Monday, August 31, 2015

Copey of Harvard, My Second Great Uncle - 52 Ancestors #35

For this week's 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks writing challenge from blogger Amy Crow Johnson of No Story Too Small, the theme is School Days, since it's back to school time in the U.S.

I have been writing about my direct line ancestors, but I would like to take this opportunity to write about a second great uncle who was quite well known in his time as a professor of English at Harvard College.

Charles Townsend Copeland was born on April 27, 1860, in Calais, Maine, as the oldest child of Henry Clay Copeland and Sarah (Lowell) Copeland. He had a younger brother, Lowell Copeland, and a much younger sister, Sarah Katherine Copeland.

Image courtesy
There is a wonderful biography of him, Copey of Harvard: A man who became a legend during his lifetime, by J. Donald Adams, published in 1960 by Houghton Mifflin Company in Boston, of which I have two copies. Much of what I share comes from this biography, which was written by a former student, and really gives a wonderful taste of the personalities not only of Charles but other members of his family, colleagues at Harvard, and many of his students. Adams' sources include many letters written to Copey, from Copey, and to the author, provided to him during his writing of the book.

There are also some wonderful photographs in the book of him and some of his ancestors, but I can't share them here because I'd probably be violating copyright.


Charles T. Copeland can be found with his family in the 1860, 1870, and 1880 U.S. Censuses in Calais. In 1880, his occupation is listed as "In College." (You can read more about these census records in my post about his father, Henry Clay Copeland.), online database. Year: 1880; Census Place: Calais, Washington, Maine;
Roll: T9_489; E. D. 169; Page 113.3; Record for Henry C. Copeland

Charles attended Harvard University, graduating in 1882. After teaching in a boys' school in New York, which he didn't enjoy, he attended Harvard Law School for one year. He worked for a short time writing book and theater reviews for a couple of different newspapers in Boston, but was dropped from the staff of the Boston Post in 1892. He spent several months back in Calais thinking about what he wanted to do with his life.

J. Donald Adams notes that "ambition burned in him, and he would make no truce with mediocrity; he must be foremost in something. Perhaps his future lay in teaching, for he already knew that he could light lamps in the minds of others, and communicate to them his enthusiasms for what was great and enduring in the written word." (p. 91)

In 1893, 33-year-old Charles Townsend Copeland returned to Harvard to teach English. He was ranked as "instructor" for 17 years, starting out as a teacher of freshman English. With regards to his frustration with teaching college freshmen, J. Donald Adams writes that: "It is interesting to note, at a time [1960] when there is concern over the capacity of college students to express themselves in simple and grammatical English, that there was a similar shaking of heads sixty years ago [1900]." (p. 121)

Harvard 1920 Class Album;
He was known to his students as "Copey," and even told them: "Never call me Professor. I am Mr. Copeland. But you may call me Copey if you like." However, according to Adams, he later formed a dislike of this nickname and asked that friends call him Charles. (p. 233) In addition to teaching, and just as important, he performed public readings from classic literature from the Bible to Charles Dickens to Rudyard Kipling and was in great demand around New England, as well as in Cambridge for his speaking skills.

In 1905, he took over teaching English 12, a writing course, which became his specialty, as he was an especially effective teacher of English composition. He even had his own alumni association (the Charles Townsend Copeland Alumni Association, founded in 1906) which feted him at the Harvard Club of New York every spring where he came to read there before the members and their guests.

His rooms in Hollis Hall (Hollis 15), where he lived from 1904-1932, were a favorite visiting place for the students. He never married, but devoted himself to his teaching, his writing, and his students. The list of his students includes many Pulitzer Prize winners and Helen Keller!

January 17, 1927 Cover of Time Magazine
During the last three years of his teaching career, he was the Boylston Professor of rhetoric and oratory (1925-1928). Even after he retired, for a number of years, he continued to read to the freshmen in the first or second week of classes in September. The college allowed him to remain in his rooms in Hollis Hall as long as he wished, but within a few years, he decided it was not an ideal place for a 72-year-old to live.

He became well-known enough as a national figure that he appeared on the cover of Time Magazine on January 17, 1927. (See for Time Magazine covers from 1923 to the present.)

Although he never authored a full-length book, he compiled The Copeland Reader (1926), an anthology of selections from his favorite works, many of which he had publicly read. After he retired from teaching in 1928, he put together another anthology, The Copeland Translations, published in 1934. He also wrote occasional essays.

In 1932, he moved to an apartment at 5 Concord Avenue in Cambridge (not too far from Harvard), where he lived until the spring of 1952, when his health was failing and his niece and nephew (daughter and son of his sister, Katherine) arranged for him to be moved to the McLean Hospital in Waverly, Massachusetts. At the age of 92, he didn't always recognize where he was or who he was with. He died at McLean on July 24, 1952. He is buried with his family in Calais Cemetery in Calais, Maine. See his FindAGrave memorial.

I descend from Henry Copeland and his wife Sarah Lowell through Copey's younger brother, Lowell Copeland:

Henry Clay Copeland  =  Sarah Lowell
Lowell Copeland
Lowell Townsend Copeland
my mother


  1. This is such a great story!

    1. I forgot how much wonderful information is in the biography of Copey. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  2. I'm intrigued by this post. I know many academics--and none have had a book written about them or been featured on the cover of Time magazine. He sounds like an incredibly interesting person.

    1. He does sound like a very interesting person and I only scratched the surface of what I know. Thanks for the comment.