1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Eliot, Charles William
ELIOT, CHARLES WILLIAM (1834– ), American educationalist, the son of Samuel Atkins Eliot (1798–1862), mayor of Boston, representative in Congress, and in 1842–1853 treasurer of Harvard, was born in Boston on the 20th of March 1834. He graduated in 1853 at Harvard College, where he was successively tutor (1854–1858) and assistant professor of chemistry (1858–1863). He studied chemistry and foreign educational methods in Europe in 1863–1865, was professor of analytical chemistry in the newly established Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1865–1869), although absent fourteen months in Europe in 1867–1868; and in 1869 was elected president of Harvard University, a choice remarkable at once for his youth and his being a layman and scientist. With Johns Hopkins University, Harvard, in his presidency, led in the work of efficient graduate schools. Its elective system, which has spread far, although not originated by President Eliot, was thoroughly established by him, and is only one of many radical changes which he championed with great success. The raising of entrance requirements, which led to a corresponding raising of the standards of secondary schools, and the introduction of an element of choice in these entrance requirements, which allowed a limited election of studies to secondary pupils, became national tendencies primarily through President Eliot’s potent influence. As chairman of a national Committee of Ten (1890) on secondary school studies, he urged the abandonment of brief disconnected “information” courses, the correlation of subjects taught, the equal rank in college requirements of subjects in which equal time, consecutiveness and concentration were demanded, and a more thorough study of English composition; and to a large degree he secured national sanction for these reforms and their working out by experts into a practicable and applicable system. He laboured to unify the entire educational system, minimize prescription, cast out monotony, and introduce freedom and enthusiasm; and he emphasized the need of special training for special work. He was first to suggest (1894) co-operation by colleges in holding common entrance examinations throughout the country, and it was largely through his efforts that standards were so approximated that this became possible. He contended that secondary schools maintained by public funds should shape their courses for the benefit of students whose education goes no further than such high schools, and not be mere training schools for the universities. His success as administrator and man of affairs and as an educational reformer made him one of the great figures of his time, in whose opinions on any topic the deepest interest was felt throughout the country. In November 1908 he resigned the presidency of Harvard, and retired from the position early in 1909, when he was succeeded by Professor Abbott Lawrence Lowell. In December 1908 he was elected president of the National Civil Service Reform League.
His writings include The Happy Life (1896); Five American Contributions to Civilization, and Other Essays and Addresses (1897); Educational Reform, Essays and Addresses 1869–1897 (1898); More Money for the Public Schools (1903); Four American Leaders (1906), chapters on Franklin, Washington, Channing and Emerson; University Administration (1908); and with F. H. Storer, a Compendious Manual of Qualitative Chemical Analysis (Boston, 1869; many times reissued and revised). His annual reports as President of Harvard were notable contributions to the literature of education in America, and he delivered numerous public addresses, many of which have been reprinted.
See “President Eliot’s Administration,” by different hands, a summary of his work at Harvard in 1869–1894, in The Harvard Graduates’ Magazine, vol. 2, pp. 449–504 (Boston, Mass., 1894); and E. Kuhnemann, Charles W. Eliot, President of Harvard (Boston, 1909).
His son, Charles Eliot (1859–1897), graduated at Harvard in 1882, studied landscape architecture at the Bussey Institution of Harvard and in Europe, successfully urged the incorporation of the Massachusetts Trustees of Public Reservations (1891) and of the Metropolitan Park Commission (1892) of Boston, became landscape architect to the Metropolitan Park Commission in 1892, and in 1893, with F. L. Olmsted and J. C. Olmsted, formed the firm of Olmsted, Olmsted & Eliot, which was employed by the Metropolitan Commission. His life was written by his father, Charles Eliot, Landscape Architect (Boston, 1902).