Joseph S. Bridwell

J.S. Bridwell, Atlas Portraits, photograph, 1991.017.

Bridwell Library owes its name and much of its distinction to Joseph Sterling Bridwell (1885–1966), a Texas oilman and rancher, who devoted the last two decades of his life to the dream of establishing a noteworthy library. Together with his daughter Margaret Bridwell Bowdle, he provided the resources to build the Library. They made their initial gifts with the encouragement of their Wichita Falls neighbors, Joe and Lois Perkins, the benefactors of the Perkins School of Theology. The original library building, along with the rest of the Perkins Quadrangle, was dedicated on February 8, 1951, and housed a theological collection of approximately forty thousand volumes that had been serving seminarians at Southern Methodist University until then.

J. S. Bridwell was a devout Methodist and his view of God’s world and man’s place in it was as far-reaching as the unlimited vistas on his ranches. He wanted the Library that bore his name to provide the resources to make possible an educated clergy with the broadest possible cultural foundation. He may never have used the word “interdisciplinary’ in his life, but he instinctively knew that he wanted to build such a collection. He supported the purchase of early Bibles and rare books in the areas of church history and theology, and also encouraged the acquisition of less obvious sources for religious studies, branching into what we would now call cultural studies. In the collection of works of literature, art, history, and philosophy, Bridwell Library’s profile took shape—not as an eclectic library of showpieces, but as a record of the most significant and revolutionary ideas of Western civilization. —from [Valerie Hotchkiss], Bridwell at Fifty: Books, Benefactors, and Bibliophiles. Dallas: Bridwell Library, 2001.

Lower South Stairs
Joseph S. Bridwell