Born in Glensboro, Anderson County, Ky., on May 31, 1870. Attorney. Author. University of Kentucky, Ll.B., 1912; Ll.D., 1930. Died, July 25, 1964.
Although he began the practice of law in Lexington following receipt of his law degree from the University of Kentucky in 1912, he was better known as an author and as an authority on Abraham Lincoln. His Lincoln collection was one of the most extensive in the country. In addition to the honorary degree awarded him by his alma mater in 1970, he previously had received an honorary Litt.D., from Lincoln Memorial University, Harrogate, Tennessee (1945) for his contributions to Lincoln scholarship.
He served as Corporate Counsel for the City of Lexington, 1920-32, and continued in the private practice of law with the firm Stoll, Muir, Townsend and Park, until a stroke incapacitated him in later life.
He was Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Lexington Public Library; member of the National Lincoln Sesquicentennial Commission, and Chairman of the Kentucky Lincoln Sesquicentennial Commission, later serving as Vice-Chairman of the Kentucky Civil War Centennial Commission.
He was a member of the Board of Directors of the Abraham Lincoln Association, and a Trustee of Lincoln Memorial University. He was on the Executive Committee of the Henry Clay Memorial Foundation, President of the Kentucky Civil War Roundtable from its founding (he was one of the founders) until he stepped down 11 years later, and President of the University of Kentucky Alumni Association.
His books included: "Abraham Lincoln, Defendant" (1923); "Lincoln the Litigant" (1925); "Lincoln and His Wife's Home Town" (1929); "Lincoln and Liquor" (1934); "The Boarding School of M.T. Lincoln" (1941); "Lincoln's Rebel Niece" (1945), and "Lincoln and The Bluegrass: Slavery and Civil War in Kentucky" (1955).
He wrote the tribute to Nancy Hanks which appears on the bronze tablet at the Lincoln marriage temple enshrined at Harrodsburg, and wrote the introduction to "Famous Speeches" (of Abraham Lincoln), published in 1935. In 1932, he completed and revised "President Lincoln", written by Dr. William E. Barton, father of Bruce Barton, who had asked that Townsend complete the volume.
He also contributed numerous articles on Lincoln to a number of publications and wrote a newspaper column, "Three Minutes with Lincoln." He was a close friend of Carl Sandburg, also a biographer.
Of all the items in his Lincoln collection, he was most proud of a pocket watch which was worn by the martyred President at the time of his assassination. The watch had been given by Robert Todd Lincoln, the President's son, to Ben Hardin Helm, who presented it to Townsend on the latter's birthday in 1944.
In 1930, the University awarded him the honorary Doctor of Laws degree.
William Henry Townsend was named to the Hall of Distinguished Alumni in February 1965.