Biography of James M. May

James M. May. A great and forceful influence was removed from the religious affairs of the State of Kansas in the death of James M. May, which occurred at his home in Manhattan August 17, 1915. The best work of his life was performed as a Sunday School and church organizer and missionary. However, he had a wonderful adaptability and resourcefulness, and might have been successful as a mechanic, a farmer or in almost any line of business, had not his earnest devotion to the cause of religion kept him in that field of effort during all his active years.

He was born in Adams County, Ohio, September 6, 1848, a son of Henry and Margaret (McClung) May. He was of Holland Dutch ancestry in the paternal line and through his mother inherited Scotch-Irish stock. His father was born in Pennsylvania and his mother in Ohio. His father was a carpenter and farmer, and the late Mr. May grew up on a farm in Southern Ohio. The limited education which he was privileged to receive from the common schools he supplemented in after years by private study and wise reading, but his knowledge of men and the motives that move mankind always transcended any of the lore obtained from books. However, he was a great book lover, and to the end of his days enjoyed the communion with the great thinkers of the past.

As a young man he learned the trade of carpenter. That together with farming furnished him an occupation and means of livelihood until he was past forty years of age. When very young he left home to fight the battles of life for himself, but he faithfully contributed of his earnings to the support of his parents until he was thirty years of age or until he established a home of his own.

From early manhood he lived in the West. For a few years he was employed in bridge building for railroads. His proficiency in that work brought him the offer of a good position with large opportunities for the future, but he refused to consider employment which would require his services on Sundays.

While in Hamilton County, Nebraska, he took up a homestead, was married there, and he and his wife settled down to work their claim. Thereafter for a dozen years or so he alternately followed farming and carpentering, and in the meantime his parents came out to Nebraska and located in the same county and spent the rest of their days there. From that time in his youth when he united with the Presbyterian Church the life of James M. May was distinguished for his earnestness and zeal and his devotion to the great cause of Christ. In 1889 he entered the official work of the church as a Sunday School missionary. His first labors were performed in New Mexico, where he spent six months. then for nearly twenty years he was employed in the presbyteries of Western Kansas, where his name became familiar to nearly every Presbyterian home and others as well. Before removing to Manhattan in 1907 he lived at Lincoln and Minneapolis, Kansas, those two towns being his home during his many years of connection with the Presbyterian Board of Sabbath School Work.

In Western Kansas numerous Sunday schools and churches have become permanent organizations and stand as monuments to his labor. The following brief report of his work was found among his papers: 161 new schools organized and 35 revived, with 897 teachers and 7,883 scholars; 549 mission schools and 401 church schools visited and encouraged; 607 Bibles and Testaments, and 10,621 books of the board distributed, and 375,313 pages of religious tracts and papers given away; 9,421 homes visited; 2,452 addresses made; 215 conversions made in Gospel meetings held with mission schools; 117,100 miles traveled in doing the work; Presbyterian churches developed from Sunday schools organized–Kanapolis; Mundon (Bohemian), Elkhorn, Harmony, Aurora, Spring Valley, La Plata (New Mexico); Presbyterian missions developed, Shiloh, Summerville, Pleasant Ridge, Walnut Grove, Stagg Creek, Lindsey; Methodist churches developed, Langley, Appleville, Macyville, Talmage; Evangelical churches developed at Vine Creek and Longford; United Brethren churches at Elm Grove and Melville; and German Baptist at Russell–in all twenty-seven churches.

“They that are wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars forever.” To “turn many to righteousness” the late Mr. May made the mission of his life. He was a wonderful personal worker, his influence was marvelous and will abide. He exemplified in faith and practice the essentials of the Christian life, and his own career is a splendid testimony to the power of goodness actuated by Christian principles.

“The dear Lord’s best interpreters Are humble human souls; The Gospel of a life like his Is more than books and scrolls.”

January 15, 1878, Mr. May was united in marriage with Lucy J. Fye. Six children were born to them: Gertrude, a popular teacher in the primary department of the Manhattan City schools; Nellie, postmistress at the Kansas State Agricultural College; Jesse D., in charge of the farm near Manhattan which is now the home of the family; Mary, who completed the high school course in the State School for the Blind and afterwards took a two years’ post-graduate course; John M., who graduated from the Kansas State Agricultural College in 1910 and is now at the head of the department of the School of Agriculture at River Falls, Wisconsin; and Henry, who died when ten years old.

Mrs. May, who survived her husband, resides with the family at Manhattan, was born in Pennsylvania April 6, 1856, daughter of John H. and Mary (Reynolds) Fye. Her parents were born in Pennsylvania, and when she was seven years of age they moved to Illinois, and ten years later to Nebraska, settling in Hamilton County, where Mrs. May lived until her marriage. In ancestry she inherits Pennsylvania Dutch stock through her father and English through her mother. Mrs. May and her children are all members of the Presbyterian Church except John M., who in the absence of a Presbyterian church in his community affiliates with the Congregational Society.



Connelley, William E. A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans. Chicago : Lewis, 1918. 5v. Biographies can be accessed from this page: Kansas and Kansans Biographies.

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