Teacher and Art Collector
1836 – 1911
Mary Atkins came to Kansas City in 1878 as a new bride, but she was already in her 40s. She had been a schoolteacher in Kentucky prior to marrying her childhood friend, James Burris Atkins. He had made a fortune by investing in real estate, and his untimely death in 1886 left her both heartbroken and wealthy.
Mary Atkins traveled to Europe after her husband’s death, where she immersed herself in museums and galleries. Her love of the arts shaped her decision to leave her fortune to develop a museum of fine arts in Kansas City. When she died in 1911, she willed $300,000 in trust for this purpose. By 1927, the trust had grown to over $700,000. Her estate was combined with that of William Rockhill Nelson for the purpose of creating an art museum.
Today, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is a renowned collection of more than 42,000 pieces of fine art and is recognized worldwide for its extensive collection of Asian Art.