Girl  Evangelists

Almost all of the girl evangelists denounced Darwin and the theory of evolution. That is not surprising. The girls were revivalists and fundamentalists, and their golden age was marked by the clash between modernists and fundamentalists in the Christian church, a clash that often centred around evolution.

Evolution became the mark in the sand for many after the so-called Scopes’ Monkey Trial in Tennessee in 1925. Prior to that, a few conservative voices had allowed for allegorical interpretation of the story of the Garden of Eden and of Adam and Eve. But after the trial, the attack on evolution was one of the distinctive marks of Fundamentalism. The issue still drives a large segment of conservative Christians almost ninety years later.

The influence of Aimee Semple McPherson would have been important in shaping the thinking of girl evangelists, for McPherson was a leading voice against the theory of evolution, though even without that influence, the churches and the audiences that welcomed the girl evangelists would have expected them to toe the line on that matter.

The most notable exception was Rena Ladd, who thought William Jennings Bryan, the leading spokesperson for the conservative position and one of the stars of the Scopes’ Monkey Trial, was “all wrong.” But most girl evangelists challenged Darwin, probably none so colourfully as Mary Agnes Vitchesatin, who attacked the Boston academic community. She commented: “Any man who really believes he originated from the monkey may be well-meaning enough, but  he is possessed of very little intellect.”

For further reading:

Edward J. Larson, Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion (1997). Reprint: Basic Books, 2006 (with new afterword).