Josiah Blake Tidwell, Baptist educator, son of Francis and Ann (Chambers) Tidwell, was born in Cleveland, Alabama, on October 8, 1870. Tidwell was the first of three children born to the poor farm couple and spent his youth in Alabama. Tidwell's parents, unlike most rural families of that era, encouraged him in his education. Shortly after marrying for the first time, he worked as a laborer in Alabama and central Texas. Returning to Alabama after a brief period, Tidwell became a schoolteacher after passing a state exam. In 1892 he took the first step toward what would become his permanent career: the ministry. At a typical revival meeting at a Methodist church in Cleveland, Alabama, Tidwell claimed to have had a conversion experience. Consequently he decided to pursue a career in the ministry. Unlike many southern ministers, however, he gained an advanced education in preparation for his new profession. In 1898 he graduated from Alabama's Howard College (now Samford University). That year he returned to Texas, taking a position on the faculty of Decatur Baptist College. He earned a master of arts from Baylor University in 1903, and he did advanced study through a correspondence program of the University of Chicago. He also received several honorary degrees. By 1907 he had assumed the presidency of Decatur Baptist College, a position he held for one year. Tidwell left that school to begin his long association with Baylor University. He first served Baylor as secretary of the endowment fund, for which he raised $90,000 in two years, an impressive sum for that time.
The formation of the modern religion department at Baylor stands as Tidwell's enduring legacy. The original Bible department at the university, headed by Benajah H. Carroll, offered professional training for ministers, and under Carroll's leadership this department became Baylor Theological Seminary in 1905. In 1908 the department became independent of the university, took the name Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and in 1910 moved to Fort Worth. Baylor University next moved to create a new Bible department. Unlike the former department, the new department under Tidwell, who had succeeded Carroll as its head on June 7, 1910, geared its curriculum toward undergraduates and was more a traditional university department than a professional-training department for ministers. It was still, however, very conservative. Tidwell himself continued to be traditional in his religious outlook. His own subfield of religious studies was biblical studies, and at one time he had a public, yet friendly, disagreement with Baylor president Samuel Palmer Brooks, who did not share Tidwell's literal understanding of the creation story. Tidwell nevertheless understood his department to be an academic department, and the current department of religion at Baylor had its origin in his work. He was a prolific writer and his works dealt mainly with biblical issues and ministerial preparation; they were popular with students and active church members. His books include The Bible, Book by Book (1914), The Bible, Period by Period (1916), Genesis: A Study of the Plan of Redemption (1924), and John and His Five Books (1937). He also contributed regularly to the Baptist Standard. Tidwell's first two wives preceded him in death. He married Kansas Italy Reid on April 24, 1887, and the couple had six children. She died in 1906. On September 7, 1910, Tidwell married Minnie Lee Hayes, who died in 1925. A year later, on August 18, he married Alma W. Lile. Tidwell died at Waco on March 17, 1946, and was buried in Oakwood Cemetery. The Tidwell Bible Building on the Baylor campus was dedicated on October 22, 1954.