More than a century of serving God, the church, and the world

Candler History

Since its founding in 1914, Candler School of Theology has richly reflected the trials and aspirations of the past century, while also helping to imagine and build a world more in tune with the good news of the gospel. The school created over a hundred years ago has provided a home for reflection, critical study, social action, and inspiration to men and women from many walks of faith, including every expression of Methodism. This timeline traces the milestone events that shaped who and what Candler is today.


Candler’s story begins with a denominational charge and a promise from Coca-Cola’s founder.

The Methodist Episcopal Church, South plans to establish two universities. Asa Candler, founder of The Coca-Cola Company, writes a letter promising $1 million for the southeastern school. The first class of seminarians begins study at the School of Theology in the fall.

Candler's first class of seminarians
Candler School of Theology | Million Dollar Letter


Emory University is chartered and campus construction begins in Atlanta’s Druid Hills neighborhood.

The first building constructed is the School of Theology, which the Emory board votes to name “Candler.” The minutes are unclear whether this is in honor of Asa Candler, the benefactor (top photo), or his brother, Warren Candler (bottom photo), a MECS bishop and Emory’s chancellor—or both.

photo of Candler's building in 1916
Asa (top) and Warren Candler


The Candler faculty votes to admit female students, but there are no takers for more than a decade.

The decision is made in 1922 despite the MECS’s ban on the ordination of women. In 1938, Mary Vaughn Johnson, the wife of a Candler professor, becomes the first woman to be awarded Emory’s bachelor of divinity degree.

theology library circa 1930
Candler School of Theology | Women at Candler


William R. Cannon, a professor of church history, is appointed dean, and Bishops Hall is completed.

Faculty hires in Cannon‘s first five years shape the school significantly, elevating its academic profile. He appoints a committee to provide recommendations on admitting Black students. Bishops Hall opens in 1957, providing much needed classroom space.

Candler School of Theology | William R Cannon
Bishops Hall circa 1957


The faculty voice “willingness and readiness” to teach Black students, but state law blocks the way.

Georgia law in 1957 says that universities offering instruction to Black students will lose their tax-exempt status. Emory University challenges this law, and in 1962, the Georgia Supreme Court rules in its favor. Candler‘s first Black student, Otis Turner, enrolls in 1965.

Candler School of Theology | Otis Turner


Candler’s growth soars under the leadership of Dean James T. Laney.

Laney grows the Candler faculty by 50 percent in his first four years. During his eight-year tenure, enrollment increases 37 percent, making Candler the largest United Methodist seminary in the nation. Laney goes on to become president of Emory University until 1993, when he is appointed U.S. Ambassador to South Korea.

James T. Laney and Candler faculty, 1973
James T. Laney


Pioneers in integrating Candler’s faculty lay the groundwork for cultivating diversity over time.

Grant Shockley, the first full-time Black faculty member, joins in 1970. Noel Erskine follows in 1977, Luther Smith in 1979, and Romney Moseley in 1982. Teresa Fry Brown (inset photo) breaks color and gender barriers in 1994 as the first tenure-track Black female. These “firsts” prime the way for a faculty that has since grown to 41% persons of color.

oil portrait of Professor Grant Shockley
Teresa Fry Brown in 1994


Women make inroads into the faculty realm over the course of a decade.

In 1972, 50 years after the vote to admit women students, visiting professor Peggy Billings becomes the first woman on faculty. Six years later, Roberta Bondi becomes Candler’s first female tenure-track faculty member, and Carol Newsom follows in 1980.

Prof. Roberta Bondi knitting in her office
Prof. Carol Newsom teaching circa 1980


Emory builds a university chapel named in honor of Candler’s former dean, William R. Cannon.

President Jimmy Carter attends the groundbreaking for Cannon Chapel in 1979, and construction is completed in 1981. Celebrated as an exemplar of the Brutalist architectural style, the chapel hosts Candler worship, services for campus religious groups, and a variety of events for the entire Emory community.

Cannon Chapel exterior
President Jimmy Carter at Cannon Chapel groundbreaking in 1981


Jan Love becomes Candler’s first female dean.

The daughter of a Methodist minister, an international leader in denominational and ecumenical arenas, and a scholar of world politics, Love comes to Candler after 22 years on the faculty of the University of South Carolina and time as chief executive of United Methodist Women.

Jan Love
Candler faculty in 2007


Candler has the largest tenured or tenure-track Black faculty of any seminary outside of HBCUs.

The school also launches the Erskine-Smith-Moseley Fund—a scholarship endowment honoring early Black faculty members Noel Erskine, Luther Smith, and the late Romney Moseley—to provide Black Church Studies students with scholarships and stipends.

Candler School of Theology | Erskine-Smith-Mosley Fund


Candler’s new 128,600-square-foot building complex opens in two phases.

Phase I, housing classrooms and offices, opens in 2008. Demolition of Bishops Hall makes way for Phase II, completed in 2014 with funding support from the O. Wayne Rollins Foundation. Phase II houses Pitts Theology Library and the Wesley Teaching Chapel. The two buildings are united by a soaring glass atrium.

sunlight beaming from behind Candler School of Theology

History in the Making