Charles, better known as Carl, Voegelin was born in New York. He earned his A.B. from Stanford in 1927 and his Ph.D. from Berkeley in 1932 where he studied under the famous anthropologists Robert Lowie and Alfred Kroeber. From 1933 to 1935 he was a post-doctoral fellow at Yale, having received fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies and from the National Research Council. Later in 1935 he was appointed Assistant Professor of Anthropology at DePauw University, where he remained for five years. During the summers of 1938-1941 Voegelin also was named Lecturer at the Linguistics Institute sessions held in Ann Arbor and Chapel Hill.
His association with Indiana University came about in part because Eli Lilly wished to see a small group of anthropologists and linguists address themselves to some problems of Indiana prehistory. Because no Department of Anthropology existed in Indiana at that time, Voegelin was made Associate Professor of History in 1941. In 1947 the university established the Department of Anthropology, promoting to Professor and naming him the Chairman, a position he retained until 1966. Carl won Guggenheim Fellowships and was elected to the National Academy of Arts and Sciences, among many recognitions of his leadership in linguistics. He taught in both the Anthropology and Linguistics Departments and he founded a summer field station at Flagstaff, Arizona with the Museum of Northern Arizona.
His long and productive career was capped in 1967 when he was named Distinguished Professor. Following his retirement in 1976 he spent most of his time associated with the University of Hawaii where he was a visiting scholar. In 1983 he was honored with the Distinguished Service Award of the American Anthropological Association and with an Honorary Doctor of Letters from IU.
Carl was a member of various professional societies. At one time he was a member of the Executive Committee of the American Anthropological Association and President of the Linguistic Society of America. He authored numerous journal articles and several books, the most recent being Classification and Index of the World's Languages which he co-authored with his second wife Flo. He founded the journal, Anthropological Linguistics; edited the International Journal of American Linguistics; and launched a monograph series, Indiana University Publications in Anthropology and Linguistics. Lastly, Voegelin founded the Indiana Archives of the Languages of the World.