Southern Methodist University

James Atkins papers

A Guide to the Collection


Creator: Atkins, James
Title: James Atkins papers
Dates: 1874-1965
Abstract: This collection documents the work of Methodist Episcopal Church, South minister, educator, and bishop James Atkins (1850-1923). Bishop Atkins played a leading role in the founding of Southern Methodist University (SMU).
Accession No: Collection BridArch 3.001
Extent: 9 boxes (6 linear feet)
Language: Material is in English
Repository Bridwell Library, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University

Biographical Note

Methodist Episcopal Church, South minister and educator James Atkins (1850-1923) was born on April 18, 1850 in Knoxville, Tennessee to James Atkins and Mary Jackson. James Atkins, Sr. served as a minister in the Holston Conference for more than 34 years. In 1866 the family moved to Emory, Virginia and Atkins began coursework at Emory and Henry College. However, in 1869 he was forced to abandon his studies due to family financial difficulties. Atkins taught school in rural eastern Tennessee before becoming the principal of Blue Springs Academy, south of Cleveland, Tennessee, in 1870.

On October 31, 1870 Atkins was granted a license to preach from the Cleveland, Tennessee Methodist Episcopal Church, South (MECS), where his father was pastor. In 1871 he returned to Emory and Henry College, eventually receiving a Master of Arts honoris causa. In 1872 he was admitted on trial into the Holston Conference. During the next six years he served in Jonesboro, Virginia; Abingdon, Virginia; and Asheville, North Carolina. In 1877 he was elected Secretary of the Board of Missions of the Holston Conference.

From 1879 to 1896, Atkins served as president of two colleges. At Asheville Female College in Ashville, North Carolina he held this position from 1879 through 1889. For the next four years (1889-1893), he worked at his alma mater, Emory and Henry College. He returned to Asheville Female College from 1893 to 1896. In 1890 he received a Doctor of Divinity degree (D.D.) from Trinity College (later known as Duke University) in Durham, North Carolina. Atkins ended his tenure as college president in 1896 to become the Sunday School Editor in Nashville, Tennessee.

Atkins was elected bishop in 1906. Though he remained a resident of North Carolina throughout his episcopacy, Bishop Atkins served many important roles throughout the MECS. He led the denomination’s Commission on Education in 1911 as it established Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. Atkins assisted in fundraising for the building of the university and participated in the laying of the Dallas Hall cornerstone in 1912.

In 1914 Atkins was elected President of the General Sunday School Board of the MECS. He later served as Chairman of the Centenary Commission, a group that raised $50 million in support of home and foreign missions in 1918 and 1919. Following World War I the MECS used some Centenary funds to open missions in Belgium, Poland, and Czechoslovakia. The denomination then named Bishop Atkins first superintendent of the new European mission field. In addition to his work with religious education and missions, Atkins was also instrumental in the founding of the Southern Methodist Assembly at Lake Junaluska, North Carolina.

On September 14, 1876 Atkins married Ella Maria Branner. The couple had four children: Mary Lyons, Love Branner, James, and Hilliard. Ella Branner Atkins died on August 3, 1916. On June 7, 1921 James Atkins married Eva Rhodes.

Bishop Atkins died on December 5, 1923 in Little Rock, Arkansas and was buried in Waynesville, North Carolina.


Chappell, E. B. "James Atkins: Christian Leader and Seer."The Methodist Quarterly Review 73, no. 2 (April 1, 1924): 215-231.

Duncan, Watson B. "Bishop James Atkins, D.D. "Minutes of the South Carolina Annual Conference (1924): 91-94.

Harmon, Nolan B., Ed. Encyclopedia of World Methodism. Nashville: United Methodist Publishing House, 1974. "James Atkins," by Jesse E. Earl.

Grimes, Lewis Howard. A History of the Perkins School of Theology. Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1993.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

Correspondence, writings, reports, printed material, publications, financial records, newspaper clippings, photographs, scrapbooks and artifacts comprise the James Atkins papers. This collection has been divided into three series: Professional Material, Personal Material, and Posthumous Material.

All folder titles for this collection were assigned by the archivist. All dates in brackets are estimations. Due to the organization of the collection as found, some items are missing pages or could be out of order.

Arrangement of the Collection

The collection is organized into three series:
Series 1: Professional Material, [1880]-1924
  • Subseries 1: Correspondence, 1902-1923
  • Subseries 2: Atkins’s Writings, [1880]-1923
Series 2: Personal Material, 1874-1926
  • Subseries 1: Correspondence, 1901-1923
  • Subseries 2: Scrapbooks, 1874-1925
  • Subseries 3: Artifacts, [1880-1923]
Series 3: Posthumous Material, 1923-1965


Access to Collection:

The collection is open for research use. Patrons must sign the Acknowledgement of Legal Responsibility and Privacy Rights form before using this collection.

Publication Rights:

Permission to publish materials must be obtained from the Head of Special Collections of the Bridwell Library.

Copyright Statement:

It is the responsibility of the user to obtain copyright authorization.

Sensitive Materials Statement:

Manuscript collections and archival records may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy laws and regulations. Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals represented in this collection without the consent of those individuals may have legal ramifications for which Bridwell Library assumes no responsibility.

Access Terms

This collection is indexed under the following terms in the Southern Methodist University Libraries' online catalog. Researchers desiring related materials may search the catalog using these terms.
Atkins, James, 1850-1923.
Methodist Episcopal Church, South -- Clergy.
Methodist Episcopal Church, South -- Bishops.
Christian education -- Methodist Episcopal Church, South.

Related Materials

F. D. Leete collection on Methodist Bishops, Bridwell Library, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.

James Atkins Papers, #32, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

[Identification of item], James Atkins Papers, Bridwell Library, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.

Acquisition Information

This collection was a gift of Joseph T. Shackford, grandson of James Atkins, in 1978.

Processing Information

This collection was arranged and described in 2011 by Elizabeth Lanier.

Finding aid written by

Elizabeth Lanier, 2011

Encoded by

Ada Negraru, 2011

Detailed Description of the Collection

Series 1: Professional Material, [1880]-1924

This series contains all items related to Atkins’s work in the Methodist faith community. The majority of the material consists of correspondence and religious writings for sermons or publication. Some items relate to Atkins’s work on the Sunday School Board and his involvement with the Missionary Centenary Fund. In addition, there are three documents regarding the founding of Southern Methodist University.
Box Folder
211A 1 Annual and General Conference materials 1918
2 Appointments, North Arkansas Conference 1923
3 Bible [1885-1923]
4 Board of Missions Executive Committee Meeting Minutes 1923
5 Bookmark from the Methodist Centenary Jubilee Visit to the Church of Naples 1919
6 Bulletins issued by the Information Office of the Federal Prohibition Unit and Narcotic Division 1923
7 Centenary Fund [1918-1923]
8 Clergy Railroad Fare Passes and Booklets 1922-1923
9 Conferences Held at Lake Junaluska, North Carolina 1923
10 Date books 1914-1922
11 The Doctrines and Discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South 1922
12 The Episcopal Address for the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South 1922
13 The Episcopal Address for the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South – drafts and related correspondence 1922
14 Financial documents 1923
15 Founder’s Fund Society [1900-1923]
16 The History of the Relocation of the Scarritt Bible and Training School [1900-1923]
17 Inter-denominational publications 1921-1923
Box Folder
2004 7 Map of Prague (oversize) [1900-1923]
Box Folder
211A 18 Methodist Mission Committee for Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia 1920
19 Methodist booklets [1900-1923]
20 Methodist periodicals 1902-1924
Box Folder
2004 6 Methodist periodicals (oversize)
Box Folder
211A 21 Newspaper clippings featuring Atkins 1907-1920
22 Newspaper clippings 1920
23 Note to the African World 1922
24 Printed material featuring Atkins 1921-1923
25 Report of the Sunday School Editor and General Secretary to the General Sunday School Board of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South 1920
26 Sunday School Magazine 1900-1924
Subseries 1: Correspondence, 1902-1923
Box Folder
211B 1 1902-1916
2 1918-1920
3 1921
4 1922
5 1923
6 1923
7 1923
8 Undated [1900-1923]
Subseries 2: Atkins’s Writings, [1880]-1923
Box Folder
211B 9 Address on Oliver Cromwell [1900-1923]
10 The Female of the Species [1900-1923]
11 Religious writings 1910-1923
12 Religious writings 1915
13 Religious writings 1913
14 Religious writings [1880-1923]
15 SMU documents [1910-1915]

Series 2: Personal Material, 1874-1926

Personal Material consists of items that are not related to Atkins’s professional life. A substantial amount of correspondence from Atkins to his second wife, Eva, while travelling is included. In addition, there is one folder that contains material that belonged to Eva.
The three scrapbooks primarily document Atkins’s work in the ministry and published writings; all correspondence and assorted other documents that were found between the pages have been moved to separate folders. The green scrapbook contains material related to women and was possibly created by Atkins’s first wife Ella or another family member. The marbled scrapbook was created by Atkins and contains information about his parents and many of his published writings. The black scrapbook contains an assortment of clippings from Atkins’s life, but also a large quantity of obituaries and tributes to Atkins added after his death. A CD featuring scans of the scrapbooks is also available in Box 2004.
Box Folder
212A 1 Eva Atkins material 1922-1926
Box Folder
2004 4 Blueprint of home [1900-1925]
Box Folder
212A 2 Financial records 1915-1923
3 Legal documents 1910-1919
4 The Longfellow Birthday Book [1885-1923]
5 Material removed from Atkins’s wallet 1920-1923
6 Passports 1919-1921
7 Photographs [1885-1923]
8 Printed ephemera 1923
Subseries 1: Correspondence, 1901-1923
Box Folder
212A 9 General 1901-1923
10 General [1901-1923]
11 Letters to Eva Atkins 1921
12 Letters to Eva Atkins 1922
13 Letters to Eva Atkins 1923
Subseries 2: Scrapbooks, 1874-1925
Box Folder
2004 1 Green scrapbook 1884-1904
Box Folder
212A 14 Loose material removed from green scrapbook 1884-1903
Box Folder
2004 2 Black scrapbook 1884-1925
Box Folder
212A 15 Loose material removed from black scrapbook 1886-1925
Box Folder
2004 5 Loose material removed from black scrapbook (oversize) 1923
3 Marbled scrapbook [1874-1923]
Box Folder
212A 16 Loose material removed from marbled scrapbook 1922-1923
Subseries 3: Artifacts, [1880-1923]
Box Folder
214 1 Shoes [1880-1923]
2 Socks [1880-1923]
Box Folder
213B 1 Sack containing clerical collars [1880-1923]
Box Folder
2006 1 Three pairs of glasses [1880-1923]
2 Pince-nez and case [1880-1923]
3 Bow ties [1880-1923]
4 Razor [1880-1923]
5 Shaving brush [1880-1923]
Box Folder
213A 2 Razor strop [1880-1923]
Box Folder
2006 6 Two pocket knives [1880-1923]
7 Corn cob pipe [1880-1923]
8 Pipe [1880-1923]
Box Folder
213A 1 Wooden gavel in case from Annual Conference in Cuba 1922
Box Folder
212B 9 Leather pouch [1880-1923]
Box Folder
213B 2 Personalized wallet

Series 3: Posthumous Material, 1923-1965

Posthumous Material consists of items collected after Atkins’s death, such as condolence messages and obituaries. Also included is a history of the Lake Junaluska Summer Assembly in North Carolina written by Atkins’s daughter, Love Branner Atkins.
Box Folder
212B 1 Tributes/obituaries for Atkins 1924
2 Condolence letters 1923
3 Condolence letters 1923
4 Condolence letters 1923-1924
5 Condolence telegrams 1923
6 Christmas cards 1923
7 Lake Junaluska Assembly booklet 1944
8 Booklet Origin of Lake Junaluska Southern Assembly 1965