Born in 1858 on a farm in upstate New York, Francis Kelsey won prizes for Latin, Greek, and history as an undergraduate at the University of Rochester and joined the faculty of Lake Forest University immediately upon graduation in 1880. There he met Mary Isabelle Badger, whom he married in 1886. The couple had three children: Ruth, Charlotte, and Easton. Their home life revolved around the Presbyterian church, musical evenings, and reading the classics. Kelsey's deep humanitarian concern led him to launch the Belgian Relief Fund to care for Belgian children orphaned in World War I and to work with the American Committee for Relief in the Near East.