James Hampton Kirkland

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James Hampton Kirkland
Born September 9, 1859
Spartanburg, South Carolina
Died August 5, 1939
Education Wofford College
University of Leipzig
Occupation University administrator
Spouse(s) Mary Henderson
Children Elizabeth Kirkland
Parent(s) William Clark Kirkland
Virginia Lawson Galluchat Kirkland

James Hampton Kirkland (September 9, 1859 – August 5, 1939) was the second chancellor of Vanderbilt University. He was elected chancellor at the age of 33 and remained in this function until 1937, thus becoming one of the longest-serving university administrators in U.S. history. During his administration Vanderbilt University, located in Nashville, Tennessee, came to spearhead the "university movement" in the South.


Early life[edit]

James Hampton Kirkland was born and raised in Spartanburg, South Carolina, the youngest of the eight children of William Clark, who died in March 1864, and Virginia Lawson Galluchat Kirkland. Kirkland entered Wofford College in his native Spartanburg in 1873. He encountered there two young faculty members who had recently returned from European student days: Charles Forster Smith and William Malone Baskervill. They ultimately inspired him to embark on the European study tour. Having saved enough money as an instructor in Greek at Wofford, he traveled to Leipzig where he registered at the university for the fall semester 1883. He remained there until 1885, earning a Ph.D. degree. His mentors at Leipzig included the Greek scholar Georg Curtius and Richard Wülker, professor of English. He went on to study in Berlin and eventually traveled to Geneva in the summer of 1885, where he hoped to learn French. Yet his health broke down. Until spring 1886 he recovered, traveling also to Italy and visiting Leipzig, Paris, and London.


Upon his return to the United States, he was appointed professor of Latin at Vanderbilt University, a position which he held until his election as chancellor in 1893. His mentors and friends Smith and Baskervill had preceded him at the institutions as professors of Greek and English, respectively.

He was ambitious and focused. Already during his student days he had economized his time and money, a quality that would be a great asset as chancellor. A Methodist at a university that was denominational at the time, Kirkland fought his toughest battle as a university administrator in the first decade of the twentieth century that ultimately resulted in a break with the Methodist Church in 1914. The reason for this "battle with the Bishops" was the fact that the Methodists did not provide enough funding, while Northern philanthropists such as Carnegie refrained from giving to denominational colleges in the South. When Kirkland had to choose between running a Methodist school and developing Vanderbilt into a leading research university, Kirkland decided in favor of the latter, though he himself remained a Methodist.

He subsequently was rather successful in securing funding from the Carnegie and Rockefeller foundations. One of his greatest achievements was the remodeling of the Vanderbilt Medical School in the mid-1920s. His friendship with Abraham Flexner, among others, helped in the undertaking. Both men had vacation houses near Ahmic Lake in Canada, where they spent the summers with their families since the 1910s.

He was a passionate gardener who cultivated Iris.

Personal life[edit]

In 1895, he met Mary Henderson of Knoxville, Tennessee, who after a brief courtship became his wife in November of that year. It was a happy marriage, as may be derived from the numerous letters which they exchanged from the first day of their acquaintance until his death. They had one daughter, Elizabeth, born in Feb. 1898. She studied at Wellesley College and married the Greek scholar Benjamin Meritt.


  • Paul K. Conkin, Gone with the Ivy. A Biography of Vanderbilt University (Knoxville, 1985).
  • Edwin Mims, Chancellor Kirkland of Vanderbilt (Nashville, Tennessee: Vanderbilt University Press, 1940).
  • Robert D. Collins, Ahmic Lake Connections. The Founding Leadership of Vanderbilt University (Nashville, Tennessee: Eveready Press, 2004).
  • See also Kirkland Papers at Vanderbilt University Archives and Special Collections.

External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by
Landon Garland
Chancellor of Vanderbilt University
Succeeded by
Oliver Carmichael