Smith, H. Shelton (Hilrie Shelton), 1893-

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Hilrie Shelton Smith began his association with Duke University in 1931 as Professor of Religious Education. He remained at Duke until his retirement in 1963.

From the description of Hilrie Shelton Smith papers, 1941-1983. (Duke University Library). WorldCat record id: 166325328

Hilrie Shelton Smith was born near Greensboro, NC, on 8 May 1893. After graduation from Elon College as class valedictorian in 1917 with the B.A. degree, he received the Ph.D. from Yale University in 1923. He was ordained to the ministry in the United Church of Christ in 1915, and served in 1918-1919 as first lieutenant and chaplain with the American Expeditionary Force in France. His career as an educator began with the International Council of Religious Education in Chicago, where he served as the Director of Leadership Education (1923-1928).In 1928-1929 he was Associate Professor of Education at Teachers College of Columbia University, and then from 1929 to 1931 he was Associate Professor of Religious Education at the Yale Divinity School. He came to Duke University in 1931, where he was to stay until his retirement in 1963.

Smith's career has centered upon four major themes or tasks: the development of a graduate study program in religion at Duke; the cause of Christian ecumenism, which he upheld through his role as the founder (1935) and first president of the N.C. Council of Churches; the establishment of American Christianity as an autonomous academic field, where his own contributions were to be both theological and historical; and advocacy of civil rights for black Americans, in which his role as publicist and speaker made him an early critic of institutional and legal racism in the South, especially in the Southern church.

He was also instrumental in the establishment of the Gurney Harriss Kearns Foundation for Graduate Study in Religion, and the Amos Ragan Kearns Professorship in Religion. H. Shelton Smith has received numerous honors. The James B. Duke Professorship in 1953 was one of the original groups of J.B. Duke Professorships to be awarded. A Festschrift volume was published by Duke University Press in 1963: A Miscellany of American Christianity, edited by Stuart Henry. His other honors include the presidencies of the American Society of Church History (1957) and the American Theological Society (1958-1959), election to Phi Beta Kappa (1958), and election as "Alumnus of the Year" by Elon College in 1960. In 1978, the N.C. Council of Churched awarded him its "Citation of Merit" for his devotion to the cause of ecumenism.

From the guide to the Hilrie Shelton Smith papers, 1941-1983, (University Archives, Duke University)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Paul Ramsey Papers, 1934-1984 and undated David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
creatorOf Hilrie Shelton Smith papers, 1941-1983 University Archives, Duke University.
creatorOf Kearns, Gurney Harris, 1872-1962. Papers, 1913-1970. Duke University Libraries, Duke University Library; Perkins Library
referencedIn News Service Biographical Files, ., circa 1930s - 2004 University Archives, Duke University.
creatorOf Smith, H. Shelton (Hilrie Shelton), 1893-1987. Hilrie Shelton Smith papers, 1941-1983. Duke University Libraries, Duke University Library; Perkins Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Bainton, Roland Herbert, 1894-1984 person
associatedWith Carter, Jimmy, 1924- person
associatedWith Duke University corporateBody
associatedWith Duke University. Dept. of Religion. corporateBody
associatedWith Duke University. Divinity School. corporateBody
associatedWith Duke University. News Service. corporateBody
associatedWith Franklin, John Hope, 1915-2009 person
associatedWith Hesburgh, Theodore Martin, 1917- person
associatedWith Kearns, Gurney Harris, 1872-1962. person
associatedWith Niebuhr, Reinhold, 1892-1971 person
associatedWith North Carolina Council of Churches. corporateBody
correspondedWith Ramsey, Paul person
associatedWith Ramsey, Paul. person
Place Name Admin Code Country


Birth 1893





Ark ID: w6sf3sht

SNAC ID: 28981018