Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary

By: Thomas W. Currie, Jr.

Type: General Entry

Published: 1976

Updated: July 26, 2021

Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, in Austin, opened its doors on October 1, 1902, at Ninth and Navasota streets. The Synod of Texas of the Presbyterian Church in the United States had appointed a board of trustees that in 1900 appointed Thornton Rogers Sampson the first president. He had to raise his own salary plus $100,000 as an endowment, put the property (formerly the Stuart Seminary for young ladies) in readiness, engage a faculty, and encourage candidates for the ministry to matriculate. The initial collection for a library was derived from the books of the Austin School of Theology. The enabling gift of $75,000 to the endowment was made by Sarah C. (Mrs. George) Ball of Galveston. Later the synods of Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana of the Presbyterian Church, U.S., joined in the ownership and control of the seminary.

Sampson, on the advice of his physician, resigned from the office of president in December 1904 but continued his duties as professor. By May of 1906 he was taking the lead in arranging for the seminary to move to its present location at 100 East 27th Street, nearer the campus of the University of Texas. The initial 5¼-acre plot at the new site was bought for $5,029 in 1906. In March 1908 the premises were occupied. The first buildings included a refectory, the bequest of the late Governor Francis R. Lubbock, and a 3½-story dormitory-classroom-administration building later to be known as Sampson Hall.

Robert Ernest Vinson was president from 1909 to 1916. When Vinson became president of the University of Texas, the choice of the board for president of the seminary was Neal Larkin Anderson, but when Anderson found the seminary's finances nearly exhausted he returned to the Southeast. The chairman of the faculty, Thomas White Currie, who was also secretary of the University YMCA, was put in charge of the seminary properties while the rest of the faculty and student body became absorbed in the war effort.

A faculty was assembled and students registered again by September 29, 1921. The buildings that had been rented were gradually reoccupied. In 1922 Currie became president of the seminary, a post he held until his death in 1943. The chapel was completed in the spring of 1942.

The fourth president, who came to the post in 1945, was David Leander Stitt. In addition to the original 5½ acres, the campus had been enlarged by property east of Speedway Street. During Stitt's tenure more property was added, Sampson Hall was razed, and the property east of Speedway was sold. New apartments for single and married students were built and administration and classroom accommodations provided by the construction of the Trull and McMillan buildings. Also a handsome library was provided and later named for David L. Stitt and his wife Jane.

After Stitt's resignation in 1971, Prescott Harrison Williams, Jr., became the fifth president. He served until 1976 and was succeeded by Jack Martin Maxwell. During Maxwell's administration the seminary received a bequest of more than $11 million from the estate of Miss Jean Brown of Hot Springs, Arkansas. Maxwell ended his service at the seminary in 1984 and was succeeded in 1985 by Jack L. Stotts, a native of Dallas, who had come from the presidency of McCormick Seminary in Chicago. In 1997 Robert M. Shelton became the seminary's eighth president.

By 1985 the campus had been enlarged to about ten acres. The land and the improvements were worth $10 million, the endowments $34 million. Scholarships and grants-in-aid were available. Foreign students were encouraged by scholarships offered through the World Council of Churches, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and other such bodies. Austin Seminary maintained reciprocal relations with the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest in Austin and with Wartburg Seminary of the American Lutheran Church in Dubuque, Iowa. Austin Seminary is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and by the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada. Since 1983 it has been owned and controlled by the Synod of the Sun of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). During the middle 1980s the student body averaged about 200. The resident teaching faculty numbered about fifteen. The seminary offered master of divinity, master of theology, and doctor of ministry degrees. Proximity to the campus of the University of Texas at Austin afforded opportunities for allied academic and cultural pursuits.

Among graduates of the seminary who became missionaries abroad was John Walker Vinson (class of 1906), who was killed by bandits in China in November 1931. Alumni who became presidents of Presbyterian theological seminaries include Thomas W. Currie, David L. Stitt, James I. McCord (Princeton), and C. Ellis Nelson (Louisville). Rachel Henderlite, the first woman to become an ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church in the United States, joined the faculty in 1965. Most alumni became pastors in Presbyterian congregations in the Southwest. A historical marker was placed at the seminary on February 17, 1989, to commemorate the life of Rebecca Kilgore Stuart Red. Mrs. Red owned and taught the Stuart Female Seminary at the old Ninth Street location, which eventually became today's seminary. Austin Presbyterian School of Theology had 21 faculty and 308 students in the fall of 1998.

Thomas White Currie, Jr., Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary: A Seventy-fifth Anniversary History (San Antonio: Trinity University Press, 1978).

  • Education
  • Theological Seminaries and Colleges
  • Religion
  • Presbyterian
  • Austin
  • Central Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Thomas W. Currie, Jr., “Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 27, 2022,

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July 26, 2021