History of  SMU



This page discusses the School of Theology at Southern Methodist University




" The School of Theology of Southern Methodist University grew out of a movement led by Bishop Seth Ward looking to the establishment of a Theological School west of the Mississippi River that would do for Methodism in the southwest what the Biblical Department at Vanderbilt University had bee undertaking for the entire church in previous years. Before 1909 there had a professor of Bible and kindred subjects in Southwestern University in Georgetown as in other colleges of the Church. In that year Dr. E. D. Mouzon, then pastor of Travis Park Methodist Church in San Antonio, became head of a new Theological Department at Southwestern but in the following year he was elected to the episcopacy. Southern Methodist University was founded at Dallas February 3, 1911, with the understanding that, in connection with it, there would be established a School of Theology to serve the region west of the Mississippi River. Bishop Mouzon was asked to act as Dean and in 1914 began the work of organizing necessary faculty. In the fall of 1915, the School of Theology opened co9incendently with opening of the University.

Until the fall of 1924 the School of Theology was housed in the first half of the third floor of Dallas Hall. The school was moved that fall into Annie And Harper Kirby Hall, built especially for it."

unquote: The School of Theology established the following Departments: Religious Education, New Testament, and Missions. The Texas Pastors School is held on the campus every June for ten days. It has no connection with Southern Methodist University.


Fundamentalism and Liberalism

Southern Methodist University was influenced by the controversy between fundamentalism and liberalism early on. Fundamentalism was a hot topic in the southern part of the United States in those days. Liberalism encompasses a subject called "higher criticism" which contradicts fundamentalism.

Higher criticism applies methods used in dealing with other ancient writings to the Bible. Many Protestants believed that the Bible was the literally truth and the bedrock of their faith. They feared the  rapid changes in the postwar years. The war itself accelerated these changes, as did many new inventions of the day. Some of these inventions were the automobile, the radio, movies, and mass education.

In the academic year of 1917-1918 Southern Methodist University experienced an incident caused by this controversy. One of the faculty, Katherine Balderston, asked her sophomore English class to read The Inside of the Cup by Winston Churchill. This book dealt with subject of how a clergyman would respond when higher criticism challenged his belief  in the literal interpretation of the Bible. The book also dealt with the subject of  the church being involved in politics. The young teacher chose to stick to the subject of the political question only knowing the other would be much more controversial. Her attempt failed and the students insisted on being told about higher criticism. Some of the students were shocked and she was summoned before a hearing of the Bishop Mouzon and the Theological faculty. They did not fire her, but she left the University at the end of the semester. After the war ended she returned to SMU for one semester.

In 1920 John A. Rice a teacher of the Old Testament in the School of Theology at SMU wrote a book entitled: The Old Testament and the Life of Today before he joined SMU. He intended it to be a text book in Old Testament. A surge of criticism of his book swept the country.

Rice himself summed up what his critics said of him.

" a German rationalist" with being worse than Nietzsche" a " destructive Higher Critic" a "Darwinian evolutionist" with holding that the Old Testament to be a conglomeration of myths, legends and fairy tales; with making Moses a great magician and the prophets roving dervishes; with denying that the Bible is a sufficient guide and standard in matters of faith and practice; with denying the supernatural and classing the Bible as mere literature, on parity with all other literature; with undermining the faith of our fathers..."

He was defended by Bishop Moore and Bishop Mouzon. Mouzon wrote a long letter saying he was responsible for bringing Rice to SMU and supported him having no doubt of his Christian faith also mentioning that, since the New Testament was written after the Old Testament the older Testament might not be the "supreme and final book on Christianity"".  He also mentioned that the attack on SMU and Rice had begun with "certain well known Baptists whose chief interest  just now is looking after other people's business."

The Baptist behind all of this was J. Frank Norris a minister in Ft. Worth. He discovered that the use of conservative issues would increase the membership of his church and make it well known. It soon became the largest Baptist church in the world with a congregation of some eight thousand. He was joined by a group of fundamental Methodists in Texas demanding Rice resign from the SMU. He agreed to do so, but he made it very difficult on SMU.  He wanted a full statement covering his work at the university as a teacher and a faculty member. Secondly, he wanted an appointment equal to that he had held for 20 years, Thirdly he wanted the university to assume any financial loss he might incur. Fourthly he wanted the board to repudiate any charges made against him and make a satisfactory reason for accepting his resignation.

The University met his conditions with dire consequences. They found that many of the faculty left and many scholars refused to come to a university so vulnerable to criticism.

Rice's reputation did not suffer from this incident. McMillan Company published an enlarged version of his book, and offered to look at any other manuscripts he may have written.  Upton Sinclair gave the incident and two other similar cases national  attention by writing a  satire on higher education,  in which he criticized  the whole affair turning his biggest guns on the fundamentalist Baptists in the South.

A third liberal professor at SMU, Mims Thornberg Workman, was fired in 1923 under fire because of  a meeting in Ft. Worth hosted by J. Fran Norris. They wanted a full scale trial of all Texas colleges teaching rationalism, evolution, and higher criticism.  The administration was highly sensitive to this criticism and the continuing controversy surrounding this subject. The President of SMU, Selecman felt that Workman's usefulness for the school had ended. Workman did not have the prestige of Rice and his career as a teacher was finished after a few years. He finally had to return to the ministry. The students and one of the faculty of the theological staff at SMU defended Workman but to no avail. The faculty member was also fired, but was hired by Duke University. The president of SMU was worried about continued contributions from wealthy Methodists.

" The fundamentalists remained a force until the end of the decade. By then the peak of the power had been reached, They failed to capture any major denominational body. There agitations had led to a schism in several churches. New leadership was, for the most part, no longer affiliated with larger denominations but with some independent body or not at all. Thus the center of gravity in fundamentalism shifted to its own institutions and to isolation from the affairs of the church at large. The fundametalist-modernist issue came to be regarded as a regrettable chapter for most denominational bodies."

As far as Methodism in Texas was concerned was, fundamentalism was dealt a blow when Texas failed to pass an antievolution law in 1929. Bishop John M. Moore took a strong stand against this bill, which was in keeping with the  mild modernism he had espoused in the Texas conferences.

Bishop Edwin D. Mouzon had taken a stand against fundamentalists even earlier. In 1923 he wrote a small book, So-Called Fundamentalism, in which he attributed the Methodists in fundamentalism to ignorance of their own theological basis"

 It ceased to be threat to the faculty and board by the late 1920s. Unfortunately, it came too late for the three faculty members who had to leave the University.


Umphrey Lee was elected president of SMU in November 1938. Although it was not intentionally designed, this was the beginning of the loss of power of the Church in controlling the university. He was the second educator to serve as president, the first being Robert S. Hyer.. Lee was an ordained pastor and served in the pastoral service spending much of his time at Highland Park Methodist Church on the SMU campus. He completed his graduate work while a pastor and served two and a half years at Vanderbilt University as Dean of Religion before returning to Dallas.

Lee's educational statesmanship changed the nature of the university so that he could report to the board in 1951 that
 "What has happened is that we have a University on our hands." Lee knew that it was necessary to wrest the university from the hands of the church in order create a university.

Few people ever enjoyed and maintained the respect that Umphrey Lee did. John W. Bowyer of the English faculty said in the Alumni magazine in December 1938 that " The city of Dallas is pleased, the alumni are pleased, the student body is jubilant, and the faculty who should know more about the University than anyone else and probably do, constantly reveal their satisfaction and their hope for the future"

"It was  not in educational attainments alone that Lee contributed substantially to the development of SMU. By 1945 he could report to the Board of Trustees that all debts having to do with operationg expenses had been cleared. The beginning of an annual financial campaign, under the leadership of now retired Bishop Boaz and called the Sustentation Campaign, increasingly made a financial contribution to the University (but not directly to the School of Theology). Before the close of Lee's presidency, twenty new buildings stood on the campus, and endowment, wh9ile still inadequate, at least had increased."

" The price which the church paid for this transformation was the loss of control of the University, and the control, even the influence, became less over the years. It was not so much that Lee wanted to preside over the secularization of  SMU; rather, as he developed an educational institution in a secular world, the control, and finally the influence, of the church tended to lessen. For example, a drastic reduction in compulsory chapel to once a month eventually led to no compulsory chapel at all. The process Lee used to counteract this secularization was to spend more money on campus religious personnel and eventually in 1949, to secure a chaplain for the University to direct its religious affairs."

The School of Theology was housed in the Kirby building from 1924 to 1950 when a gift from Joe and Lois Perkins of Wichita Falls, Texas made it possible to eventually construct a seven building complex on the campus. This complex now bears their name, The Perkins school of Theology. The Perkins name is also honored on other buildings, namely the Perkins Hall of Administration, The Joe Perkins Natatorium, and, in the Teh Perkins School of Theology quadrangle-Perkins Chapel, Lois Perkins Auditorium of Selecman Hall, and the S. B. Perkins Dormitory (named after Mr. Perkins brother whose activity predated his own). Joe had made a substantial fortune, especially in oil. Together they selected charitable, especially Methodist, institutions for substantial gifts. They were active members of the First Methodist Church of Wichita Falls.  The original gift was $1,350,000 for building and endowment. During the years before the buildings were completed, the Perkins increased the total on several occasions. It finally reached $2,000,000 for buildings and $ 3,000,000 for endowment. When oils was sold from the oil runs presented the Perkins assets were in excess of $12,000,000. This money saved the School of Theology from an uncertain future, because they did not share in the other endowments of the university. Another significant gift at the time was for a library by J. S. Bridwell and his daughter Margaret Bridwell Bowdle. The original gift was for $250,000 which was later increased to $500,000.

At first there was no thought of moving the quadrangle from the northwest (where the old Kirby Hall stood) to the southwest corner of the campus. This came about due to a suggestion by Bishop John M. Moore. He was persistent with his idea even though at first Mr. Perkins was cool to the idea and in the end won out. This moved enlarged the program for the School of Theology. There was a rumor that the Perkinses had been taken to Yale University, also of Georgian in design, and that Mr. Perkins had said "That's what we want".

There are seven buildings in the new Perkins School of Theology quadrangle. At the center of the group of buildings is Perkins Chapel. To the left and in front of the chapel is Kirby Hall in a new building. Across the quadrangle is Bridwell Library. Behind the chapel are four dormitories- Hawk Hall, Martin Hall, Perkins Hall, and Smith Hall. The later two dormitories were for single students while the former two were for married students. Later through a federal loan a third apartment building was built and named Moore Hall.

The new quadrangle was the beginning of the transformation  of Perkins School of Theology.


The Cunningham Years 1951-60 

By 1951 the Perkins school had grown almost to its maximum size of 400 and the need arose to increase the faculty. This was to be one of the primary goals of the new Dean of Perkins, Merrimon Cunningham, who took office in September 1951. He was the son of J. L. Cunningham who was a professor in the Perkins School of Theology. Merrimon had an A.B. from Vanderbilt (1931), and M.A. from Duke (19330, an A. B. diploma in theology from Oxford (1935-1936), and a B.D. and Ph.D.  (1941) from Yale. He was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford for three years and a British intercollegiate tennis champion and a Wimbledon tennis contender. He was also an ordained Methodist clergyman.

Before coming to SMU, Merrimon was a director of religious activities at Duke (1936-1938), had taught religion at Emory and Henry (1941-42) and Denison College (1942-44). He served as a Navy chaplain on the battleship Tennessee (1944-46, taught at Pomona College in Claremont, California (1945-51), and served as chaplain for the Associated Colleges of Claremont (1948-50). He married Annie Whitty Daniel in 1939. She became a partner with him and worked indegagiblably on various community enterprises. Their home became the center of social activities for the seminary community, for the larger community , and for their three children, Jessica Lee, Penelope Ann, and Margaret Merrimon.

As additional  faculty were added new degrees were made possible. eventually leading to the offering of a Ph.D. in Religious Studies which took place in 1959.  Before this several Masters degrees in various specialties were offered although the basic degree remained the Bachelor of Divinity (B.D. ), later renamed the Master of Theology (M.Th. in 1969).

"With the exception of the Pfautsch and Anderson for the M.SM. degree, the B.D. degree's curriculum was the basis for Dean Cunningham's appointments. The record is truly remarkable.

Cunningham made his first faculty appointment in 1951, when he persuaded Albert Outler to come to Perkins. Outler came from Yale Divinity School and his presence added one of the finest academic and theological minds of the century to Perkns. Outler's appointment was also very important symbolically to Perkins. The world could no longer ignore Perkins after his move from Yale. Cunningham's  next appointments were in 1952-53, his last for the decade of 1960-61, ten academic years. The total was thirty two, six of whom also lead to administrative responsibilities., with two being joint appointments with the School of Arts. Ten were still on the faculty in 1989 (one of whom, Lloyd Plfautsh, had moved completely to the School of Arts.). Twelve remained until retirement"

" Cunningham developed a core faculty which persisted for more than thirty years. The group still provided faculty leadership in 1989. ----- some viewed Cunningham's relationship with the church, which formed the immediate context for Perkins School of Theology, as occasionally lacking n finesse; this led to problem's greater than a seminary normally has with its constituency. But in faculty appointments and in other academic accomplishments----- Cunningham's record may well be unparalleled in the history of American theological education."

Evolution versus Intelligent Design Controversy 2007

Click on the link below to see the controversial discussion by SMU professors regarding evolution Versus intelligent design reported in the Dallas Morning New on Thursday August 5, 2007.














** The Story of Southern Methodist University 1910 to 1930 Volumes One and Two, compiled by A. F. Henning, March 1930.

*** Southern Methodist University, Founding and Early Years by Mary Martha Hosford Thomas. SMU Press, Dallas published 1974.

**** A History of Perkins School of Theology by Lewis Howard Grimes, SMU Press, Dallas, published 1993





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