Charles Burton Fahs was born in Brooklyn, New York on September 8, 1908. He received a B.S., an M.A., and a Ph.D. in political science from Northwestern University. Fahs specialized in international studies, with a focus on the Far East. Upon graduating in 1933, Fahs accepted a fellowship from the General Education Board (GEB) that allowed him to study Japanese abroad. These studies included a year each at Kyoto Imperial University (1934-1935) and Tokyo Imperial University (1935-1936).
At the end of his fellowship years, Fahs took up a teaching position at Pomona College, but left during World War II in order to lend his expertise to the Far Eastern Division of the Office of Military Strategic Services. By 1945 Fahs had become chief of the division.
In 1946 Fahs accepted the position of Assistant Director of the Humanities Division at the Rockefeller Foundation (RF); by 1950 he had been promoted to director. During his tenure as director he lobbied to broaden university programs in the humanities and the social sciences and especially encouraged the growth of area studies. Fahs supported American scholarship in the cultures and politics of the non-Western world. He argued that this knowledge was both valuable in its own right and could also have profound effects on American foreign policy and on America’s reputation abroad.
Fahs resigned from the RF in 1961. He later served as the Minister-Counselor for Cultural and Pacific Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo. In 1967 he and his wife settled in Oxford, Ohio, where Fahs had been appointed Director of International Studies at Miami University.
Charles Fahs died on February 26, 1980, at the age of 71. His papers were donated to the Rockefeller Archive Center (RAC) by his widow, Jamie Ross Fahs, and they are available for use by researchers. His officer's diaries are digitized and can be accessed through the RAC's online collections.