Doctor Arthur Hollis Edens

Dr. Arthur Hollis Edens, President of Duke University for 11 years, whose father was a Methodist minister in this area, was born at Willow Grove in 1901.  He was educated at Emory University as well as Harvard.


Do you know the name of a university located in Durham, North Carolina thatís ranked among the worldís best institutions academically? If your answer to that the answer question is Duke University, youíre exactly right. In doing some research about Duke, I learned that it is a private co-educational research university that traces its institutional roots to 1838. Both Methodist and Quakers were involved with the establishment of this university.

Next question: Did you also know that someone who grew up in this area served as President of Duke University for 11 years? In case you donít know the answer to that question, that personís name was Arthur Hollis Edens. Background information about Dr. Edens includes the following: He was born in Willow Grove, Tennessee, on February 14, 1901. His parents were Rev. E.C. Edens and Barbara Ellen Jolly Edens. Dr. Edensí father was a Methodist minister who served congregations in various communities of Overton County, including Oakley, Paran, Rickman, and Livingston. Following the completion of his elementary education at Willow Grove, Dr. Edens attended and graduated from Cumberland Mountain School in Crossville, a school established in 1921 by the Methodist Episcopal church. This school provided an education for over 650 young people for 17 years.

An article that appeared in the October 23, 1987 issue of the Crossville Chronicle, has this to say:

"When Edens graduated from Cumberland Mountain School, a letter was sent to Emory University from the principal, Raymond R. Paty, in an effort to help Edens gain entry into the institution. The letter stated, This is our first commencement. In our first class of five, there is one lone boy, the pride of our school. He is a tall fellow, with a brilliant mind and a very pleasing personality. He wishes to go to college. He will not be able to pay for his education, for his father is a typical mountain man, serving three or four churches along with his farming. They are splendid people, however, and the boy is bound to make his mark soon. All I want is a chance for him. He is happy to work anywhere. I feel sure that he could help in office work, mow lawns, fire furnaces ... in fact, he is not afraid of hard work. How about a waiterís job?"

Dr. Edens held down many jobs while attending Emory University that included waiting tables in the college dining room, working as a night watchman, and serving as a lay pastor to seven rural churches. While participating in a revival at the Livingston Methodist church, he met his future wife, the church pianist, Mary Kathleen Bussell, daughter of Thomas and Callie Hart Bussell. The Bussell family lived on the corner of Bussell and East Main Streets in Livingston. They were married on December 23, 1930, and in 1934, their daughter, Mary Ann, was born. Dr. Edens began his teaching career in 1926 when he interrupted his studies at Emory to teach in the Cumberland Mountain School where he once attended. After graduating from Emory, he became principal of the school, a position he held for 7 years. He and his wife served together, his salary being $325 per year, and she, as a teacher, received $75 per year. A book by J. Draper Keisling has been released about the history of Cumberland Mountain School. Should anyone be interested in obtaining a copy, you may write to J. Draper Keisling, 346 Ridgeway, Crossville, TN 38555.

In 1938, Emory University awarded Dr. Edens a Master of Arts degree. Continuing his education, he received a Masterís Degree in Public Administration in 1944, and in 1949, he earned his doctorate in Public Administration from Harvard University.

Dr. Edens devoted his life to education, and was considered a leading southern educator. He was appointed President of Duke University in 1949 and served in that capacity until 1960. He retired in 1966 and moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where he died in 1968.

Relatives of Dr. Edens include Anna Ruth (Cobble) Qualls, a niece, of Livingston and James Cobble, a nephew, of Allons, A. C. Cobble, a nephew, of Morristown, Tennessee, and Glen Masters of Livingston, also a nephew. Copies of newspaper articles written about Dr. Edens were provided by Anna Ruth Qualls.

The suggestion that this story be written came from John Owens, formerly of Livingston, who resides in Cookeville. John was a member of Livingston Academyís 1957 graduating class, and has an avid interest in the preservation of the rich history of this area. The name Dr. Arthur Hollis Edens is certainly another one we can add to the list of those we consider to be great achievers from our area.