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COLLECTION Identifier: UAI 15.894

Papers of Charles William Eliot, 1807-1945.

Charles William Eliot (1834-1926) was President of Harvard University from March 12, 1869 to May 19, 1909. He also taught mathematics and chemistry at Harvard University (1858-1863) and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1865-1869). Eliot was one of the most influential educators of his day and the innovations he introduced at Harvard University influenced higher education throughout the United States.

Dates

  • 1807-1945.

Creator

Conditions on Use and Access

Permission of the University Archives is required for access to the Papers of Charles William Eliot. Please consult the reference staff for further details. Additional restrictions may apply.

Extent

40.73 cubic feet (99 document boxes, 22 portfolio boxes, 2 flat boxes)

The Papers of Charles William Eliot document his personal and professional life. They date principally from his birth to 1869, omit the years of his Harvard Presidency, and resume from 1909 until his death. Materials related to Eliot's official activities as President of Harvard University (1869-1909) will not be found in these papers, nor will Eliot's later writings (1869 to 1926). Both of these form part of the Records of the President of Harvard University, President Charles W. Eliot (UAI 5.150).

These papers are comprised of materials recounting Eliot’s student days, his teaching career, and his early writings (up to 1869). It documents his travels around the world and provides an account of the many honors, awards, and accolades that Eliot received over his lifetime. A considerable part of these papers concern the extensive social reform activities of Eliot's retirement years. In addition, these papers include materials highlighting Eliot’s relationship with his family and close friends.

Chronology

  • 1834 March 20Charles William Eliot is born in Boston, Massachusetts.
  • 1849Eliot graduates from Boston Public Latin School; enters Harvard College
  • 1853Eliot graduates from Harvard, second scholar in his class.
  • 1854Eliot becomes a tutor in mathematics at Harvard
  • 1857The Eliot family suffers severe financial losses
  • 1858 October 27Eliot marries Ellen Derby Peabody
  • 1858Eliot becomes Assistant Professor of Mathematics and Chemistry
  • 1859 November 1Ellen Derby Peabody Eliot gives birth to son, Charles
  • 1861Eliot takes charge of the Chemical Laboratory at the Lawrence Scientific School (Harvard University)
  • 1862 August 24Ellen Derby Peabody Eliot gives birth to a second son, Samuel
  • 1863Eliot leaves Harvard
  • 1863Eliot declines a commission as Lieutenant Colonel of the Cavalry from Governor Andrews of Massachusetts
  • 1863-1865Eliot spends two years in Europe with his family
  • 1865Eliot declines an offer to become superintendent of Merrimac Mills, Lowell, Massachusetts
  • 1865 SeptemberEliot returns to Boston to become Professor of Chemistry in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • 1867-1868Eliot spends winter in Europe
  • 1869Eliot publishes articles in the Atlantic Monthly on The New Education : its Organization
  • 1869 March 12The Harvard Corporation elects Eliot as President of Harvard University
  • 1869 March 13Ellen Derby Peabody Eliot dies
  • 1869 October 19Eliots' inauguration as President of Harvard University
  • 1871Eliot buys a cruising yacht and begins spending summers on the coast of Maine
  • 1877 October 30Eliot marries Grace Mellen Hopkinson
  • 1881Eliot builds a summer cottage at Northeast Harbor, Maine
  • 1894Harvard faculties commemorate Eliot's twenty-fifth anniversary as president
  • 1897 March 24Eliot's son Charles dies
  • 1904 March 20Harvard honors Eliot on his seventieth birthday
  • 1908 October 26Eliot sends in his resignation from the Harvard University presidency
  • 1909 May 19Eliot's resignation takes effect
  • 1909Eliot accepts a proposal from P.F. Collier and Son to edit the Harvard Classics
  • 1911-1912Eliot travels around the world as an emissary of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (November 5, 1911 to August 10, 1912)
  • 1912Eliot urges the election of Woodrow Wilson as President of the United States
  • 1914Eliot supports the United States policy of neutrality in World War I, but urges the complete defeat of Germany
  • 1919Eliot advocates the adoption of the Treaty of Versailles and United States entrance into the League of Nations
  • 1924 March 20Harvard commemorates Eliot's ninetieth birthday
  • 1924 August 16Grace Mellen Hopkinson Eliot dies
  • 1926 August 22Charles William Eliot dies at Northeast Harbor, Maine
1834 March 20
Charles William Eliot is born in Boston, Massachusetts.
1849
Eliot graduates from Boston Public Latin School; enters Harvard College
1853
Eliot graduates from Harvard, second scholar in his class.
1854
Eliot becomes a tutor in mathematics at Harvard
1857
The Eliot family suffers severe financial losses
1858 October 27
Eliot marries Ellen Derby Peabody
1858
Eliot becomes Assistant Professor of Mathematics and Chemistry
1859 November 1
Ellen Derby Peabody Eliot gives birth to son, Charles
1861
Eliot takes charge of the Chemical Laboratory at the Lawrence Scientific School (Harvard University)
1862 August 24
Ellen Derby Peabody Eliot gives birth to a second son, Samuel
1863
Eliot leaves Harvard
1863
Eliot declines a commission as Lieutenant Colonel of the Cavalry from Governor Andrews of Massachusetts
1863-1865
Eliot spends two years in Europe with his family
1865
Eliot declines an offer to become superintendent of Merrimac Mills, Lowell, Massachusetts
1865 September
Eliot returns to Boston to become Professor of Chemistry in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
1867-1868
Eliot spends winter in Europe
1869
Eliot publishes articles in the Atlantic Monthly on The New Education : its Organization
1869 March 12
The Harvard Corporation elects Eliot as President of Harvard University
1869 March 13
Ellen Derby Peabody Eliot dies
1869 October 19
Eliots' inauguration as President of Harvard University
1871
Eliot buys a cruising yacht and begins spending summers on the coast of Maine
1877 October 30
Eliot marries Grace Mellen Hopkinson
1881
Eliot builds a summer cottage at Northeast Harbor, Maine
1894
Harvard faculties commemorate Eliot's twenty-fifth anniversary as president
1897 March 24
Eliot's son Charles dies
1904 March 20
Harvard honors Eliot on his seventieth birthday
1908 October 26
Eliot sends in his resignation from the Harvard University presidency
1909 May 19
Eliot's resignation takes effect
1909
Eliot accepts a proposal from P.F. Collier and Son to edit the Harvard Classics
1911-1912
Eliot travels around the world as an emissary of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (November 5, 1911 to August 10, 1912)
1912
Eliot urges the election of Woodrow Wilson as President of the United States
1914
Eliot supports the United States policy of neutrality in World War I, but urges the complete defeat of Germany
1919
Eliot advocates the adoption of the Treaty of Versailles and United States entrance into the League of Nations
1924 March 20
Harvard commemorates Eliot's ninetieth birthday
1924 August 16
Grace Mellen Hopkinson Eliot dies
1926 August 22
Charles William Eliot dies at Northeast Harbor, Maine
Biographical Essay Introduction

Charles William Eliot (1834-1926) was President of Harvard University from March 12, 1869 to May 19, 1909. He also taught mathematics and chemistry at Harvard University (1858-1863) and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1865-1869).

Eliot was one of the most influential educators of his day and the innovations he introduced at Harvard University influenced higher education throughout the United States. Eliot oversaw the transformation of Harvard from a regional institution to a world-class university.

Early Life and Career

Charles W. Eliot was born into a prominent Boston family with strong ties to Harvard University. His grandfather, Samuel Eliot (1739-1820), amassed the family's fortune in the trans-Atlantic trade. When he died he gave twenty thousand dollars to Harvard University to establish a Greek professorship. His father, Samuel Atkins Eliot (1798-1862), was a Harvard graduate (A.B. 1817), and Treasurer of the University from 1842 to 1853. Eliot's mother, Mary Lyman (1802-1875) came from a wealthy family of traders and textile mill owners.

A bright student, Eliot attended the Boston Public Latin School. At 15 he entered Harvard University with particular interests in English, mathematics, and science. Immediately after graduation in 1853, Eliot became a Tutor in Mathematics (1854-1858).Later he became an Assistant Professor of Mathematics (1858-1861) and Assistant Professor of Chemistry (1858-1863).

Eliot's organizational abilities and administrative skills were evident when he was placed in charge of the Lawrence Scientific School. Here Eliot introduced the first written exams given at Harvard University, emphasized laboratory instruction and exercises, and introduced the beginnings of and elective system of instruction.

When Eliot was denied re-appointment in 1863, he left the United States for two years to study in Europe. Traveling throughout the major capitals of the continent, Eliot studied and surveyed the organization of French and German universities. While on his trip abroad, Eliot was offered the position of the superintendent of Merrimack Mills in Lowell, Massachusetts. After some deliberation, Eliot turned down the opportunity to enter the business world and decided to return to academia with the acceptance of a Professorship of Chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1865-1869).

Harvard Presidency

Widely regarded as a strong administrator and recognized for his innovative educational philosophy, Eliot was selected as Harvard University’s twenty-second president after the resignation of President Thomas Hill in 1869. Under Eliot's forty-year stewardship, Harvard University made the transition from a small college to a modern university.

Eliot's presidency was marked by several major innovations at Harvard University. Among these were
Biographical Essay
  1. the development of graduate schools(medicine, law, and arts and sciences)
  2. the broadening of religious training at the Unitarian divinity school to include many other religious denominations,
  3. the promotion of the "Harvard Annex" which offered women, who were not allowed to earn Harvard degrees, college-level educational opportunities and later, in 1894, chartering Radcliffe College as a degree-granting institution for women,
  4. the establishment of exchange professorships with French and German universities,
  5. and the improvement of the administration of athletics with the introduction of stricter intercollegiate eligibility rules.
  6. Finally, Eliot championed the introduction and expansion of the elective system at Harvard University, by which students were allowed to choose from a wide range of subjects, thereby enlarging liberal arts study.
Biographical Essay Retirement Years

Eliot retired from Harvard University in 1909 as one of the most recognized and influential leaders in education in the United States. Not willing to spend his retirement years quietly, Eliot took an active interest in the social reform movements of his day, lending his name, time, and administrative talents too many organizations. He joined the General Education Board to promote various American educational reforms, served as a board member of the National Education Association, joined the Rockefeller Foundation, was a member of the International Health Board, and was a trustee for the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

As a Vice-President for the National Committee on Mental Hygiene, Eliot took an active interest in promoting preventive medicine. He worked on a wide variety of organizations helping to combat venereal diseases, including the American Social Hygiene Committee of which he was the founding President. As an exponent of the arts, Eliot served as a trustee for the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and became the chairman of the Museum's Special Advisory Committee on Education.Civil Service reform was one of his earliest favorite reform efforts. He became one of the National Civil Service Reform League's vice-presidents and later assumed the position of president.

Eliot spent his retirement years in active service to more than 200 leagues, associations, and committees dedicated to reform and the improvement of society. Each of them involved correspondence of some kind and in many cases Eliot was called upon to contribute an address, publication, or printed statement.

Conclusion

Eliot was one of the most eminent university and college presidents in the United States, reforming and forever changing the most prominent university in the country, Harvard University. He was distinguished by his pioneering leadership in the field of education, his many reform activities, and most importantly, his interest in his fellow man.

Family

Charles William Eliot married Ellen Peabody Eliot (1836-1869) on October 27, 1858. They had four children: Charles (1859), Francis (1861), Samuel Atkins (1862), and Robert (1866). After Ellen’s death in 1869, Eliot married Grace Mellen Hopkinson on October 30, 1877. Grace died on August 16, 1924.
References:
  1. Cotton, Edward H.The Life of Charles W. Eliot.Boston:Small, Maynard, and Company1926.
  2. James, Henry.Charles W. Eliot, President of Harvard University, 1869-1909.Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company,1930.
  3. Perry, Ralph Barton. Charles William Eliot. In Dictionary of American Biography, Vol. VI. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons,1933.
List of Family Members Below is a list of the members of the Charles William Eliot Family. Each is preceded by their relationship to him.
Parents and Siblings
  1. Father Samuel Atkins Eliot (1798-1862)
  2. Mother Mary Lyman Eliot (1802-1875)
  3. Sister Mary Lyman Eliot (1827-1924); married Charles Eliot Guild in 1854.
  4. Sister Elizabeth Lyman Eliot (1831-1895); married Stephen H. Bullard in 1859.
  5. Sister Catherine Atkins Eliot (1836-1882); married Francis H. Storer in 1871.
  6. Sister Frances Anne Eliot (1838-1897); married by Henry Wilder Foote in 1863.
Spouses and children
  1. Wife Ellen Derby Peabody (1836-1869)
  2. Wife Grace Hopkinson Eliot (1846-1924)
  3. Son Charles (1859-1897)
  4. Son Francis (b.1861)
  5. Son Samuel Atkins (1862-1950)
  6. Son Robert (1866-1867)
In-laws
  1. Father-in-law Ephraim Peabody (1807-1856)
  2. Mother-in-law Mary Jane Derby Peabody (1807-1892)
  3. Brother-in-law Francis Greenwood Peabody (1847-1936)
  4. Brother-in-law Robert Swain Peabody (1845-1917)
  5. Sister-in-law Anna Huidekoper Peabody (b.1838)

Series and Subseries in the Collection

  1. Biographical Materials
  2. ___Birthday Greetings
  3. ___Boston Public Latin School
  4. ___Committees and Clubs
  5. ___Ephemera
  6. ___Honors conferred upon Charles W. Eliot
  7. ___Letters concerning the writing of Eliot's biography by Henry James
  8. ___Letters received by Eliot on his selection as President of Harvard University and the death of his wife
  9. ___Photograph of Eliot and his family during Christmas in Bermuda
  10. ___Dwelling-house Construction
  11. ___Writings about Charles W. Eliot
  12. ___Papers of Samuel Eliot and Samuel Atkins Eliot
  1. Correspondence
  2. ___General Correspondence Group 1
  3. ___General Correspondence Group 2
  4. ___General Correspondence Group 3
  5. ___Family Correspondence
  6. ___Invitations
  1. Subject Files
  1. Writings
  2. ___College Themes
  3. ___A survey of mineral collections at the Paris Exposition of 1867
  4. ___Literary Society Materials
  5. ___Account of a journey through Nova Scotia
  1. Teaching Career
  2. ___Teaching Materials
  3. ___Career and Administrative Files
  1. Scrapbooks

Acquisition Information

Most of the Papers of Charles William Eliot were donated by Eliot to the Harvard University Archives in the 1920s. Additional materials were acquired through donation or purchase. Whenever possible the archivist noted the terms of acquisition in the folder lists below.

The acquisitions are as follows:
  1. 1920s, Charles William Eliot
  2. 1932, James Ford
  3. 1939, G.P. Gardner, Jr.
  4. 1960, Harvard Medical Library
  5. 1973, Paul Weiss
  6. Accession number: 12530; 1992 August 20
  7. Accession number: 14319; 2001 June 6
  8. Accession number: 19549; 2014 October 14

Related Material

  1. Records of the President of Harvard University, President Charles W. Eliot, 1869-1925 (UAI 5.150).
  2. Eliot, Charles W. General folder (HUG 1359)
  3. Eliot, Samuel A. Papers of Samuel Atkins Eliot (HUG 1359.2xx)
  4. Villard, Oswald Garrison, 1872-1949. Correspondence. Houghton Library. Harvard College Library. Letters addressed to Oswald Garrison Villard from Charles W. Eliot, 1897-1919, Folder 1016.
  5. Search HOLLIS (Harvard's online library system) for works by and about Charles William Eliot.

Inventory update

This document last updated 2016 November 2.

Processing Information

The Papers of Charles William Eliot were first classified and described in the Harvard University shelflist prior to 1980 in two collections, the Papers of Charles William Eliot, UAI 15.894 and the Records of the President of Harvard University, President Charles W. Eliot, 1869-1925, UAI 5.150. In 2006, Dominic P. Grandinetti re-processed these papers.

Re-processing included the identification and removal of all non-University materials from both UAI 15.894 and UAI 5.150. These materials were then collated and integrated into this collection. Re-processing also included the rearrangement and rehousing of material into the appropriate containers, the elimination of old box numbers and folders, the renaming of folder titles if necessary, and the establishment of this finding aid.

Researchers should note that Eliot’s initial donation of material has been re-arranged several times since the 1920s and that the original arrangement of his donation has long since been lost. Consequently, during the 2006 re-processing, the archivist attempted to maintain the order of the papers as found with minimal re-arrangement. Exceptions are noted in the series descriptions.

As part of this finding aid, the archivist created a map to old call numbers, box numbers, and folders that were eradicated. This map is located at the end of this finding aid. An online guide to the obsolete call numbers eradicated during processing is also available.

For more information about the early acquisition and processing of these papers see the Librarians' Files, 1897-1937, W.C. Lane, General Correspondence File, 1897-1928, Edw-EW, Box 16, UA III 50.8.10.2.
Link to catalog
Title
Eliot, Charles William, 1834-1926. Papers of Charles William Eliot : an inventory
Author
Harvard University Archives
EAD ID
hua03006

Repository Details

Part of the Harvard University Archives Repository

Holding nearly four centuries of materials, the Harvard University Archives is the principal repository for the institutional records of Harvard University and the personal archives of Harvard faculty, as well as collections related to students, alumni, Harvard-affiliates and other associated topics. The collections document the intellectual, cultural, administrative and social life of Harvard and the influence of the University as it emerged across the globe.

Contact:
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