Edgar Young Mullins, Southern’s fourth president, was born in Franklin County, Mississippi, on January 5, 1860, the fourth of eleven children. Ambitious as a youth, Mullins ran errands in a telegraph office before taking charge of the operation at age fifteen. E. Y., as he was known, entered the Texas Agricultural and Mechanical College at sixteen years of age. Following his graduation from the school, Mullins studied to be a lawyer, but rerouted his career path after his conversion at a revival service. The Texan desired the work of a missionary and so moved to Louisville in 1881 to study theology at Southern.
Mullins graduated from Southern in 1885 as one of the top students of his class. Seeking deployment to Brazil for missions work, Mullins faced another life crossroads when the SBC’s Foreign Mission Board denied him appointment due to insufficient funding. Though it disappointed Mullins, this development enabled him to marry Isla May Hawley, whom he had met while attending Walnut Street Baptist Church. The couple tragically saw two sons die in early childhood but enjoyed a happy life together.
Mullins worked for the next fourteen years first as the associate secretary of the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board and later as a pastor in Baltimore and Massachusetts. Observing the squalor of the Baltimore inner city, Mullins acquired a sensibility to social issues that lasted a lifetime. Following his time in Baltimore, Mullins settled into pastoral work in New England, far from his alma mater and the Whitsitt controversy. When Southern sent an agent to his doorstep in late 1898 to offer him its presidency, Mullins expressed initial shock at the thought of leaving and taking up such work. The unanimous call of the trustees persuaded him, however, and he assumed the presidency in 1899.
The president marked his term with bold strokes. He sometimes clashed with faculty members who preferred the historic team-oriented style of leadership, though he enjoyed considerable popularity among the majority of the campus community. In the midst of the 75 Million Campaign in 1919, he began an independent campaign for the seminary that brought a sizeable sum to Southern and secured the seminary’s relocation to a more favorable site. He led the seminary’s purchase of a picturesque plot of land in East Louisville known as “the Beeches.” This initiative represented one of the more significant acts of a long and notable presidency.
Mullins became one of the most influential Southern Baptists of the twentieth century. His influence extended to all spheres of Southern Baptist life. He shaped Southern Baptist theology through his many denominational articles and such books as The Axioms of Religion, Why is Christianity True?, and Christianity at the Crossroads. A denominational statesman, Mullins served as SBC president from 1921 to 1924 and as chairman of the Baptist Faith and Message Committee in 1925. Mullins was a giant among the Southern Baptists. He was a member of Louisville’s Broadway Baptist Church. Mullins passed away on November 23, 1928 after a paralyzing stroke.
Source: William E. Ellis, A Man of Books and a Man of the People, Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1985. Mullins, E.Y, The Axioms of Religion, George, Timothy and Denise, editors. Nashville, TN: Broadman, 1997. Mullins, Isla May, Edgar Young Mullins: An Intimate Biography, Nashville, TN: Sunday School Board, 1929.