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Mary Atkins Collection

Identifier: MSS-003

Scope and Contents Note

This collection consists of two passports which give a physical description of Mary Atkins, and are both signed by her and the head of the Department of State. One is dated May 3, 1900 which has various stamps and handwritten annotations from the Consulate General of Turkey and the Acting Minister of Empire of Japan on the back - both dated June 2, 1900. The second passport, issued on April 28, 1902, bears an annotation dated May 14, 1902 by the Consulate General of Turkey. Also included in this collection is an expense journal which she kept on trips (mostly to Europe) from 1897 to 1904.


  • Creation: 1897-1904

Restrictions on Access

Open to researchers. Appointments are necessary for the use of manuscript and archival collections.

Conditions Governing Use Note

These records are the property of the Nelson Gallery Foundation and it retains all rights, including possible copyright, which they may contain.

Biographical / Historical Note

Mary McAfee Atkins was born in Salvisa, Kentucky, on October 22, 1836 or 1840 (sources differ). She taught school in her hometown until 1878 when she married her old friend James Burris Atkins, a widower with no children. They settled in Kansas City, where he had lived and worked in the mill business since 1865. James Atkins also made some very successful speculations in downtown real estate. When he died in 1886, he left her a sizable fortune and extensive property holdings.

Mary Atkins was in deep mourning for a year after the death of her husband. Friends like Sarah Jenkins and Elizabeth Salmon Jacquemot, James Atkins’s niece, helped her gradually to overcome her grief. She visited Europe for the first time in 1897, and would return on at least four more trips, visiting France, Germany, and Switzerland, among other countries. In June of 1900 she embarked on a year-long trip around the world with Lizze Jacquemot and her husband Frederick, a native of Switzerland. She developed a deep appreciation for art as a result of her time in Europe, the Louvre being a special favorite.

Mary Atkins died on October 13, 1911, while visiting Colorado Springs. Soon after, the extent of her fortune, which had grown to almost $1 million thanks to her smart management of her widow’s inheritance, became known. Her will provided that $300,000 of her estate be set aside to purchase land and erect a building to be used as a museum of fine arts for Kansas City. This bequest was borne of the love of art she developed on her European travels and a desire to improve her community.

The cause of an art museum for Kansas City was not the only beneficiary of Mary Atkins’s largesse. She left $100,000 to the Linwood Boulevard Christian Church, made bequests in total of $412,000 to various family members, and divided another $70,000 among local orphanages and a settlement house, the Nettleton Home for Aged Women, the city’s humane society, and First Christian Church of Kansas City.

The trustees of Mary Atkins’s trust soon discovered, however, that though $300,000 was very generous, it was insufficient to build an art museum. Through wise investments, the trust grew to $700,000 by 1927, and at that time the trustees decided to join forces with the administrators of the estate of the Nelsons and Kirkwoods to realize the dream of a first-class art museum for Kansas City.


2 Folders (In folders MSS003_02 and MSS003_01.) : 2 passports, 1 volume.

Language of Materials



This collection consists of two passports dated 1900 and 1902 and a trip expense journal maintained from 1897-1904.


Due to the size and nature of this collection, it has not been divided into series.

Immediate Source of Acquisition Note

Passports: gift of Russell S. Jones; Ledger: gift of Daryl R. Halturmar. There are no accession numbers associated with this collection.

Accruals Note

Additions to this collection are not anticipated.

Finding Aid of the Mary Atkins Collection
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art Archives Repository

4525 Oak St.
Kansas City MO 64111 United States