Perkins School of Theology records
A Guide to the Collection
The School of Theology at Southern Methodist University was one of the original schools established at the new university upon its opening in 1915. Although SMU was a small, newly-built institution on the distant edges of Dallas at the time, the theology school was expected to assume a prominent place within the Methodist Church. Church leaders intended the school to serve as the principal locale for the training of Methodist clergymen west of the Mississippi, with Emory University in Atlanta serving as the main theology school in the east.
Vanderbilt University, previously affiliated with the Methodist Church, became an independent institution by 1914, and the need for a new theology school to serve the west and southwest regions of the United States led some church leaders to identify Dallas as the desired locale for such a new school. In a circa 1915 letter to Southwestern University President Robert S. Hyer (who shortly thereafter became the first president of SMU), Bishop Seth Ward argued, “I am not fully satisfied with conditions at Vanderbilt and if I were satisfied I think our Church needs another theological school and I am sure it should be located in Dallas.”
SMU opened for classes in the fall of 1915. In the early years, Dallas Hall contained all classrooms, the university library, chapel, and administrative offices. The theology school’s first dean was Dr. E.D. Mouzon, who had previously served as head of the Theology department at Southwestern University. Dr. Mouzon’s tenure as dean was brief, from 1914 until 1916, and he was succeeded by Hoyt M. Dobbs, who served until 1920.
The theology school received its own building in 1925. Officially named the Harper and Annie Kirby Hall, the new building was located just to the north and west of Dallas Hall. Construction took less than six months, at a cost of $130,000.
The school received accreditation in 1938 by the American Association of Theological Schools, and it was only one of four seminaries west of the Mississippi at the time to hold that distinction. The following year, SMU was officially designated a part of the South Central Jurisdiction of the Methodist Church, and the theology school became the central school for that geographical division.
By 1945, the theology school had already made an impact upon both the Methodist Church and the nation. Total student enrollment at the time was about 260, with students coming from colleges and universities from across the country. Four of the South Central Jurisdiction’s bishops were graduates of the SMU theology school, and over 160 then-current and former students served as chaplains in the armed forces during World War II.
1945 was a crucial year for the development of the school. In February of that year, Joe J. and Lois Craddock Perkins of Wichita Falls made the largest donation to SMU up to that point in the university’s history. Their donation of $1.3 million was divided between a $320,000 gift from the Perkins Foundation, and the rest came from oil revenue generated by wells owned by the family. Bishop A. Frank Smith, in making official word of the Perkins’ contribution, also announced that the SMU Board of Trustees had voted unanimously to rename the theology school as the Perkins School of Theology.
SMU initiated a campaign to raise an additional $1.5 million, making the total new investment in the Perkins School of Theology nearly $3 million. University President Umphrey Lee specified that the Perkins’ donation would be used for the construction of dormitories, a new chapel, classrooms, and endowment.
With a new name for SMU’s theology school came a new location. The new buildings making up the Perkins School of Theology were built south of Dallas Hall and north of Potomac Avenue on Bishop Boulevard. Kirby Hall was later renamed Florence Hall in the 1950s and is today part of the SMU Dedman School of Law; a new Kirby Hall was later built as part of the new Perkins School.
Groundbreaking for the new quadrangle of buildings took place in February 1949. The new chapel was to be named the Lois Perkins Chapel, and in addition to new dormitories and classrooms, a new library (the W.F. Bridwell Memorial Library) was built. The buildings were dedicated in February 1951.
The Perkins School of Theology gained the distinction of being the first school within SMU to enroll black students. The Board of Trustees approved the acceptance of two black ministerial students early in 1951. At the time however, the theology school was the only part of SMU that was integrated, as full integration of the university was still several years away.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Perkins School faced challenges in the areas of endowment and student enrollment. After the series of large donations made by Mr. and Mrs. Perkins, the total endowment of the school did not grow much in the following years. These years also marked a decline in student enrollment; Perkins had 415 enrolled in the fall of 1958, and six years later had 353.
Another issue that Perkins confronted, beginning in the early 1950s, was its relationship to the Methodist Church and the perception many in the surrounding community had toward the seminary. The acceptance of black students at Perkins went reasonably smoothly, but opposition to integration arose when it was learned that they had been assigned white roommates (with, it is important to note, mutual consent) in the Perkins dormitories.
In 1954, SMU English Professor John Beaty denounced the theology school in his pamphlet “How to Capture a University,” by charging that the school (and SMU in general) was being influenced by communism and a world Jewish conspiracy. His charges were denounced as unfounded, but Beaty enjoyed a considerable amount of support in Dallas. Moreover, criticism also came from some Methodist church leaders who believed that Perkins was drifting too far to the left and the “new orthodoxy” of Reinhold Niebuhr and Karl Barth.
The 1960s and early 1970s have been widely described as a turbulent period for the United States, especially on college and university campuses. However, SMU remained relatively tranquil during much of this time. At Perkins, changes in governance were instituted that made many issues and decisions subject to joint faculty-student review. A special governance committee recommended the establishment of a Student-Faculty Senate to help govern the school, and the new body was approved by both Perkins faculty and students in 1969.
It was in the early 1970s that Perkins began to see greater enrollment of minority students and more minority faculty members. Despite the presence of a few black, Hispanic, and female students, the student body was still largely white and male. It was not until the early 1970s that Perkins even hired its first black, Hispanic, and female faculty members.
As of 2009, SMU’s Perkins School of Theology is headed by Dean William B. Lawrence, who is also a professor in American Church History. Among its many programs and special events are its annual Ministers’ Week, Perkins Theological School for the Laity (Laity Week), Perkins School of Children’s Ministry, and the Center for Methodist Studies.
The school offers four Master’s degree programs: Divinity, Church Ministries, Sacred Music, and Theological Studies; a Ph.D. in Ministry is also offered as well. Within these degree programs, students can specialize in several areas of interest, including pastoral care, urban ministry, African-American Studies, and Women’s Studies. Perkins also shares a joint Graduate Program in Religious Studies with SMU’s Dedman College. Additionally, Perkins offers many continuing education opportunities for pastors and lay leaders.
Grimes, Lewis Howard. A History of the Perkins School of Theology. Dallas: SMU Press, 1993.
“Perkins School of Theology.” Southern Methodist University Perkins School of Theology: http://www.smu.edu/Perkins/About/History.aspx. Accessed November 18, 2009.
Maddox, Ruth Patterson. Building SMU, 1915-1957: A Warm and Personal Look at the People Who Started Southern Methodist University. (no publishing location given): Odenwald Press, 1995.
“New Buildings Dot Campus of SMU.” Dallas Morning News, December 24, 1951, pg. 9.
Pass, Fred. “Ground Broken at SMU for Quadrangle Chapel.” Dallas Morning News, February 10, 1949, pg. 1.
“Perkins Family Gives $1,320,000 to SMU for Theology School.” Dallas Morning News, February 7, 1945, pg. 1.
“SMU Accepts Two Negroes in Theology.” Dallas Morning News, January 9, 1951, pg. 1.
“SMU Theology School on Accredited List.” Dallas Morning News, June 23, 1938, pg. 6.
Thomas, Mary Martha Hosford. Southern Methodist University: Founding and Early Years. Dallas: SMU Press, 1974.
The Perkins records are arranged into three series. Series 1 contains materials on general school information: course catalogs, student handbooks, school directories, admission pamphlets and information for incoming students, and some historical information on Perkins. This series does have some records from the SMU Theology School dating from about 1915-1927, but most of this series dates from the 1960s through the 1980s. Some correspondence and general financial data on Perkins are also included.
Series 2 includes printed material—mostly programs and pamphlets—on Perkins events. Regular Sunday worship services are held in Perkins Chapel, and this series contains programs from these services, dating from the 1950s through the 1980s. Programs from the groundbreaking and dedication ceremonies for Perkins in 1945 and 1951, respectively, are also included. Printed material for Perkins’ annual Ministers’ Week, Laity Week, and Religious Emphasis Week, in addition to material on exhibitions held at Bridwell Library and special lectures and conferences, has also been placed in this series.
Series 3 contains copies of newsletters from Perkins from about the 1960s through the 1980s. Most of this series is made up of copies of Perspective, published three times a year; the issues in the series date mostly from the 1980s through the 1990s.
Users of this collection should note that this collection does not contain full sets of certain types of regularly-published material. For example, Series 1 holds several Perkins directories, but these only cover a few years. Bridwell Library may have better sets of regularly published items than DeGolyer Library. Users may contact the Bridwell Library for further information on their holdings.
Additional archival records on the Perkins School of Theology are managed by Bridwell Library. The availability of some Perkins business records is restricted. Users should contact Bridwell for information on this material.
Access to Collection:
Collection is open for research use.
Permission to publish materials must be obtained from the Director of the DeGolyer Library.
It is the responsibility of the user to obtain copyright authorization.
Perkins School of Theology records, Southern Methodist University Archives, DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University.
Paul H. Santa Cruz, 2009.
Lara Corazalla, 2009.
Detailed Description of the Collection