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                                          Annie Pearce Kinkead (Mrs. B.B.) Warfield
                                                                         (1852 - 1915)
                                                                     by Fred G. Zaspel
                                            (reprinted from Banner of Truth Issue 595, April 2013)

          Believe it or not, since the publication of my The Theology of B.B. Warfield in early 2010 I have
received more inquiries regarding Warfield’s wife, Annie, than any other single Warfield subject. This is a
curious thing, given the many other topics of important and relevant study related to this Princetonian
giant. Perhaps it’s just the humanness of it all that is so intriguing, or just the simple fact that she is such
an unknown. I’m sure the particular reasons for inquiry have varied, but because Annie remains an item of
such interest for historians and other curious Reformed types, I will provide here just some miscellaneous
information on matters of most common inquiry.

          Born April 7, 1852, Annie was from Lexington, KY, like Warfield. She is descended from the
famous Revolutionary War general George Rogers Clark, “Hannibal of the West” as he was called. Her
father, George Blackburn Kinkead, was an eminent Lexington attorney who had successfully defended
Abraham Lincoln in a case in 1855. Her family were members of Lexington’s prominent First
Presbyterian Church. (The Warfields, by the way, were members of Lexington’s Second Presbyterian
Church, the only local Presbyterian Church to affiliate with the Northern Presbyterians in the division
between the north and south around the time of the civil war.) A well-educated girl, especially for the
times, she is described as brilliant, witty, and beautiful. Her correspondence reveals a fun and loving wit
and keen intellect, and it seems her evenings were customarily spent in the house with her husband,
reading, writing letters, sharing thoughts and comments. Benjamin and Annie were married in August 3,
1876, and soon were off to Europe where he would continue his theological studies.

          In biographical sketches of Warfield today, it is common to read of Annie’s ill-health, but it is
surprising to learn that the story frequently goes a bit beyond the historical evidence. Reports that she
was struck by lightning early in marriage, paralyzed the rest of her life, that Warfield provided meticulous
care for his invalid wife for the entirety of their marriage, and such, are common.

          We have but a few sources of factual information about Annie’s health. First, we have this brief
account from O.T. Allis, a 1905 graduate and later a junior colleague at Princeton.

In his distinguished and eminently successful career, there was an element of tragedy. After
graduating from the Seminary at the age of 25 he had married and taken his wife to
Germany, a honeymoon during which he studied at Leipzig. On a walking trip in the Harz
mountains, they were overtaken by a terrific thunderstorm. . . . [I]t was such a shattering
experience for Mrs Warfield that she never fully recovered from the shock to her nervous
system and was more or less of an invalid during the rest of her life. I used to see them
walking together and the gentleness of his manner was striking proof of the loving care with
which he surrounded her. They had no children. During the years spent at Princeton, he
rarely if ever was absent for any length of time. Mrs Warfield required his constant attention
and care.1

          We also have a brief mention from J. Gresham Machen, also a 1905 graduate and later junior
colleague of Warfield. This from Machen is from a letter to his mother shortly after Annie’s funeral in
1915:

I have faint recollections of her walking up and down in front of the house in the early years
of my Princeton life, but even that diversion has long been denied her. I never spoke to her.
Her trouble has been partly nervous, and she has seen hardly anyone except Dr. Warfield.
But she remained, they say, until the end a very brilliant woman. Dr. Warfield used to read
to her during certain definite hours every day. For many, many years he has never been
away from her more than about two hours at a time; it has been some ten years since he
left Princeton (on the occasion of the experiment of taking her away in the summer). . . .
What the effect of her death upon him will be I do not know; I think, however, that he will feel
dreadfully lost without her.
As Mrs. [William Park] Armstrong said, he has had only two interests in life - his work, and
Mrs. Warfield, and now that she is gone there may be danger of his using himself up rather
quickly.2

          Additionally, we know from the Warfield correspondence3 that in 1881 Annie is “pining for a baby.”
We also know that in 1892 she was becoming ill and needed a nurse. We also know that Warfield had to
miss a speaking engagement in Staten Island, NY, in 1893, because of “family illness.” And we know that
Annie was diagnosed with neurasthenia - a rather common ailment at the time, afflicting mostly women,
marked by fatigue, weakness, anxiety, and depression. The word “invalid” begins to find use in the
Warfield correspondence beginning in the mid 1890s, and her 1915 obituary article in The Presbyterian
mentions broadly that she had been sick for twenty years. And to this we might add a detail from Hugh
Kerr, who mentions in his Princeton lecture on Warfield in 2004 that Annie spent her last two years
bedridden4 - assuming, given his position there at Princeton, that even though so long after Warfield his
information is well grounded.

          So, with this rather scanty information, what do we actually know about Annie’s health? Evidently a
thunderstorm early in their marriage (1876 or 77) resulted in some kind of nervous disorder that became
gradually worse until finally she became bedridden. And we know that the two were very close and that
Warfield was a devoted and caring husband, choosing to be near her always in her relatively frail
condition rather than accepting engagements away.

          It is truly a tragic story, and Warfield deserves the credit he receives for his faithful concern for his
afflicted wife. Yet it should be noted that Allis’s remarks overstate the case somewhat. We may grant the
accuracy of his tracing Annie’s health problems to a thunderstorm in Germany, although there is no
corroboration from elsewhere, even from Warfield’s own contemporary correspondence. In fact, it is a
curious thing that in the Warfield correspondence from Germany at this time there is no mention at all of
illness on the part of Annie - only of Warfield himself, a factor that frustratingly hindered his studies. What
appears exaggerated is Allis’s statement that Annie was more or less an “invalid” for “the rest of her life.”

          In their earlier years of marriage we do begin to read in the Warfield correspondence of Annie’s
health issues, as I said, and by the mid 1890s the word “invalid” begins to appear. But 1) we cannot
understand this in absolute terms, given Allis’s mention that after the turn of the century she still was
walking outside. And 2) we cannot use the term in any sense to describe Annie’s earlier years. For
example, when Warfield was teaching at Western Theological Seminary in Allegheny (Pittsburgh), he and
Annie would host students in their home, at which time Annie would play the piano for her guests. The
couple regularly traveled home to Kentucky for Christmas and other vacation times. We read in 1879 of a
recommended special diet for Annie, but as this kind of thing was common it doesn’t necessarily tell us
anything. In 1884 the couple traveled to Belfast to attend the Pan Presbyterian Council, and while they
were there they visited around Northern Ireland and England also. The trip was difficult for Annie, but she
was able. For some years after their arrival at Princeton (1887) they summer vacationed in the Keene
Valley in the Adirondack mountains in New York and then in the Pocono mountains of Pennsylvania. It
may be that they had to miss the vacation in 1888 because of Annie’s ill-health, but this is not certain, and
in any case they continued vacationing in the Poconos at least until the mid to late 1890s. It may be that
these vacations were viewed as therapeutic, especially in the later years, for there is mention in the
correspondence of getting away from the heat in Princeton. In 1896 Annie was ill, but they thought the
mountain air would be good for her, so they went as usual - although the trip was hard on her. Further,
Annie maintained an active role in their First Presbyterian Church of Princeton until the early 1890s. Still in the 1890s
we know that Annie loved to go “driving” - out and about driving her horse-drawn carriage. And very
tellingly, as I note in the introductory chapter of my The Theology of B.B. Warfield (p.29), I discovered a
New York Times mention that Annie served as a patroness at a formal event in Princeton on April 30,
1892. All this to say that the “invalid” terminology must be understood as relevant only in the later years
and then only in a relative sense. Allis is doubtless a reliable witness to what he saw, but all of these
examples predate his time at Princeton. The fact is he over-generalizes: Annie was able to serve in a
public role at an important event at least as late as 1892, drive her own carriage about Princeton and
travel to the mountains well into the 1890s. And the legends we commonly hear today, of course, go even
beyond even Allis’s reports.

          Although it is evident that Warfield was the caring husband Allis and Machen describe, it is not
certain how much “hands on” care she actually required even during her later years. If Kerr is correct that
Annie was bedridden for her final two years, and if by this he meant that she was completely bedridden,
then of course she required much care for that final period of her life. The impression we are given from
reports today is that he gave her extensive personal care in the home, but we just do not know these
details. And for that matter the Warfields were rather well to do and had servants to help in the home.

          Just briefly, it is common today to read that Annie was a recluse, perhaps inferring this from
Machen’s remark that “she has seen hardly anyone except Dr. Warfield.” But it should be noted that
Machen gives no time-frame for this at all, no indication whether he is speaking of her final months or the
final couple years. And in any case it is not clear at all that he meant to indicate that she was a recluse.
Also, there is a photo of Warfield and New Testament professor George T. Purves sitting in Warfield’s
study at home around 1900, so people were in the home at least until then.

          The long and short of all this is that Annie was somehow affected by a thunderstorm in Germany in
1876 or 77, and that this had a debilitating effect on her until in the mid 1890s she became increasingly
“invalid” and homebound. Tragic as this is (and I certainly don’t mean to minimize it), it has been
overstated in many more recent accounts. Annie was not paralyzed, we don’t know that she was struck by
lightning, and she was not absolutely invalid until perhaps in her very final years. But the thunderstorm
event was traumatic, and evidently it did have gradually debilitating effects. And Warfield was obviously
concerned to be close and provide well for her. Please note that my intention here is not to relegate the
entire story to mythology, only to check the over-statements.

          The Warfields had no children, though from her correspondence it seems she was well-loved by her
nieces and nephews. And their marriage was quite evidently a happy one, as evidenced by the lovely
witness to this effect from those who knew them, the much regular and meaningful time Benjamin and
Annie spent together, and his own choosing to be near her in her relatively frail nervous condition rather
than accepting engagements away.

          Annie died on November 19, 1915. Though she had passed more than five years before him, in
Warfield’s last will and testament he gave her remembrance, funding a lectureship in her memory at the
seminary - the “Annie Kinkead Warfield Lectures” - that continues at Princeton still today.


End Notes:

1.  Banner of Truth 89 (Fall 1971), p. 10.

2.  Cited in Ned B. Stonehouse, J. Gresham Machen: A Biographical Memoir (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954),
p.220.

3.  For most of this and the following information regarding the Warfields’ early years together I am gratefully indebted
to Dr. Bradley Gundlach. Brad has done more extensive biographical research on Warfield and has a closer
acquaintance with the Warfield correspondence than anyone else. Hopefully we’ll one day see his work in print.

4.  Princeton Seminary Bulletin, XXV:1. New Series, 2004, p.85.