Harry Everett Townsend was born in Illinois. Moving to Chicago, he enrolled in the Art Institute of Chicago and studied under Lorado Taft. After two years he moved to Wilmington Delaware where he trained under Howard Pyle, followed by a brief period of study at the Académie Moderne in Paris. He settled in New York and worked as a freelance illustrator for such magazines as Scribner's and Harper's. With the onset of World War I, Townsend was one of eight war artists chosen by the U.S. government to accompany the Allied Expeditionary Force. With the end of the War, the war artists unit was disbanded. Townsend moved to Norwalk, Connecticut, where he established a studio and taught illustration.