Carl Eugen Guthe was born in Kearney, Nebraska, on June 1, 1893. When his father, Karl, accepted a faculty position in the Department of Physics at the University of Michigan later that year, Guthe's family moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he grew up. Guthe received his bachelor's degree from the University of Michigan in 1914. He received two degrees in anthropology from Harvard University, an M.A. in 1915 and a Ph.D. in 1917.
As a graduate student and after receiving his degrees Guthe participated in archaeological fieldwork in Pecos and Guatemala. In 1922 he was hired by the University of Michigan to lead an expedition to the Philippines to locate Chinese porcelains and bring them back for the university's collections. Guthe accepted the position with the condition that the university establish a Museum of Anthropology within the University Museums to house the collections. His condition was met, and Guthe was named the associate director of the museum that same year. He was named director of the Museum of Anthropology in 1929, and given the additional title of director of the University Museums in 1936.
Guthe was instrumental in the development of both museum and academic programs in anthropology at the university. As a museum administrator, he oversaw the development and expansion of the Museum of Anthropology in its formative years, including the establishment of the Ceramic Repository for the Eastern United States and the Ethnobotanical Laboratory. As a faculty member, he founded the Department of Anthropology with Julian Steward in 1929, and taught some of the first formal courses in anthropology and archaeology at the university. He also developed and organized the first courses in museum science in 1938.
Guthe was an influential force outside the University of Michigan as well. He was the principal founder of the Society for American Archaeology, and wrote the original constitution and bylaws. He also served as the organization's first secretary-treasurer, from 1935 to 1940, and as its president from 1945 to 1946. He was chairman of the Division of Psychology and Anthropology of the National Research Council from 1938 to 1941. He held leadership positions in a number of professional organizations, including terms as president of the Central States Branch of the American Anthropological Association from 1928 to 1929, and as president of the Michigan Academy of Science, Arts and Letters from 1939 to 1940.
Guthe left the University of Michigan in 1944 to become director of the New York State Museum and State Science Service. He held that position until his retirement in 1953. After his retirement, he served as a research associate for the American Association of Museums, for whom he conducted a national survey of museums.
Guthe and his wife, Grace, had three sons, Karl, Alfred (also an anthropologist), and James. Guthe died in Knoxville, Tennessee on July 24, 1974.
(For additional biographical information on Carl E. Guthe, see "Carl Eugen Guthe: 1893-1974" by James B. Griffin and Volney H. Jones, published in American Antiquity in 1976.)