He was born in on January 24, 1835 in Derby, Vermont, and he studied with Andrew Dickson White, Cornell's first president, at the University of Michigan, from where he graduated in 1861. Adams was then assistant professor of Latin and history at Michigan from 1863 to 1867, and full professor of history from 1867 to 1885. Having studied in Germany, France, and Italy in 1867 and 1868, he followed the German method of instruction, and in 1869 and 1870 established an historical seminary which proved of great value in promoting the study of history and political science. In 1881 he was made non-resident professor of history at Cornell, and in 1885 succeeded White as president of Cornell. He was forced to resign at Cornell due to conflicts with the faculty over honorary degrees and control of faculty appointments.
^"Cornell's New President". New York Times. November 20, 1885. Retrieved 2009-07-17. "The inauguration of Charles Kendall Adams as President of Cornell University was successfully carried out to-day. The day was not a pleasant one for the march from the university buildings to the armory, but all passed off well despite the clouds ..."
^"Charles Kendall Adams's Will." (PDF). New York Times. August 10, 1902. Retrieved 2009-07-17. "The will of the late Charles Kenaall Adams, formerly President of the University of Wisconsin, who died recently at Redlands, Cal. has been filed for ..."