Women Public Speakers in the United States, 1925-1993: A Bio-Critical Sourcebook

By Karlyn Kohrs Campbell | Go to book overview

AIMEE KENNEDY SEMPLE MCPHERSON

( 1890-1944), evangelist and church leader

JANICE SCHUETZ

In 1944 the eulogist for Aimee Kennedy Semple McPherson began a tribute to her this way: "Today, we are here to commemorate the stepping up of a country girl to God's Hall of Fame." The eulogist claimed that Kennedy McPherson belonged to an imaginary hall of fame with other prominent evangelists, including George Whitefield, Charles Grandison Finney, and Dwight Moody ( Bahr, 1979:4). Today she holds a place in an actual hall of fame, the hall of evangelists at Wheaton College, where an archive and statue identifies her as a successful religious evangelist and one of the most effective women preachers of the twentieth century.

Kennedy McPherson's accomplishments as a religious evangelist justify her comparable status with male preachers. She was the first woman evangelist to succeed nationally and internationally as a revivalist and founder of a church. From 1917 to 1944, she preached to men and women from a variety of religious and cultural backgrounds. One measure of her success is the thousands whom she converted, who participated in her religious services, and who tuned in to her weekly radio program. Her success as a preacher led to the establishment of the Four Square Gospel denomination, its church headquarters at Angelus Temple, a Bible college, and hundreds of missions throughout the world. At the time of her death in 1944, her church had a membership of 70,000; by 1990 the worldwide denominational membership had grown to more than 800,000.

Kennedy McPherson was a prolific and persuasive communicator. In a typical week she preached several sermons; conducted at least one revival; wrote music for worship services; wrote, directed, and rehearsed a dramatic religious performance; published her magazine Bridal Call; preached for a weekly radio broadcast on KFSG, Los Angeles; and ministered to the sick and homeless. Even though she did not consider herself a feminist, "her strong and visible leadership carried a message of female leadership that became an inspiration to many women" ( Ruether and McLaughlin, 1979:30).

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