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Family and Background

James Bell Bullitt (second from left) with his father and brothers ca. 1908.

James Bell Bullitt was born on January 18, 1874 in Louisville, Kentucky to a prominent family, whose members included Supreme Court Justice John Marshall, Dr. Louis Marshall (a former President of Washington College, later Washington and Lee University), his brother William M. Bullitt who was Solicitor General under President Taft, and cousin William C. Bullitt who was the first US Ambassador to the Soviet Union. He was an avid football player and played all through high school, college, and medical school. In 1901, he married Evelyn Bryan. They had three children: Thomas, James, and Margaret.

Education and Medical Career

Bullitt attended the Rugby Preparatory School in Louisville before going to Washington and Lee University in Lynchburg, Virginia where he earned a BA in 1894 and an MA in 1895. He continued on and obtained his MD at the University of Virginia in 1897.

Dr. James Bullitt.

He became a Demonstrator of Anatomy at the University of Virginia before obtaining a position as a Professor of Anatomy at the University of Mississippi in 1903. He was hired as a Professor of Pathology at the University of North Carolina in 1913 and would hold that position until he became a Professor Emeritus in 1947. Earlier in his career, near the end of World War I, Dr. Bullitt accepted a commission in the US Army Medical Corps and served for over a year (May 1918 to July 1919) at Base Hospital 65 in France. Following retirement in 1947, he continued to work in his UNC laboratory until 1962 when ill health forced him to stop. He died two years later on March 7, 1964 at the age of 90.

Dr. Bullitt was one of the great leaders of UNC’s School of Medicine during the first half of the twentieth century. The Bullitt History of Medicine Club and one of the buildings in the School of Medicine is named in his honor. His student and colleague Dr. John B.Graham wrote the following two biographical essays about him for those who wish to learn more about his medical career.


Dr. Bullitt had a strong interest in archaeology and became an avid avocational archaeologist. He traveled to Europe and visited numerous archaeological museums and sites, specifically Paleolithic era sites. He collected hundred of archaeological artifacts, which he brought back to Chapel Hill. These artifacts along with photographs and his travel journal (letters written to his son) now comprise the James Bell Bullitt Collection curated by the Research Laboratories of Archaeology (RLA).

Town Creek Excavation Committee (1937) at Town Creek Indian Mound, today a North Carolina State Historic Site. Dr. James Bullit is pictured on the far left.

Bullitt was a member of the Prehistorical Society of America, the American Anthropological Association, and a founding member of the Archaeological Society of North Carolina (now called the North Carolina Archaeological Society). He worked on a number of excavations in North Carolina along with RLA archaeologists and Archaeological Society of North Carolina members during the first half of the twentieth century, including serving on the initial Town Creek (then called Frutchey Mound) Excavation Committee in 1937. He even briefly served as acting “Director” of the RLA following World War II, referring to himself as “Curator” of the Archaeology Laboratory during this period.