James Hampton Kirkland Papers

Identifier: MSS.0877

  • Staff Only

Scope and Content Note

The Papers of James Hampton Kirkland, the second chancellor of Vanderbilt University, are composed of eighteen cubic feet of material that represent Kirkland’s life, particularly his tenure at Vanderbilt (Professor of Latin, 1886 - 1893, Chancellor, 1893 - 1937, Chancellor Emeritus 1937 - 1939).

The collection is organized into these series:

Correspondence, Writings, Personal and Biographical, Academic Career, Organizations/Institutions, Newspaper Clippings, Iris Material, Family Correspondence, and Family Material.

The Correspondence consists of twelve boxes covering the period 1889 - 1939. Kirkland’s letters of his family members are not included here; instead they can be found in Family Correspondence. In addition to the personal letters Kirkland wrote and received during this period there are letters between Kirkland and Vanderbilt University which were typed and edited by Kirkland and these are attached to the end of the outgoing correspondence.

The Writings Series contains Kirkland’s addresses, essays, lectures, sermons, poems, reports, book manuscripts, and published articles. Most of the writing manuscripts are typed and revised by Kirkland on the letter-size paper. The unpublished book manuscript, History of Vanderbilt University was written by Kirkland after his retirement in 1937. The published articles are the original articles in print, which were collected by Kirkland himself from different journals, magazines, and pamphlets. But they might not include all of the published materials of Chancellor Kirkland. For example, some of his annual opening addresses at Vanderbilt are not represented here, but can be found in The Vanderbilt Observer. Many articles written by Kirkland were published in newspapers. Newspaper clippings make up Box 24 of these papers.

The Personal/Biographical Materials reflect two significant events at Vanderbilt which paid tribute to Chancellor Kirkland: the tributes for a celebration in 1933 of the 40th anniversary for Kirkland as chancellor of Vanderbilt and tributes in memory of Chancellor Kirkland at the time of his death in 1939. Many addresses or articles from the leading statesmen, educators, scholars, and businessmen in the South and in the nation, are collected here.

Materials relating to Kirkland’s Academic Career include notebooks from the late 1880’s when he was a Ph.D. candidate in Germany. There are also grade books from 1887 to 1903 when he taught Latin at Vanderbilt, and notebooks for the administrative work of his early years as Chancellor at Vanderbilt. There are numerous legal documents which include family deeds from 1852 – 1938, the wills of family members, and family estate documents.

The Series Organizations and Institutions is comprised of programs, reports, records, and minutes relating to the Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools of the Southern States, Southern Education Board, Southern University Conference, National Conference on Standards of Colleges and Secondary Schools, and the American Council on Education, covering the period from 1895 to 1937. Information about other associations and American colleges are included here. In addition, some materials regarding the College for Women and the Ladies Aid Society at Vanderbilt are present in this part of the papers.

There are over 400 items in the Newspaper Clippings series including news, editorials, comments and articles concerning Vanderbilt, Chancellor Kirkland, southern education, the Methodist Church, American education, and the local news. A considerable number of newspaper clippings are about the controversy from 1906 to 1914 between Vanderbilt and the Methodist Church, and in particular between Chancellor Kirkland and Bishop E.E. Hoss.

Chancellor Kirkland’s long time interest in collecting, planting, and breeding Iris is the subject of the Iris Material Series, and it includes items relating to the American Iris Society, several yearbooks on Iris, the regulations, applications, and certificates of permits for nursery stocks, and Iris financial records as well as Kirkland’s addresses on the subject of Iris.

Twelve boxes make up the series Family Correspondence. There are letters to and from Kirkland and his family members and with his wife Mary Henderson Kirkland’s family members. The letters between Kirkland and his wife between 1895 - 1939 and totalling over 900 items are the major part of this series. Other significant correspondents are:

Mary Kirkland and her father W.A.Henderson (383 items)

Mary Kirkland and her sister Annie Henderson (274 items)

Mary and James Kirkland and their daughter Elizabeth (195 items)

J.H. Kirkland and his mother Virginia L.G. Kirkland (72 items)

In addition to these letters between the Chancellor and Mary Kirkland’s family, there is also a collection of the correspondence of Arthur H. Meritt. A.H. Meritt was Benjamin D. Meritt (Elizabeth Kirkland’s husband)’s father and a faculty member at Trinity College (now Duke University). Most of his letters were written from Leipzig, Germany to Laura E. Dean in South Carolina.

The last part of the collection is Family Material. Most of the materials belong to Mary Kirkland and Elizabeth Kirkland (Mrs. B. D. Meritt ) and her family. They include greeting cards, invitations, autograph books, address books, notebooks, advertising cards, photographs, children writings, drawings and the school records, bills and receipts, newspaper clippings, the collected articles, addresses and poems, and miscellaneous materials.

An Addition of Newspaper clippings and some personal and biographical materials was made in 2009.


  • 1859 - 1939

Biographical Note

James Hampton Kirkland was born in Spartanburg, South Carolina, September 9, 1859, the youngest son of William Clark and Virginia Lawson (Galluchat) Kirkland, and a descendant of Scotch and French settlers. His father was a Methodist minister and a member of the South Carolina conference, and his mother was the daughter of the Reverend Joseph Galluchat, a well known French minister in Charleston, South Carolina. He received an A.B. in 1877 and A.M. in 1878 from Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C. In the succeeding five years, he taught Latin and Greek in Wofford College. In July 1883, Kirkland went to Germany to pursue his studies in classics. Two years later he received a Ph.D. in Comparative Philology at University of Leipzig. In 1886, after a year of academic study in Berlin, Rome, and Paris, Kirkland returned to America.

Upon his return home, he was appointed professor of Latin at Vanderbilt University, with the recommendations of his former professors at Wofford, Charles F. Smith and William M. Baskervill, both of whom studied at Leipzig and now were faculty members at Vanderbilt. Besides being an able teacher and researcher in classics, Kirkland played a lead role in a faculty-led movement of educational reform that resulted in higher entrance requirements, the reorganization of the four-year-curriculum, and a general raising of academic standards. He held the professorship until 1893, when at the age of thirty – three, he was elected second chancellor of Vanderbilt, succeeding Landon Cabell Garland.

During Chancellor Kirkland’s forty-four-year tenure (1893-1937), Vanderbilt witnessed a significant period of expansion. With his leadership, the educational reform for maintaining high academic standards, from entrance exams through college curriculum to graduate programs, was further developed, thus laying a solid foundation in academics for Vanderbilt and giving the institution an opportunity to play a leading role in the reform of southern higher education in the turn of the century. With Kirkland’s efforts, the Medical School of Vanderbilt received $1,000,000 from the Carnegie Foundation in 1913, and then over $20,000,000 in 1919-21 from the Carnegie and Rockefeller Foundations, which made possible the recognition of the medical program at Vanderbilt as one of the best in the South. Also, all departments were brought into an organic relation with the central administration and located on the campus, and both the faculty and the student body increased. In addition, Chancellor Kirkland developed a program of co-operation with Peabody College by exchanging faculty members and sharing a joint library (also with Scarritt College).

One of the most significant events during the Kirkland administration was the Tennessee Supreme Court case versus the Bishops of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South (now the United Methodist Church) and the eventual separation of Vanderbilt University from the church in 1914. After that time the University was free to carry on its educational programs along independent lines.

Chancellor Kirkland’s activities were not limited to the Vanderbilt campus. He was the instrumental in founding and developing the Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools of the Southern States (ACSSS). In 1895 he called a first meeting for the Association in Atlanta and became the Secretary and Treasurer, a position he held for thirteen years. In 1912 and 1921, he was elected President. Later he was President emeritus and member ex officio of all committees for life. In addition, Kirkland was Chairman of the National Conference for Standards for Colleges and Secondary Schools from 1920 to 1923; a trustee of Carnegie Foundation from 1917-1937 and Chairman of the board from 1922 to 1924; a member of the Slater Board for the Promotion of Education Among Negroes, 1917-1937; President of the Religious Education Association of America, 1912, and the Association of American Colleges, 1925. In 1935, at the age of 76, Kirkland took the leading part in the establishment of the Southern University Conference, and was involved in this association until his death, which occurred at Magnetawan, Ontario, Canada, August 5, 1939.

In his personal life Kirkland enjoyed planting and hybridizing iris. He received an honorable mention from the American Iris Association and awards of merit from the Royal Horticultural Society and the National Iris Society of England. His iris Copper Luster was awarded the Dykes medal, an English award, in 1938 for the outstanding American contribution.

Kirkland was also an accomplished chess player.

In November 1895, he was married to Mary Henderson, daughter of Colonel William A. Henderson, a Confederate veteran from Knoxville, Tennessee, and a noted lawyer for the Southern Railway Company. They had one child, Elizabeth, wife of Benjamin D. Meritt, professor of Archaeology at Princeton University. Mary Henderson Kirkland died in 1953.


18.48 Linear Feet (44 Hollinger boxes)

Language of Materials


Physical Location

Offsite Storage, Special Collections & Archives

Finding Aid for the The Papers of James Hampton Kirkland
1995; updated 2009
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


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