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The John A. Mackay Manuscript Collection

Identifier: SCM 248

Scope and Content

The John A. Mackay Manuscript Collection consists of the personal papers of Princeton Theological Seminary’s third president and contains a variety of materials from throughout his life.

The John A. Mackay Collection Accrual, Series XI, was accessioned after the initial John A. Mackay Collection was processed and now stands as that collection’s eleventh series. Content is divided into seven subseries: Writings by John A. Mackay; Personal and Biographical; Latin American Years (1916-1936); Correspondence; Organizations and Topics; Photographs, Mixed Media, and Ephemeral; and Works by Others. These subseries are modeled after the ten series of the initial collection, which included the previous seven series as well as “Princeton Theological Seminary Presidency,” “Moderator of the General Assembly of the PCUSA,” and “Addendum from John M. Metzger.” Works relating to these topics were not significantly represented in the accrual to justify their own subseries.


  • 1881-2010 (bulk, 1907-1983)

Language of Materials

English, Portuguese and Spanish


Access to the John A. Mackay Manuscript Collection is restricted. Materials may not be consulted without the permission of John Metzger.


1889 May 17
Born in Inverness, Scotland
Graduated, Master of Arts, University of Aberdeen
Graduated, Bachelor of Divinity, Princeton Theological Seminary
Married Jane Logan Wells
Traveled to Peru as a missionary of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland
Founded Anglo-Peruvian College
Graduated, Doctor of Letters, San Marcos University
Elected to Chair of Metaphysics, San Marcos University
Under the auspices of the YMCA, traveled widely throughout Latin America, lecturing and writing on religious and cultural topics
Secretary for Latin America and Africa of the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A.
Elected President and Professor of Ecumenics at Princeton Theological Seminary
Founded Theology Today
Chairman of the International Missionary Council
President of the American Association of Theological Schools
Chairman of the Joint Committee of the International Missionary Council and the World Council of Churches
Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A.
President of the World Presbyterian Alliance
Retired from Princeton Theological Seminary
Adjunct professor of Hispanic thought at American University in Washington, D.C.
1983 June 9
Died in Hightstown, NJ

Biographical Information

John Alexander Mackay was born on May 17, 1889, in Inverness, Scotland. He earned his Master of Arts in philosophy from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland in 1912 and his Bachelor of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1915.

In 1916 he married Jane Logan Wells, and they had four children: Isobel, Duncan, Elena, and Ruth. In 1916, the two moved to Lima, Peru as missionaries of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland and together founded the Anglo-Peruvian College in 1917. In 1918 Mackay earned his Doctor of Letters from Lima’s San Marcos University, where he was elected to the Chair of Metaphysics in 1925. Between 1926 and 1932, Dr. Mackay traveled widely throughout Latin America, working under the auspices of the South American Federation of the YMCA as a lecturer and writer on religious and cultural topics. From 1932 until 1936 he served as secretary for Latin America and Africa of the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A.

In 1936 Dr. Mackay was elected President of Princeton Theological Seminary, a position he held until his retirement in 1959. Among his other duties there, he served as Professor of Ecumenics, a movement with which he is often associated. In 1944 he founded the quarterly journal Theology Today, which he edited for seven years. Between 1948 and 1950 he was President of the American Association of Theological Schools. For ten years he was Chairman of the International Missionary Council and from 1948 to 1954 Chairman of the Joint Committee of the International Missionary Council and the World Council of Churches. In 1953 he was elected to a one-year term as Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. From 1954 to 1959 he served as President of the World Presbyterian Alliance.

Following his retirement from Princeton Theological Seminary, Dr. Mackay served as an adjunct professor of Hispanic thought at American University in Washington, D.C from 1961 until 1964, and continued to travel widely, both lecturing and writing. He was the author of thirteen books, three in Spanish and ten in English. In 1969 Dr. and Mrs. Mackay moved to a retirement community in Hightstown, New Jersey. He died on June 9, 1983 at the age of 94.


294 Linear Feet (392 boxes)


The collection has been arranged into the following series:

Series I: Writings by John A. Mackay 56 boxes

Arranged alphabetically,including published and unpublished writings and lecture notes. Contains primarily published works by Mackay, including copies of seven of his books and numerous pamphlets and magazine articles. Also included are both manuscripts and typescripts of longer works intended either for publication or presentation, as well as several bibliographies of works by Mackay.

Series II: Personal and Biographical 18 boxes

Contains a variety of materials relating to Mackay’s life, including: datebooks, notebooks, travel itineraries, newspaper clippings and magazine articles about him, programs and bulletins of events he attended or at which he spoke, lecture notes and transcripts, receipts and financial materials, records of correspondence both written and received, a list of books that influenced his life, biographical sketches, and listings in directories. Included at the end of the subseries are transcripts of a series of six interviews with Mackay conducted by Gerald W. Gillette between 1973 and 1976, as well as materials prepared by Mackay for an unfinished autobiography, The Hand and the Road.

Series III: Latin American Years 20 boxes

Contains a variety of materials from or relating to this formative period of Mackay’s life, including diaries, notebooks, address books, schedules and travel itineraries, letters and records of correspondence, newspaper and magazine clippings, lectures, and other materials relating to various Latin American organizations with which Mackay was associated.

Series IV: Princeton Theological Presidency 27 boxes

Contains material pertaining to Mackay's leadership at the Seminary.

Series V: Moderator of the General Assembly of the PCUSA 4 boxes

Series VI: Correspondence 152 boxes

Includes letters written and received by Mackay arranged alphabetically by correspondent, and later includes several series of correspondence relating to particular topics, including Mackay’s retirement, his 80th birthday, and his decision to donate his papers to the Princeton Theological Seminary Library.

Series VII: Organizations and topics 66 boxes

Includes folders on specific groups Mackay was involved with, including The Presbyterian Church U.S.A., The Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, Princeton Theological Seminary, the International Missionary Council, the World Council of Churches, and Theology Today, as well as certain issues with which he was concerned, including the Vietnam War opposition movement and McCarthyism.

Series VIII: Works by others 8 boxes

Contains publications collected by Mackay by various authors on a variety of topics.

Series IX: Photographs, mixed media, ephemera 15 boxes

Contains a number of photographs from throughout Mackay’s life, as well as a variety of other materials, including: diplomas, plaques, awards, Dictabelt records, cassette tapes, a scrapbook, a banner, and a suitcase.

Series X: Addendum from John Metzger 1 box

Correspondence regarding Metzger's biography of John Mackay and Federal Bureau of Investigation file on John Mackay.

Series XI: Accrual

The accrual comprises the eleventh series of the and is divided into seven subseries:

Boxes 1-3: Writings by John A. Mackay

Boxes 4-10: Personal and biographical

Boxes 13-17: Correspondence

Boxes 18-19: Organizations and topics

Boxes 20-23: Photographs, mixed media, and ephemera

Boxes 24-25: Works by others

Within each subseries, materials are generally arranged chronologically by earliest folder date, except for Correspondence and Works by others, which are arranged alphabetically. In certain instances, exceptions are made to these rules, including: the inclusion of full-length books and bibliographical lists at the beginning of Writings by John A. Mackay and the shift to the end of Personal and biographical more comprehensive accounts, including interviews and Mackay’s notes for his unpublished autobiography. When two related folders exist, they are kept together and filed according to the date of the first folder. In cases of chronological arrangement, undated materials follow dated ones and are arranged alphabetically by title.

Given the formative significance of Mackay’s time in Latin America, the “Latin American Years (1916-1936)” subseries occasionally includes materials that, from another time in his life, might otherwise have been grouped into another subseries. For instance, certain correspondence dating from this period is included in Latin American Years, rather than Correspondence. Moreover, the date range provided for the Latin American years represents the time period when Mackay was living in Latin America, rather than dates of works represented in the subseries. A number of works date from after 1936, but were included for their thematic continuity with this period of Mackay’s life.

Within Correspondence, individual folders were assigned when five or more letters were exchanged with a single correspondent, or when one or more additional letters were exchanged with a correspondent who, in the original collection, had been assigned their own folder according to the same five-letter criteria.

Materials in Photographs, mixed media, and ephemera subseries do not always follow strict chronological order due to the need to group certain items according to size.

Whenever possible, materials were kept in their original order. However, some re-foldering was necessary in instances where materials were received loose or with no apparent order. Names were provided for very few of the original folders, but were retained whenever accurate and appropriate.

Processing Information

The bulk of the collection was inventoried and series established by Archivist William O. Harris. Several seminarians assisted with arrangement and inventory, including Matthew Reeder and Daved Anthony Schmidt. Final inventory was completed by Manuscript Librarian Robert Golon and Archivist Kenneth Henke in 2013. The collection accrual was processed and finding aid frontmatter written by Archives intern William Haggis in 2015.

The John A. Mackay Manuscript Collection
Mackay, John Alexander, 1889-1983
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note

Revision Statements

  • December 20, 2016: EAD finding aids for collections processed and encoded before 2015 were revised slightly and imported into ArchivesSpace in 2016.

Repository Details

Part of the Princeton Theological Seminary. Library. Special Collections Repository

Princeton Theological Seminary
Wright Library
25 Library Place
Princeton NJ 08540 USA