James Hampton Kirkland was born in Spartanburg, South Carolina, September 9, 1859, the youngest son of William Clark and Virginia Lawson (Galluchat) Kirkland, and a descendant of Scotch and French settlers. His father was a Methodist minister and a member of the South Carolina conference, and his mother was the daughter of the Reverend Joseph Galluchat, a well known French minister in Charleston, South Carolina. He received an A.B. in 1877 and A.M. in 1878 from Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C. He received a Ph.D. in Comparative Philology at University of Leipzig in 1885. In 1886, he was appointed professor of Latin at Vanderbilt University, with the recommendations of his former professors at Wofford, Charles F. Smith and William M. Baskervill, both of whom studied at Leipzig and now were faculty members at Vanderbilt.
Besides being an able teacher and researcher in classics, Kirkland played a lead role in a faculty-led movement of educational reform that resulted in higher entrance requirements, the reorganization of the four-year-curriculum, and a general raising of academic standards. He held the professorship until 1893, when at the age of thirty – three, he was elected second chancellor of Vanderbilt, succeeding Landon Cabell Garland. During Chancellor Kirkland’s forty-four-year tenure (1893-1937), Vanderbilt witnessed a significant period of expansion. With his leadership, the educational reform for maintaining high academic standards, from entrance exams through college curriculum to graduate programs, was further developed, thus laying a solid foundation in academics for Vanderbilt and giving the institution an opportunity to play a leading role in the reform of southern higher education in the turn of the century.
The James Hampton Kirkland Papers, the second chancellor of Vanderbilt University, are composed of eighteen cubic feet of material that represent Kirkland’s life, particularly his tenure at Vanderbilt (Professor of Latin, 1886 - 1893, Chancellor, 1893 - 1937, Chancellor Emeritus 1937 - 1939).
The collection is organized into nine series: Correspondence, Writings, Personal and Biographical, Academic Career, Organizations/Institutions, Newspaper Clippings, Iris Material, Family Correspondence, and Family Material.