Arthur Melvin Townsend was born on October 26, 1875, in Winchester, Tennessee, to the Reverend Dock Anderson and Emma A. (Singleton) Townsend. Townsend was a minister and the director of the Franklin County Negro Elementary Schools. Mrs. Townsend was a Shelbyville school teacher. Arthur Townsend was graduated from Roger Williams University in 1898 and in 19()2 was graduated with honors from Meharry Medical College in pathology and pharmacology. While practicing medicine, he served on the Meharry faculty from 1902 until 1913. He also served as president of the Robert F. Boyd Medical Society and the State Medical Association. In 1910, he published his research on the disease pellagra in two volumes of the Journal of the National Medical Association. In 1923, he became the first alumnus of Meharry to serve on its board of trustees, and he served on the board for thirty-six years.
        Townsend was quite active in church affairs. He served as organist in several Nashville churches and conducted Sunday school classes and missions to hospitals and jails. He met his future wife, Willa Hadley, at Spruce Street Baptist Church. From 1917 to 1957, he periodically pastored Spruce Street Baptist Church and served as pastor to Metropolitan Baptist Church of Memphis from 1918 to 1921. He became a leader of the Negro Baptist Association of Tennessee and its Tennessee Baptist Missionary and Educational Convention, which reestablished Roger Williams University in 1909. Townsend received an A.M. degree in 1912 and a D.D. degree in 1915 from Roger Williams University. He was president of the university from 1913 to 1918.
        The scope of Dr. Townsend's activities included many facets of Afro-American culture. He was involved in the International Sunday School Association, the North American Committee for the World Council of Christian Education, the Free and Accepted Masons, the Knights of Pythias, and the International Order of Odd Fellows. He served as the cashier of Peoples' Bank and Trust Company and as a leader in the establishment of the Masonic Home for the Aged. He received many honors, including citations for outstanding services to the church and community. Under the auspices of the National Baptist Convention, Townsend headed the committee to purchase and renovate the John Webb Bathhouse in Hot Springs, Arkansas. He also became secretary of the Sunday School Publishing Board of the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc. In 1926, under his leadership the Board constructed its new headquarters, known as the Morris Memorial Building, at Fourth Avenue, North, and Cedar (now Charlotte) Street. Townsend also helped to found the National Baptist Training School in 1918 and the American Baptist Theological Seminary in 1924. Twice he led the Spruce Street Baptist Church on Eighth Avenue, North, in major rebuilding programs.
        On Monday, April 20, 1959, while preparing to go to his office, the builder and lamplighter died at the age of 83. He was survived by his son, Arthur, Jr. (now deceased), and grandchildren, A. M. Townsend, III, a Memphis obstetrician, and William M. Townsend, an Atlanta businessman.