Mary Atkins

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Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, William Rockhill Nelson, John Burris Atkins





The modest Kentucky-born teacher Mary McAfee moved to Kansas City in 1878, marrying her childhood friend and real estate guru John Burris Atkins. Tragically widowed just 10 years later, Mary spent the rest of her life either in solitude or in transit. She used her late husband’s sizeable nest egg to tour European capitals and was dazzled by their art.  It still came as a surprise at her death in 1911 when Mary Atkins left a $300,000 chunk of her accumulated wealth to Kansas City, for the purpose of building an art museum.  Combined with William Rockhill Nelson’s own hefty bequest and shared vision, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art opened in 1927—after savvy estate management increased Atkins’donation to $700,000.