William Coperthwaite

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William S. Coperthwaite
Monticello, Maine
Died(2013-11-26)November 26, 2013
NationalityUnited States
Known forA Handmade Life: In Search of Simplicity (2002);
Yurt designs;

William S. Coperthwaite (1930-2013), a native of Maine, U.S., pioneered yurt building in the United States.[1] For his book A Handmade Life: In Search of Simplicity, he received the Nautilus Book Award.[2]

Childhood and family[edit]

William Coperthwaite was born in Monticello, Maine,[3] the son of William Sherman Coperthwaite, Sr. and Lillian Coperthwaite. He had three sisters and was the youngest of the four children. Within a few years the family relocated to South Portland, where his father continued jobs as a carpenter, stableman, blacksmith and farmer.[4][5] He graduated from South Portland High School in 1949, being active on the school paper, varsity track, and serving as representative to the Maine Student Legislature.[6] He was awarded a State of Maine Competitive Scholarship.[6]


William Coperthwaite attended Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, where he majored in art history.[7] His extra-curricular activities included track and pole vaulting,[3][8] and he served as vice-president of the Outing Club.[9] He later enrolled in the innovative Putney Graduate School of Teacher Education (Antioch University New England) Master's degree program[7] and in 1972 was awarded a Ph.D in education from Harvard University.[3] Coperthwaite's Harvard research examined the process of instructing groups of students on yurt construction.[1] His dissertation was on native Alaskan culture.[5] One of the many yurts he built leading student groups (in 1976 on the new campus of World College West in Marin County, California) became the subject of a student-composed song; "Yurt Fever". Its final verse concluded with "...a person can stray all over the place, but a Yurt is always a round".

Philosophy and lifestyle[edit]

"Those who guide us, who inspire us, having gone our way before, are now partners with us in building a better world. Any success we have is theirs as well as ours. To copy or imitate them should be only the beginning--the apprentice stage of life. It is fine to think, 'what will a Shaker do? What would Scott Nearing have said? What would Gandhi have thought?' These are good exercises for the mind, a way of weighing ideas and contemplated actions, valuable so long as we do not follow anyone blindly.

"Only by standing on their shoulders can we build a better world, but we should use the wise as advisers, not masters."[10]

“Each of us tries to live in the best way we know how. I want to contribute to the problems of the world as little as possible. I really believe we must find simpler ways to live or society will collapse.”[5]


William Coperthwaite died on November 26, 2013[11] in a single-car accident, when high winds and freezing rain created hazardous driving conditions, on his way to celebrate Thanksgiving with friends[12]


  1. ^ a b Becky Kemery. "Yurts - Round and Unbound". Alternatives. Retrieved 14 December 2010.
  2. ^ "The Nautilus library". Nautilus Book Awards. Retrieved 14 December 2010.
  3. ^ a b c Baldwin, Letitia (September–October 2007). "Full Circle Living William Coperthwaite and His Yurts". Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors (2). Retrieved 29 Nov 2013.
  4. ^ "1940 United States Federal Census [database on-line]". Ancestry.com. Retrieved Nov 29, 2013.
  5. ^ a b c Anstead, Alicia (11 Oct 2003). "A Separate Peace; Machiasport man finds happiness living 'the best way I know'". Bangor Daily News. Retrieved 30 Nov 2013.
  6. ^ a b "Five Maine Boys Win Bowdoin Scholarships". Portland Press Herald. Jun 13, 1949. Retrieved 30 Nov 2013.
  7. ^ a b Cox, Tim (28 Nov 2013). "Machiasport man killed in Washington crash known for unusual home, lifestyle". Bangor Daily News. Retrieved 29 Nov 2013.
  8. ^ Bowdoin Bugle in U.S. SchoolYearbooks [database on-line]. Brunswick, Maine: Ancestry. 1952. p. 48.
  9. ^ Bowdoin Bugle in U.S. School Yearbooks [database on-line]. Brunswick, Maine: Ancestry. 1952. p. 34.
  10. ^ Coperthwaite, William (2002). A Handmade Life: In Search of Simplicity. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing. p. 13. ISBN 9781933392479.
  11. ^ Cox, Tim (Nov 27, 2013). "Machiasport man killed in Washington crash known for unusual home, lifestyle". Bangor Daily News.
  12. ^ Hench, David (27 Nov 2013). "Storm to bring travel troubles to Maine, New England". Portland Press Herald. Retrieved 30 Nov 2013.

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