Navigation Aids

Rare Book & Manuscript Library Collections


Main Content

Captain R. Norris Williams II

short indication for visually impaired
Captain Williams receiving the Legion of Honor from Maréchal Pétain, April 10, 1919

The World War I Printed Media and Art Collection owes much to Captain R. Norris Williams II (1891-1968), whose extensive collection of World War I books, documents, and ephemera was donated to the library by his wife in 1987.

After volunteering for the American Expeditionary Force in 1917, Captain Williams served as an artillery officer, an English teacher at a French staff school, and Aide-de-Camp to General James G. Harbord. Serving with distinction, Williams was awarded the Croix de Guerre and Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur. As a consequence of working with General Harbord at General Headquarters, he became personally acquainted with many of the war's principal directors, like Generals Pershing and Pétain, who later contributed signed books and memoirs to Williams's collection.

Williams gathered pieces for his collection with what Elizabeth A. Mosimann has called "a historian's sensibility." The scope of his acquisitions ranges from posters and broadsides off of city walls, to maps and manuals used in the trenches. He acquired materials that represented both the Allied and the Central powers, the home front and the frontlines, the Headquarters staff and the infantry soldier. Many of his acquisitions are ephemeral pieces which would not otherwise have survived. Mosimann has argued that Williams's encounters with other historical events — namely his survival of the sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic in 1912 and his victories at the U.S. tennis championships in 1914 and 1916 — instilled in him a sense of the historical significance of his wartime experiences, which pushed him to preserve the materials that he did.

Williams left the A.E.F. in 1919 to the disappointment of General Harbord, who wrote to him in a letter, "It is a matter of regret to me that you elect to return to civil life instead of finding a career in the profession of arms, where I feel sure you would have risen to distinction." During the 1920s, Williams attained a successful career as a Philadelphia investment banker and won two more U.S. championships and a Wimbledon title in doubles tennis. He began consolidating his collection and continued to make acquisitions during the 1930s. Williams served as acting director of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania during the Second World War and was later appointed the Society's president, which he remained for twenty-two years until his death at the age of seventy-seven.

Of the materials donated with the Williams Collection, some original art and a selection of the printed media — propaganda posters, prints, broadsides, and trench newspapers — have been included in the World War I Printed Media and Art Collection.

Back to Print Collection 12: WWI Printed Media and Art

Back to Finding Aids for Printed Collections