Question of the Week

What prominent Philadelphian served as chairman of the Penn. Council of National Defense during World War I?

Monday, 11/25/13

Answer: George Wharton Pepper

George Wharton Pepper was a distinguished lawyer and U.S. senator from Pennsylvania. He was born in Philadelphia on March 16, 1867, to George Pepper, a physician, and Hitty Markoe Wharton, both of whom were descendants of prominent, established Philadelphia families. Pepper graduated first in his class with a B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1887. He went on to the University of Pennsylvania Law School, again graduating at the top of his class in 1889. On November 25, 1890, Pepper married Charlotte Root Fischer, the daughter of George P. Fischer, a Yale professor and dean of the Yale Theological School. They had three children.

Pepper developed a private law practice while also serving as a professor at the University of Pennsylvania until 1910. He became a trustee of the University in 1911. In his mid-twenties, Pepper became a loyal and conservative Republican. When World War I broke out, he took a strong interest in foreign affairs and was named chairman of the Pennsylvania Council of National Defense and Committee of Public Safety in 1917.

The Pennsylvania Council of National Defense was established in March 1917 as a civilian organization to provide safety for the state (it was originally named the Committee of Public Safety for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania), and later became a cooperative agency of the Federal Council of National Defense. This group advised Governor Martin Brumbaugh, promoted civilian affairs, and assisted businessmen in the war effort. The council was divided into several departments and organized at a national level. The council's activities included promoting Liberty Loans, the draft, relief aid, and Red Cross work, and it served as a patriotic institution to support and maintain the civilian war effort

George Wharton Pepper died May 24, 1961 at his home in Devon, Pennsylvania.

The society holds a collection of records of the Pennsylvania Council of National Defense and Committee of Public Safety (#1551) that was donated by Pepper. It's a small collection that contains minutes of the committee, Pepper's correspondence Pepper, publicity information, and treasurer's reports.

Image: George S. Chappell, Ode to George Wharton Pepper (1944)

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