Clark Kerr was born in Reading, Pennsylvania on May 17, 1911 to Samuel W. and Caroline (Clark) Kerr. He married Catherine (Kitty) Spaulding in Los Angeles, California in 1934, and they had three children: Clark Edgar, Alexander William, and Caroline Mary. Kerr died in 2003, in El Cerrito, California, shortly after completing his memoirs, The Gold and the Blue: A Personal Memoir of the University of California, 1949-1967.
Kerr received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1932 from Swarthmore College, his Master of Arts degree in 1933 from Stanford University, and his PhD in economics in 1939 from the University of California at Berkeley (Berkeley). His first teaching position was at Antioch College from 1937 to 1938, and he went on to teach at International College in Elsinore, Denmark; Stanford University; the University of Washington; and Berkeley. From 1945 to 1952, he was the Director of the Institute of Industrial Relations at Berkeley. He became the first Chancellor at Berkeley in 1952, a post he held until 1958, when he became President of the University of California system. While president he lead the expansion of the University system by three new campuses and wrestled with growing student unrest and the Free Speech Movement. In 1967, under pressure from Governor Ronald Reagan, the Board of Regents fired him, he and resumed his teaching and research. He led the influential Carnegie Commission on Higher Education until 1973 and its successor the Carnegie Council on Policy Issues in Higher Education until 1979.