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George Morris Philips Papers

 Collection — Box: 1-34
Identifier: 024
This collection is divided into eight (8) series. Series 1: Personal Papers & Artifacts includes diaries, Bibles, scrapbooks, and various personal and family papers and items. Series 2: Normal School Administration includes correspondence regarding general school matters, personnel, and the state take-over of the normal schools; course catalogs, student placement logs, and miscellaneous papers. Series 3: Philips Autographed Library includes correspondence with authors and multiple library catalogs. Series 4: Autograph Collection contains autographed ephemera from more than 100 well-known figures of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Series 5: Johnson Scandal includes many letters both supporting and denouncing Philips’s role in the affair as well as transcripts, reports, and various witness testimonials generated during the investigation. Series 6: PA School Code includes commission meeting minutes, press clippings, and drafts with edits of versions of the code. Series 7: State Take-over contains meeting minutes and other documents relating to the state’s acquisition of the normal schools. Series 8: Memorial Publications & Papers includes testimonials and publications commemorating Philips’s life as well as correspondence and papers on the Philips Memorial Fund.


  • 1875-1920
  • Majority of material found in 1881-1920


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research.


34.00 Boxes (20 Medium Clam Shell Boxes, 6 Small Clam Shell Boxes, 1 Record Box, 2 oversize boxes, 5 1/2 size clam shell boxes.)

34 Boxes


George Morris Philips (1851-1920) served as Principal of West Chester State Normal School (WCSNS) from 1881-1920. After a brief career as a teacher of mathematics, Philips’s tenure as Principal of WCSNS was distinguished by a major expansion of the campus and student body. Philips brought many prominent speakers to campus and compiled an extensive library of autographed books from leading authors of the day. The Philips Memorial Building, dedicated in his honor, is home today to the office of West Chester University’s President and the more than 2,000 volume Philips Autographed Library. This collection contains extensive administrative correspondence with board members, faculty members, and leading figures Philips was trying to lure to speak on campus. Correspondence specific to the Autographed Library includes letters from many distinguished writers. Other portions of the collection deal with the Johnson Affair, a scandal on campus in 1913, which led to the temporary dismissal of Philips from his position, as well as Philips’s papers related to the Pennsylvania School Code, which he helped to draft. Also present are correspondence and other papers related to the funding of the Philips Memorial Building and several scrapbooks containing a range of ephemera and press clippings.

Arrangement Thematic and chronological

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.

Processing Information

Processed by Ron McColl
George Morris Philips Papers
Ron McColl
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Repository Details

Part of the West Chester University Archives Repository