Francis Willey Kelsey (1858-1927)

Francis Willey Kelsey, for whom the Archaeological Museum at the University of Michigan is named, was born in Ogden, New York, on May 23, 1858. After graduating from the University of Rochester in 1880, he went on to study in Europe from 1883 to 1885. Kelsey received his Ph.D. from the University of Rochester in 1886 and became a professor of Latin at Lake Forest College from 1882 to 1889. In 1889, he became Professor of the Latin Language and Literature and assumed the chair previously held by Professor Henry Frieze at the University of Michigan. He was awarded an honorary LL.D. degree from the University of Rochester in 1910.

Kelsey was respected by both his students and colleages as an educator, an innovator, an advisor, a writer, and an editor, and his accomplishments kept him at the forefront of his discipline. His Greek and Latin in American Education (1911) revealed him a champion of a sound classical education. His translations and commentaries on Caesar’s De bello gallico; Cicero’s Cato Maior de senectute, Laelius de amicitia, and Orationes et epistolae selectae; Lucretius’ De rerum natura; Ovid’s Carmina selecta; and Xenophon’s Anabasis (with Andrew C. Zenos) are still considered important resources even today. He translated August Mau’s Pompeii, Its Life and Art and was at work on a huge detailed study of Pompeii when he died in 1927. The many articles he contributed to scholarly and popular journals reflected his interests in education, classics, religion, and archaeology. From 1890 until his death, he was editor (with Professor Percy Gardner) of the Handbooks of Archaeology and Antiquities published by Macmillan; he edited with Professor Henry Sanders more than fifteen volumes in the Humanistic Series published by the University of Michigan. 

Kelsey was active in many professional societies also reflecting his broad interests; these included the Schoolmaster’s Club, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Historical Association, the Classical Association of the Middle West and South, the Classical Association of Great Britain, and the Deutsches Archeologisches Institut. He was a corresponding member of the Academie des Inscriptions et Belle-Lettres of Paris. Kelsey served as President of the American Philological Association between 1906 and 1907 as well as President of the Archaeological Institute of America from 1907 to 1912. During his five-year tenure, the Institute launched new ventures, such as sponsorship of an expedition to Cyrene in 1910-1911. Kelsey was also instrumental in shaping policy for the schools of archaeology both here and abroad: he helped establish new schools in addition to maintaining a continued active interest in the management of those already in operation.

Kelsey’s interest in archaeology prompted him to organize five expeditions to the Near East for the University of Michigan from 1919 until his death. In 1920 Kelsey supervised a detailed survey of the battlefields of Julius Caesar in France and Belgium; he then went to Turkey where he explored Roman ruins and studied ancient manuscripts found there. Excavations at Pisidion-Antioch and Sizma in 1924 revealed ruins of a church where Paul may have preached as well as fine examples of Roman antiquities. He directed a 1925 expedition to Carthage, and excavations in Karanis revealed a typical Egyptian town in the Greco-Roman period.

Kelsey also made numerous and lasting contributions to the University of Michigan. His deep love of culminated in his service for many years as President of the Musical Society, and he was instrumental in developing the Choral Union Series, bringing renowned performers to campus, securing funds to build Hill Auditorium, and even acquiring the great organ that was exhibited at the Chicago World’s Fair, which was brought to Michigan as a memorial to Henry Frieze. Kelsey also actively participated in maintaining the aesthetic beauty of the Michigan campus, building and stocking the Pendleton Library, and soliciting benefactors to underwrite several scholarship and fellowship funds.

Kelsey sought to attract the best minds to the Latin Department and was tireless in his efforts to secure funds for scholarly projects that would enhance the reputation of the University. One of these projects was the Humanistic Series, which encouraged scholars to publish manuscripts that would stand as singular contributions to scholarship and win international recognition. The first volume of the Humanistic Series appeared in 1904. Philanthropist Charles Freer of Detroit, also impressed with Kelsey’s idea, chose the Humanistic Series as the medium to make available facsimiles of his manuscripts to scholars. Because of this collaboration with Kelsey, Freer left a bequest to the University in order to continue publication in connection with his collections even though they were already deeded to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. Kelsey’s association with Charles Freer also brought to the University the Dattari Coin collection, an outstanding assortment consisting mainly of Egyptian coins dated from just before the founding of Alexandria to the middle of the fourth century A.D. Other coin collections came to the University through Kelsey, and it was his contacts through Freer which led to the acquisition of the great papyri collection.

Charles Freer and Thomas Spencer Jerome, an alumnus of the University of Michigan, were close friends. Although it is not clear how Kelsey became acquainted with either gentleman, Kelsey’s diaries reveal that he knew them well enough to have been invited to lunch at their villa in Capri, Italy, in 1901. After Jerome died in 1914, Kelsey went to Italy in 1915 to oversee Jerome’s estate, divide his library collection between the University of Michigan and the American Academy in Rome, and rescue his monumental manuscript on “Roman Morals”, which he was writing at the time of his death. This manuscript was to be published by G.P. Putnam.

Returning to America by ship, Kelsey met Dr. David Askren, a missionary and physician, then working in the Fayoum district of Egypt; through him, Kelsey heard of the existence of rare papyri. Appointing Askren an agent for the University and working through Maurice Nahman, an Egyptian dealer in antiquities to whom Freer had introduced him, Kelsey was able to secure a number of rare and valuable papyri in 1920. These were divided between the University of Wisconsin and Michigan; however, Michigan’s collection is considered even today to be the finest in the Western hemisphere.

As a further word regarding Kelsey, Jerome, and Freer, Kelsey assigned to Professor John Winter of the University of Michigan the task of preparing Jerome’s manuscript for publication. Working from Jerome’s unfinished manuscript and detailed notes, Aspects of the Study of Roman History was finally published in 1923. Kelsey’s advice was instrumental in carrying out Jerome’s directive to the University to “further historical research” by establishing the Jerome Lectureship at the University and the American Academy in Rome. The Jerome Lectures bring outstanding classical scholars to Ann Arbor and Rome biannually to deliver a series of talks. Winter was selected to present the first Jerome Lecture..

Kelsey’s humanitarianism led him to assist other poor scholars as well by quietly asking benefactors for anonymous assistance to them. His efforts also crossed nationalistic lines. German colleagues acknowledged Kelsey’s efforts in securing private contributions after the war to continue their work on the great Latin Thesaurus. He aided in the work of the Near East Relief Committee after the Armenian Massacre: he was Secretary in the State of Michigan for the Belgium Relief Committee, whose mission was to feed and clothe the children in Belgium after World War I.

Kelsey also was an active participant in his church and a dedicated family man. He married Isabel Badger in 1886 and had two daughters and one son. He returned to Ann Arbor after the 1926 expedition in poor health, yet he managed to keep up his correspondence until he died on May 14, 1927. He is buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Ann Arbor.

Francis Kelsey left behind a remarkable series of contributions to the academic world in general and the University of Michigan in particular. His papers are an accurate reflection of those contributions and his many interests.


Report by Meilee D. Bridges

CFC Graduate Research Assistant

Summer 2002


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