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UAI 15.894

Eliot, Charles William, 1834-1926. Papers of Charles William Eliot : an inventory

Harvard University Archives


Harvard University

© President and Fellows of Harvard College

Descriptive Summary

Call No.: UAI 15.894
Repository: Harvard University Archives
Creator: Eliot, Charles William, 1834-1926
Title: Papers of Charles William Eliot, 1807-1945.
Date(s): 1807-1945.
Quantity: 40.73 cubic feet (99 document boxes, 22 portfolio boxes, 2 flat boxes)
Abstract: 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.

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:
  • 1920s, Charles William Eliot
  • 1932, James Ford
  • 1939, G.P. Gardner, Jr.
  • 1960, Harvard Medical Library
  • 1973, Paul Weiss
  • Accession number: 12530; 1992 August 20
  • Accession number: 14319; 2001 June 6
  • Accession number: 19549; 2014 October 14
  • 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

    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.

    Related Material




    Biographical Essay

    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
    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.
    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.
    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.


    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

    Spouses and children


    Series and Subseries in the Collection

    Scope of the Collection

    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.

    Inventory update

    This document last updated 2016 November 2.

    Container List