Charles Coffin Jewett (1816-1868), librarian and professor of modern languages, was born in Lebanon, Maine, on August 12, 1816. He studied at the Latin School in Salem, Massachusetts, and entered Dartmouth College in 1831. In his sophomore year he transferred to Brown, and with other members of the “conscientious class” of 1835, declined to receive his degree in that year, because of the method of distribution of Commencement parts. He did accept the degree in 1838. On leaving Brown, he taught for two years at Uxbridge Academy before entering Andover Theological Seminary. At Andover his special interests were philology and Oriental Languages and Eastern Antiquities, while serving as librarian of the Seminary and assisting in the preparation of a catalogue of the books. He graduated from Andover in 1840, and, intending to be a missionary in the East, was about to embark for foreign study and research, but he missed his ship’s sailing and settled for taking charge of Day’s Academy in Wrentham, Massachusetts, for a year. In 1841 the Joint Library Committee at Brown employed him “to make out a new and improved Catalogue of the University Library, and superintend the printing of the same; and that during the period in which he shall be so occupied, he be charged with the ordinary duties of Librarian.” The catalogue, when completed in 1843, received favorable notice in the North American Review and other publications. Jewett was appointed professor of modern languages and literature, and, in the fall of 1843, was sent to Europe to buy books for the library. Returning in 1845, having bought seven thousand books in French, German, and Italian, and visited the principal libraries of Europe, he took up his duties as librarian and professor of modern languages. During his six months in England, he became well acquainted with the workings of the British Museum and with its librarian, Anthony Panizzi. Several years later, when the Commissioners to Inquire into the Constitution and Management of the British Museum investigating Panizzi’s management, Jewett’s reputation had grown to such an extent that his letter in Panizzi’s defense played an important part in his vindication.
Jewett’s reputation also won for him appointment as assistant secretary and librarian of the newly founded Smithsonian Institution in 1848. In 1851 the Institution published Notices of Public Libraries in the United States of America, and Jewett began plans for a compilation of a union catalogue of American libraries and for a method of stereotyped plates (an anticipation of Library of Congress printed cards) for individual titles, from which catalogues of various libraries could be printed. His plans came to an end, as his view of the Smithsonian as a great reference library came in conflict with that of the Secretary, Joseph Henry, that it was to be an instrument of scientific investigation. The result of this disagreement was Jewett’s dismissal in July of 1854. At the “Librarian’s Convention” of 1853, Jewett was chosen to preside, and, in opening the proceedings, observed, “We meet for the purpose of seeking mutual instruction and encouragement in the discharge of the quiet and unostentatious labors of our vocation, for which each at his separate post finds perhaps but little sympathy, for which each when at home must derive enthusiasm only from within himself and from the silent masters of his daily communion.” True to his vocation, Jewett turned down a college presidency and in 1854 accepted the opportunity to purchase and arrange the books needed for the new Boston Public Library. When the library opened in 1858, he was selected as superintendent. His card catalogue and rules for government of the library became models for other libraries. His labors were abruptly ended by his sudden death on January 9, 1868 in Braintree, Massachusetts.