HomeBrowseAdvanced SearchAboutHelpContact

Bishop James DeWolf Perry Papers

Scope & content

The papers of the Rt. Rev. James DeWolf Perry, Presiding Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States, consist of correspondence, religious writings and notes, diaries and journals, news clippings, and memorabilia from the Bishop's career, chiefly from the time of his consecration as Bishop of Rhode Island in 1911 until his death in 1947, and especially from the period of his tenure as Presiding Bishop, 1930 to 1937. Also included are numerous anecdotes and testimonials submitted for inclusion in the two biographies that were being prepared after his death. The collection includes predominantly the Bishop's personal files and effects. These were transferred from the Cathedral of St. John, Providence, in October 1976 and given as a gift to the University of Rhode Island by the Rev. DeWolf Perry, the Bishop's son, in 1977. The official records of his ecclesiastical administration are part of the Archives of the Episcopal Church, 606 Rathervue Place, Austin, Texas, on the campus of the Episcopal Seminary.

The Bishop's papers and effects have been sorted into thirteen series, covering the areas of correspondence, writings, subject files, and memorabilia.

Series I, General Correspondence, consists of original and carbon copies of letters sent to and from the Bishop from 1904 to 1947, but chiefly from 1919 to 1941. It does not seem to represent more than a small part of Perry's total correspondence over the same range of subjects. There is a good deal of routine social business and the ordinary transaction of diocesan and national church affairs, as well as correspondence concerning many controversial and administrative issues, which arose during his tenure. Much of the material here is supplemented essentially by other correspondence to be found in the Subject Series.

Series II, Family Correspondence, consists chiefly of the Bishop's letters to Mrs. Perry during World War I and during some of his other journeys without her. There are also a certain amount of both the Bishop's and Mrs. Perry's correspondence with other members of their families.

Series III, Condolence Correspondence, consists almost entirely of messages of grief and good wishes sent to Mrs. Perry on the occasion of the Bishop's death in 1947.

Series IV, Sermons and Addresses, consists largely of typed carbon and holographic copies of drafts, as well as holographic lectern notes, of the Bishop's addresses to the laity and other clergymen. There are many sermons of a spiritually edifying character, as well as addresses on both religious and administrative occasions, some intended for radio presentation. In addition, there are Perry's copies of press releases and circular messages to the church, accompanied in some cases by press clippings of his remarks.

Series V, Diaries, includes a complete run of the Bishop's daybooks from 1910 to 1947 and contains especially interesting material on World War I, among other topics, though much of the diaries' space is occupied by appointment notices and weather notes.

Series VI, Journals, comprises the annual published reports of the diocese of Rhode Island, beginning in 1835 but complete only between 1911 and 1946, which contain for the latter span Bishop Perry's annual addresses, his administrative diaries, clergy lists, and financial reports for the diocese. Also found in this series are the journals of the Episcopal General Convention, beginning in 1919 but complete from 1928 to 1940.

In Series VII, the Subject Series, are filed large quantities of miscellaneous types of materials, such as correspondence, clippings, and official documents and certificates, most of it relating directly to the Bishop's own life. In this class are testimonial volumes in his honor, earned and honorary graduate degrees and various awards, correspondence from the period of his sojourn abroad during World War I. Of wider interest are materials on controversies, celebrated in their time, in which Perry had some part, like the Richmond, Torok, and Kent cases. Also present are materials gathered by Bishop Perry's would-be biographers, Allan Evans and Bishop Scaife. The Subject Series should be used in close conjunction with the General Correspondence.

Series VIII and IX contain similar matter concerning two special topics of interest, the Lambeth Conferences of 1920 and 1930 and the Bishop's Oriental Journey in 1933. The first contains a great deal of information on the behind-the-scenes deliberations as well as the public ceremonies and pronouncements of these important meetings. The second consists of personal materials accumulated by Perry during his trip to Hawaii, the Philippines, China, and Japan: itineraries, diaries, and many beautiful souvenirs.

Series X, Photographs, consists largely of formal portraits of Bishop Perry, with and without other clergymen or soldiers posing with him, and of other dignitaries, like one of Gen. Pershing dated 1920. There are very few that show aspects of Perry's personal life.

The Clippings series, Series XI, contains a mass of newspaper and magazine material concerning events in which the Bishop was involved: major events in his own career, controversial issues in which he became caught up, important occasions in the church's life. In addition, there are published texts of many of his own sermons and addresses, and as a third subseries, there is a small amount of press material in which he is not mentioned but about which presumably he was interested.

Series XII, Prayers and Collects, contains pious manuals and prayer formularies, none of which were written by the Bishop.

Series XIII, Memorabilia, contains a collection of medals, insignias and crosses, including the French Legion of Honor, awarded to or worn by Bishop Perry.

There are many elements of historical interest in Bishop Perry's papers, aside from the most obvious one, which is the large quantity of biographical material concerning an intelligent and humane man who was the spiritual and administrative head of his church during a trying time. Beyond this, there is background material on several important issues in recent American religious history in its Episcopalian aspect, such as the Anglo-Catholic unity movement, the pan-Protestantism movement, the traditionalism/modernism and high and low church controversies, the plight of the missionary stations, and the church's perception of crucial international problems, such as the growing German, Japanese, and Italian threats in the 1930s and the worldwide depression. There is information on several particular controversies, some local to the church, such as the suit which the Rev. G. C. Richmond brought against Perry and the reinstatement of Bishop Torok, others impinging upon the secular world, like Kent's case and the ensuing scandal of Roosevelt's "blue shirts." There is also a great deal of material on the internal history of the Episcopal Church itself, both at the national level, most intensively of course during the 1930s, and at the Rhode Island diocesan level, for what amounts almost to the entire first half of the twentieth century, as well as considerable incidental information about China and Japan in 1933. To some extent, the materials here can also be used to shed light upon the careers of other churchmen, both members of the English and American episcopacies and the parish and mission rectors of Rhode Island.