Building the Old Time Religion: Women Evangelists in the Progressive Era

Building the Old Time Religion: Women Evangelists in the Progressive Era

Building the Old Time Religion: Women Evangelists in the Progressive Era

Building the Old Time Religion: Women Evangelists in the Progressive Era

Synopsis

During the Progessive Era, a period of unprecedented ingenuity, women evangelists built the old time religion with brick and mortar, uniforms and automobiles, fresh converts and devoted protégés. Across America, entrepreneurial women founded churches, denominations, religious training schools, rescue homes, rescue missions, and evangelistic organizations. Until now, these intrepid women have gone largely unnoticed, though their collective yet unchoreographed decision to build institutions in the service of evangelism marked a seismic shift in American Christianity. In this ground-breaking study, Priscilla Pope-Levison dusts off the unpublished letters, diaries, sermons, and yearbooks of these pioneers to share their personal tribulations and public achievements. The effect is staggering. With an uncanny eye for essential details and a knack for historical nuance, Pope-Levison breathes life into not just one or two of these women--but two dozen. The evangelistic empire of Aimee Semple McPherson represents the pinnacle of this shift from itinerancy to institution building. Her name remains legendary. Yet she built her institutions on the foundation of the work of women evangelists who preceded her. Their stories--untold until now--reveal the cunning and strength of women who forged a path for every generation, including our own, to follow. Priscilla Pope-Levison is Professor of Theology and Assistant Director of Women's Studies at Seattle Pacific University. Her previous books include Sex, Gender, and Christianity; Turn the Pulpit Loose: Two Centuries of American Women Evangelists; Return to Babel: Global Perspectives on the Bible; Jesus in Global Contexts; and Evangelization in a Liberation Perspective.

Excerpt

We learned right there that any work of the Lord should be
organized, in order to be a success, because they get scat
tered and the fowls of the air with the wolves get in and
destroy them.

Emma Ray, Twice Sold, Twice Ransomed

In the spring of 1909, Iva Durham Vennard returned from maternity leave—after having given birth in her late thirties to her only child, William—and stepped into the aftermath of a bloodless coup that had engulfed Epworth Evangelistic Institute, the training school for Methodist deaconesses she had founded in St. Louis. While she tended her newborn, a group of Methodist clergymen and laymen, with the district superintendent as ringleader, seized control of the school, rewrote its charter, overhauled its curriculum, and replaced women faculty with clergymen for Bible and theology courses. Despite this preemptive strike, Vennard magnanimously welcomed the district superintendent, Dr. Wright, onto the faculty to teach the Christian ethics course that fall. in the school’s monthly publication, Inasmuch, she wrote this notice of greeting: “Especially have we been glad to secure Dr. Wright on our staff, and to welcome him to our city and to the position of President ex-Officio of the Board of Directors of Epworth Evangelistic . . .

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