John Keith Benton Papers

Identifier: MSS.0697

  • Staff Only

Scope and Content Note

The John Keith Benton Papers are composed of 3.25 linear feet of sermons, articles, research, correspondence and photographs from his career as a pastor and Vanderbilt Dean. The dates of the collection range from the 1940s to the mid-1950s. It is divided into five series.

  1. Sermons—transcripts of sermons given by Benton
  2. Research Notes—notes and research on potential sermons and other lectures by Benton
  3. Programs—programs from Benton’s lectures and sermons as well as other church bulletins and programs
  4. Writings—articles and addresses by Benton
  5. Miscellaneous Documents—contains correspondence, drafts by others, as well as Benton’s Freedom Foundation Award and World War I pilot cap


  • 1940s-1950s

Language of Materials


Literary Rights Statement

Permission to publish, copy, reprint, digitize, orally record for transmission over public or private airways, or use material from the John Keith Benton Papers in any and all other current or future developed methods or procedures, must be obtained in writing from the Special Collections and University Archives Division of the Vanderbilt University Libraries. All rights are reserved and retained regardless of current or future development or laws that may apply to fair use standards.

Biographical Sketch

John Keith Benton was born on May 24, 1896 in Banks, Alabama to Martha Frederick and Arthur Franklin Benton. Benton joined the Army in 1917 and served as a pilot in WWI. He graduated from Birmingham Southern College with a Bachelor of Arts degree and received a Bachelor of Arts in Divinity from Yale University. Upon leaving Yale he attended Edinburgh University where he received his PhD. Benton soon took the position as professor of philosophy and psychology at Drew University in New Jersey before moving to Vanderbilt University in 1939 to become dean of the School of Religion. Over the course of his career, Benton gave numerous sermons and addresses but also published several theological articles, many of which are preserved in his collection.

Benton is remembered as the presiding Dean when Vanderbilt’s Divinity School began to admit African American applicants in 1952; he is reported to have encouraged Chancellor Harvie Branscomb and other university officials to examine their University policy on race-based admissions.

Benton served as Dean of Vanderbilt’s Divinity School from 1939 to 1956. While Dean, Benton spearheaded the construction of a new home for Vanderbilt’s Divinity school. Benton died on August 21, 1956 before the building was completed, prompting the University to name the building Benton Chapel in honor of his service. Benton Chapel still serves as the primary multidenominational house of worship and center of the Divinity School on the university’s campus.


3.25 Linear Feet

Physical Location

Special Collections & Archives

Provenance Statement

The Benton Papers were donated by Ms. Lyn Lowrey Honig to Vanderbilt University Special Collections in 2008.

Finding Aid for the John Keith Benton Papers
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Vanderbilt University Special Collections Repository

Special Collections Library
1101 19th Ave. S.
Nashville TN 37212 United States


About this Site

This site contains collection guides, or finding aids, to the archival collections held by Vanderbilt University Special Collections and University Archives, the History of Medicine Collection, and the Scarritt Bennett Center. Finding aids describe the context, arrangement, and structure of archival materials, allowing users to identify and request materials relevant to their research.

Requesting Materials

Each finding aid contains a link to request materials from the collections. Collections can also be requested by emailing the repository directly through the library website. Each repository has its own location, hours, and contact information. Please consult the repository with questions about using the materials. Collections are non-circulating and must be used in the repository’s reading room. In many cases, the collections are stored off-site and require advance notice for retrieval.