, his family, social life and literary interests. Correspondents include, among others, Herbert Nikolaus von Bismarck, James Gillespie Blaine, Benjamin Harrison, Eugene Field, Samuel Langhorne Clemens, and Joseph Pulitzer. Also included is the correspondence of John Jay Phelps, a poem by Eugene Field dedicated to Phelps, an 1882 letter containing an eye-witness account of the battle of Battle of Chapultepec, Mexico (1847), ephemera, photographs, and newspapers clippings. The collection also contains papers related to John Chester Eno's embezzlement from the Second Bank of New York (of which Phelps was a director) and Phelps' negotiations with Eno's father, Amos Richard Phelps, to make good the loss (1884).
Materials created by US presidents in this collection include: Rutherford B. Hayes autograph letters signed to William Walter Phelps, 1879 July and December (HM 27382-27383); James A. Garfield and James G. Blaine signed appointment of William Walter Phelps as minister to Austria Hungary, 1881 March 5 (HM 27376); Theodore Roosevelt autograph letter signed to William Walter Phelps, approximately 1888 April 10 (HM 27406); Benjamin Harrison and James G. Blaine signed appointment of William Walter Phelps as commissioner to Berlin Conference on Samoan Affairs, 1889 March 19 (HM 27450); Benjamin Harrison and James G. Blaine signed appointment of William Walter Phelps as minister to Germany, 1889 June and December (includes passport and letter of credit, HM 27484-27485); Benjamin Harrison letters to William Walter Phelps, 1888-1892 (HM 27480-27483); William H. Taft letter signed to Marian von Rottenburg Phelps, 1910 and 1911 (HM 27413-27414).

Processing Information

Processed by Huntington Library Staff, circa 1970. In 2020, Gayle Richardson created the finding aid derived from legacy in-house summary report. In 2022, Melissa Haley enhanced description of the presidential material present in the collection as part of the American Presidential Papers Project.


Chiefly arranged alphabetically by author: General correspondence, A-Ph (box 1); General correspondence, P-T and miscellaneous (box 2); Berlin Conference on Samoan Affairs (box 3); Second Bank of New York (box 3).

Subjects and Indexing Terms

Chapultepec, Battle of, Mexico City, Mexico, 1847
Diplomats -- United States
Embezzlement -- New York (State) -- New York
Politicians -- New Jersey
Samoan question
Berlin (Germany) -- Social life and customs
Germany -- Foreign relations -- United States
Samoan Islands -- History
United States -- Foreign relations -- Germany
United States -- Politics and Government -- 1865-1900
Ephemera -- United States -- 19th century
Family papers -- United States -- 19th century
Letters (correspondence) -- United States -- 19th century
Personal papers -- United States -- 19th century
Photographs -- United States -- 19th century
Professional papers -- United States -- 19th century
Bismarck, Herbert, Fürst von, 1849-1904
Blaine, James Gillespie, 1830-1893
Clemens, Samuel Langhorne, 1835-1910
Field, Eugene, 1850-1895
Garfield, James A. (James Abram), 1831-1881
Harrison, Benjamin, 1833-1901
Hayes, Rutherford B., 1822-1893
Phelps, John J. (John Jay), 1810-1869
Roosevelt, Theodore, 1858-1919
Taft, William H. (William Howard), 1857-1930
Republican Party (U.S. : 1854- ) -- History -- 19th century
Second Bank of New York

Box 1

Correspondence and manuscripts: Allison-Page 1879-1911

Scope and Contents

Correspondence, manuscripts and documents; locations: United States, Egypt, Paris, and Berlin.
Box 2

Correspondence and manuscripts: Phelps-Zakrzewski 1800-1925

Scope and Contents

Correspondence, manuscripts, miscellaneous material, and ephemera; locations: London, United States, Egypt, Berlin, and Jerusalem.
Box 3

Second National Bank of New York 1884-1888

Scope and Contents

Correspondence, diary extract, documents, and ephemera; location: New York, United States.
Box 3

Berlin Conference on Samoan Affairs 1889-1890

Scope and Contents

Drafts, correspondence, press dispatches, and reports; locations: United States and Berlin. Includes Benjamin Harrison and James G. Blaine signed appointment of William Walter Phelps as commissioner to Berlin Conference on Samoan Affairs, 1889 March 19 (HM 27450).