Philip M Powers' WWI Scrapbook

Wofford College received Philip Montague Powers’ scrapbook from Dick Littlejohn, but we don’t know how, where, or when he obtained it. From the scrapbook itself we were able to gather that Powers created the scrapbook during his time as an Associated Press journalist stationed in Germany. It contains material from Powers' last days in Germany before the majority of American journalists were expelled in 1917. Although the cover reads "1914/15," the scrapbook contains items dated 1915 through early 1917. The scrapbook contains 505 items written in German, English, French, Hungarian, Spanish, and Polish. Most of the items were created in Germany (57), Austria (26), or Poland (19). The majority of the items included do not contain a date or a caption.

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In 2008, a German studies student at Wofford translated many of the articles, letters, and notes into English. Through further research, we discovered that there are eight similar scrapbooks compiled by Powers that are kept at the Hoover Institution Archives at Stanford. Unfortunately, the archivists at the Hoover Institution knew nothing about the provenance of the scrapbooks.

Having hit a dead end, the scrapbook was stored away and almost forgotten about until recently. At the beginning of the year we pulled the scrapbook out again in attempts to discover more about the creator and the contents. Stephanie Walrath went through each page and recorded data for each item included within the scrapbook. She also sought out more information about Philip Powers, but little was forthcoming. “Was ‘Philip Powers’ a nom de plume?” we wondered. “Maybe he was a spy” we joked. It took some time and some creative internet and database searching, but Stephanie eventually - with a little intuition and luck - unearthed Powers’ obituary from the New York Times. (We’d been performing searches for “Philip Powers,” “Philip M. Powers” and so on, but Stephanie tried the variant spelling Phillip (two Ls) and voila, the New York Times archive yielded the obituary for Philip M. Powers, his name misspelled.)

The obituary filled in some blanks and confirmed some theories. We found out that he was the son of writer Harry Huntington Powers (a suspicion we had all along because an article by H.H. Powers is in the scrapbook). Powers married Clara Janet MacKeil (possibly spelled McKeil or McKeel) in March 1913. He attended Dartmouth College and worked on the staff of the Boston Sunday Post and the Boston Herald. In January 1915, he was assigned to foreign service with the Associated Press. We were able to find very little information about Powers between his return to the States in February 1917 and his obituary, and we were unable to find any articles written by him except for the ones included in the scrapbook. Powers died at age 37 on April 18, 1921 of tubercular menengitis and had “been in ill health for a year, having suffered a nervous breakdown in February 1920.” He was survived by his parents, his wife, and his brother.1

With these facts confirmed, we could forge a new path out of our dead end: the next search was for living relatives of Powers. Stephanie utilized genealogical records available on the internet and was able to track down Helen Powers LaMont, Powers’ niece and closest living relative. Though Mrs. LaMont had no personal memories of her Uncle Philip (he died two years before she was born), she had a few memories of Powers’ wife Clara. According to Mrs. LaMont, Clara was a “lovely lady who did not re-marry,” and she acted as a nurse and caregiver for Powers’ mother during the last few months of her life. All Mrs. LaMont could remember about Powers was that he reported from the Eastern front during World War I on an old portable Corona typewriter. The family still has Powers’ desk, bed, and typewriter, but no other memories of or connection to him.

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This brings us to the present. Once again we have reached a dead end. We have sent an inquiry to the Associated Press, but we have not heard anything yet. Though we probably won’t find out much more about Powers or his scrapbook, we were able to uncover at least a small bit of this mysterious history. Perhaps someone will pick up the scrapbook a few years from now and find something new.

-Hannah Jarrett '12

1 Obituary of Phillip [sic] M. Powers printed in the New York Times on April 19, 1921. Found at nytimes.com.