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PURCELL, CLARE, 1884-1964.
Clare Purcell papers, 1902-1967

Emory University

Pitts Theology Library

1531 Dickey Drive, Suite 560

Atlanta, GA 30322


Permanent link: http://pid.emory.edu/ark:/25593/gs9j6

Collection Stored Off-Site

All or portions of this collection are housed off-site. Materials can still be requested but researchers should expect a delay of up to two business days for retrieval.

Descriptive Summary

Creator: Purcell, Clare, 1884-1964.
Title: Clare Purcell papers, 1902-1967
Call Number:Manuscript Collection No. 319
Extent: 12 cubic feet (19 boxes)
Abstract:Consists of biographical papers, correspondence, meeting minutes, notes and drafts of sermons, pamphlets, clippings, photographs, and artifacts that document Bishop Purcell’s extensive involvement in the Methodist Church and its predecessor organization, the Methodist Episcopal Church South.
Language:Materials entirely in English.

Administrative Information

Restrictions on Access

Collection stored off-site. Researchers must contact the Pitts Theology Library in advance to access this collection.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

All requests subject to limitations noted in departmental policies on reproduction.


[after identification of item(s)], Clare Purcell Papers, Archives and Manuscript Dept., Pitts Theology Library, Emory University.


Processed by Aimee Morgan, 2005; Brandon Wason, September 2018

Collection Description

Biographical Note

Bishop Clare Purcell, Methodist clergyman, was born on November 17, 1884. He was the youngest of six children born to William Henry Purcell and Mary Ellen Callen of Roanoke, Alabama. Bishop Purcell was educated at Roanoke Normal College, where he met his future wife, Ida West. The two were married in Roanoke on December 28, 1910. Clare and Ida Purcell were the parents of three children: John Robert (born 1911), William Wood Rowe (born 1915) and Ida Claire (born 1921).

Bishop Purcell graduated from Roanoke Normal College in 1903 and worked for Georgia Railroad in Roanoke, Birmingham, and Columbus [Georgia]. He enrolled at Emory University in 1906. While at Emory, he was a member of Phi Delta Theta. Health problems prevented him from completing his course of study at Emory.

Bishop Purcell was granted a local preacher’s license in 1906 by the Lafayette District Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. In November of that year he was admitted to the North Alabama Conference on trial, and served a one-year appointment to the Wedowee Circuit. He was appointed to the Rockford Circuit in 1907, but served for only a short time before enrolling in the Bachelor of Theology program at Vanderbilt University. He received the B.D. in 1916, as well as an A.B. from Birmingham College in the same year. Later in life, he received honorary degrees from Birmingham-Southern College (Doctor of Divinity, 1929), University of Alabama (Doctor of Laws, 1940), Athens College (Doctor of Literature, 1954), and Emory University (Doctor of Divinity, 1957).

Bishop Purcell was ordained deacon in 1911 and received elder’s orders in 1913. Between 1911 and 1918 he served the Madison Circuit, Owenton Church (later McCoy Memorial) in Birmingham, and Sylacauga First Church. In 1918 he entered service as an army chaplain with the 131st Infantry, spending the winter of 1918 in Luxembourg. After returning from his tour of duty, he was assigned to the First Methodist Church of Hartselle. Subsequent appointments included Talladega (1920-1924) and Tuscaloosa (1924-1927). In 1927, he was assigned to the Jasper District as Presiding Elder. In 1931 he was transferred to the First Methodist Church of Gasden, AL, where he remained until 1938.

On May 3rd, 1938, Purcell was elected Bishop at the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, following a well-received speech in which he argued in favor of union with the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Methodist Protestant Church. As Bishop, he served in Charlotte from 1938 to 1948, and in Birmingham from 1948 until his retirement in 1956. In 1955, he was elected President of the Council of Bishops of the Methodist Church.

After retiring, Bishop Purcell remained in Birmingham, where he served as President of the Board of Directors of Carraway Methodist Hospital. He died on February 8th, 1964.

Biographical information on Bishop Purcell was taken from “Bishop Clare Purcell” by Allen D. Montgomery [Series 5, Box 7, Folder 8].

Scope and Content Note

The Clare Purcell Papers document Bishop Purcell’s extensive involvement in the Methodist Church and its predecessor organization, the Methodist Episcopal Church South. Included are biographical papers; personal, professional and family correspondence; meeting minutes; notes and drafts of sermons and other writings; pamphlets; clippings; photographs; and artifacts.

This collection is richest in post-1938 materials, which document Purcell’s tenure as Bishop. The earlier phases of his career are not as well documented. Papers related to his family life are relatively few; the bulk of the family correspondence found in this collection was received by Bishop Purcell’s widow and children after his death.

Arrangement Note

Organized into 11 series: (1) Correspondence, (2) Meeting Materials, (3) Sermon Notes, (4) Writings and Addresses, (5) Family and Biographical Papers, (6) Printed Materials, (7) News Clippings, (8) Artifacts, (9) Photographs, (10) Oversize, and (11) Added Materials.

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