Girl  Evangelists

Pentecostalism was the newest of the various restorationist religions to come out of the 1800s and early 1900s. Its origins are traced to the work of Charles Parham in 1900 in Kansas and to William Seymour in Los Angeles in 1906. Seymour’s Azusa Street Mission is often pointed to as the birthplace of Pentecostalism, since it was where many came into the Pentecostal movement.

The principal distinctive belief of Pentecostals is that the evidence of the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” (a concept that comes from various passages in the New Testament) is glossolalia, which is popularly known as “speaking in tongues.” Initially Pentecostals taught that glossolalia was the gift of a particular language, by which the baptized individual could go to foreign lands and preach without having learned the language of the native peoples.

Pentecostal growth has been phenomenal, with Pentecostals now second only to Catholicism in size. In the 1950s (in mainline Protestant churches) and in the 1960s (in the Catholic church), some members experienced glossolalia but remained in their denominations. This adoption of aspects of Pentecostal belief came to be called the Charismatic movement. It is estimated that Pentecostals and charismatics number about one-half billion adherents now.

Along with glossolalia, Pentecostals emphasized faith healing, which they called “divine healing.” Although other groups of the late 1800s and early 1900s practised faith healing, Pentecostals made it such a prominent feature of their own movement that others tended to de-emphasize healing, giving Pentecostals almost a monopoly on the practice. Indeed, it is far more likely to hear Pentecostals talking about healing than about glossolalia.

Pentecostals were revivalists, too, and they adopted revivalism at a time when many churches were backing away from the practice. It could be said that Pentecostals revived revivalism. It is on the revivalist platform that most girl evangelists came to notice. They were welcomed to that stage in part because of the Pentecostal belief that the baptism of the Holy Spirit could be experienced by even children, and if so, then one had the empowering to proclaim the gospel. Thus we find that the majority of girl evangelists whose denominational affiliation can be determined were associated with one of the Pentecostal organizations of the early 1900s.

For further reading:

Harvey Cox, Fire From Heaven: The Rise Of Pentecostal Spirituality And The Reshaping Of Religion In The 21st Century (Da Capo Press, 1996).

Vinson Synan, The Holiness-Pentecostal Tradition: Charismatic Movements in the Twentieth Century, 2nd. ed.(Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997).

Vinson Synan, The Century of the Holy Spirit: 100 Years of Pentecostal and Charismatic Renewal, 1901-2001 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2001).

Grant Wacker, Heaven Below: Early Pentecostals and American Culture (Cambridge University Press, 2003).