Biographical or Historical Information
George Morris Philips was born in Atglen, Chester County, Pennsylvania on October 28, 1851. He served as Principal of West Chester State Normal School (WCSNS) from 1881 until his death in 1920. Philips greatly expanded the school during his tenure and played a central role in shaping the Pennsylvania School Code beginning in 1907. His large collection of autographed books, housed today in the Philips Memorial Building, is a lasting legacy of his contributions to learning at West Chester University.
Philips grew up on his family’s farm and studied at a local academy. He attended Lewisburg (Bucknell) University, earning a degree in mathematics with high honors at the age of twenty. His first teaching position was at Monongahela College in Pennsylvania. In 1873, Philips began teaching mathematics at WCSNS. On December 27, 1877, he married Elizabeth Marshall Philips, a teacher of instrumental music at WCSNS. He resigned in 1878 to return to Lewisburg, where he had been appointed Chair of the Mathematics Department. Philips returned to West Chester to become principal of the WCSNS beginning in 1881; he held the position until his death on March 11, 1920.
Philips greatly expanded the student body, number of buildings, and financial capital of WCSNS during his tenure as principal. He brought many leading figures to campus to address the student body and faculty, initiated annual class field trips, and helped secure teaching positions for hundreds of graduates. As a teacher and administrator, Philips authored or co-authored textbooks on subjects ranging from astronomy to geography to civic government.
Beginning in 1907, Philips served as Secretary of the Educational Commission appointed to rewrite the Pennsylvania School Code. When published, this document expanded greatly upon existing state policy regarding public and normal schools throughout the state. Following this period, he helped usher the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s acquisition of the normal schools in the state.
In 1913, Philips became embroiled in a campus scandal involving the WCSNS’s steward, Harry Johnson. Johnson’s involvement with female staff members and students became public and questions arose regarding who had knowledge of Johnson’s behavior in prior years. Following an investigation, Philips was asked to resign his position; an appeal by alumni and formal proceedings at the state level restored Philips to his post as principal.
Aside from his work in education, Philips was president of the Chester County Historical Society, director of the National Bank of Chester County, member of the board of the Chester County Hospital, and a member of the First Baptist Church of West Chester. He also served as a trustee of Bucknell University.
Philips built a large personal collection of autographed books by soliciting inscriptions from hundreds of important authors of the time. Upon his death, his son, William Pyle Philips, dedicated the Philips Autograph Library to the Normal School. Today it is housed inside of Philips Memorial Hall, also dedicated in his honor.