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William Hoyt Worrell
LSA Minutes

Memorial to
William Hoyt Worrell

William Hoyt Worrell, Professor Emeritus of Semitics, died at Haverhill, Massachusetts, on December 3, 1952. His passing marks a great loss to the University of Michigan and to the world of Near Eastern scholarship.

Worrell was born in Toledo, Ohio, on April 28, 1879, the son of William Clifford and Alta Hoyt Worrell. As a freshman at the University of Michigan in 1899 he worked first in Latin and Greek. He then became a star pupil of James A. Craig in Hebrew. When German, too, came easily, he soonestablished a reputation for learning languages swiftly and by ear. Following his graduation with the A. B. degree in 1903, he studied at the University of Berlin in the following year, then returned to the United States to follow an early religious bent and to graduate from Hartford Theological Seminary with the degree of Bachelor of Divinity in 1906. Having won a fellowship, he spent two more years in Europe, at the Universities of Leipzig and Strassburg. It was at this tine that he began his studies of the Coptic language, that descendant of Ancient Egyptian which is used in the liturgy of the Coptic Church. Worrell returned to the University of Michigan in 1908 and served as Instructor in Semitics for a two-year term. In 1909 he received the degree of Doctor of Philosophy from Strassburg.

From 1910 to 1924, he was associated with the Hartford Seminary Foundation, first as Instructor in Oriental Languages and Hellenistic Greek at the Hartford Theological Seminary and then as Associate Professor and Professor of Phonetics at the Kennedy School of Missions. During this period in his career, he spent the year 1912-13 in Egypt and Syria, where he began his studies in several dialects of Arabic, and the year 1919-20 at Jerusalem, where he was Director of the American School of Oriental Research. Also, from 1921 to 1924 he was Gustav Gottheil Lecturer in Semitic Languages at Columbia University.

Worrell returned to the University of Michigan as Associate Professor of Semitics in 1925, became Professor in 1931, and held the Chairmanship of the Department of Oriental Languages and. Literatures from 1944 till his retirement in 1948. The year 1936-37 was spent in research in Egypt. In 1941-42 he was named Henry Russel Lecturer at the University. He was a corresponding member of the Societe of Archeologie Copte of Cairo, Egypt, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a member of the American Oriental Society, the Linguistic Society of America, the Michigan Academy of Science, Arts, and Letters, and the Research Club at the University.

Worrell's first major publication was an edition of The Coptic Manuscripts in the Freer Collection, the first part of which appeared in 1916 and the first and second parts together in 1923. Four years later, in 1927, he published A Study of Races in the Ancient Near East. In the same year, he collaborated with Richard Gottheil in a work entitled Documents from the Cairo Genizah in the Freer Collection, and pioneered in a fresh interpretation of these medieval Hebrew papers. An edition of The Proverbs of Solomon in Sahidic Coptic appeared in 1931. This was followed by Coptic Sounds in 1931., Coptic Texts from the University of Michigan Collection, published in collaboration with several colleages in 1942, and A Short Account of the Copts, a work which is based on his Henry Russel lecture and gives a sensitive account of the Coptic people. As these titles show, his major contributions lay in the Coptic field. He deciphered and edited a huge mass of Coptic documents. In order to publish them he even designed a font of type which is today known as Worrell Coptic. His Coptic Sounds is a penetrating phonologic treatment of the Coptic language and suggests trenchant conclusions on the pronunciation of its predecessors, Ancient Egyptian and Demotic. These and other contributions were the result of prodigious labor and brilliant insight and will remain as monuments to one of the brightest scholarly careers enjoyed at Michigan during the first half of the twentieth century.

Worrell's colleagues will remember him as an eager originator, collector, and recounter of stories and for his incisive comments on man and society. His article, "On the Pursuit of Useless Studies," written after his retirement and published in the Michigan Alumnus Quarterly Review, contains the wistful and humorously ironic reflections of a scholar who looks back upon a lifetime of endeavor in a little-known field. Those who knew Worrell will continue to be startled at the successive hobbies which he took up and mastered. In his late fifties he became an ardent short-wave radio operator, conducting his own station and thus engaging in daily conversations with friends on Cape Cod. He next took up the craft of woodworking and began to turn out prize-winning bowls and dishes. In his last years he revived an early flair for music. Both in Ann Arbor and at Melbourne Beach in Florida, to which he retired, he played the clarinet in small wood-wind groups. He took great pride in the publication of a chapter on the mechanics of the clarinet in William H. Stubbins' text on the teaching of this instrument.

Worrell is survived by his wife, Anne MacKenzie Worrell, and by his son, Francis. Both were his companions at home, in the field, and in many adventurous vacations on Cape Cod, the Dakotas, and finally at Atkinson, New Hampshire, which he came to love so well that it is his final resting place.

George G. Cameron
James E. Dunlap
Joseph K. Yamagiwa, Chairman