Girl  Evangelists

The revivalist platform welcomed young girl evangelists. It is in this kind of spotlight that the girls’ careers started, and many went on into adulthood either to continue as itinerant revivalists or to settle down as pastors of churches.

Revivalism was a mark of American religion. Sinners had to be called to God, often with the fearful reminder of the dangers of falling into the hands of an angry God, as Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758), Presbyterian preacher, missionary and scholar, put it. Crowds responded, many feeling themselves on the very verge of slipping into hell, damned forever.

But it wasn’t just those outside the church who heard the thunderous warnings from zeal-filled preachers. Saints inside the church were never allowed to become too comfortable. Saints had to be saintly. Religion was a thing to be lived, to be experienced, to result in a life changed. The Englishman John Wesley (1703–1791), of Methodist fame, and his colleague George Whitfield (1714–1770) visited North America and preached in what was to come to be known as “The Great Awakening” of the 1700s. Other preachers arose in the 1800s, bringing about a “Second Great Awakening,” with leaders such as Charles Finney (1792–1875) and Dwight Moody (1837–1899), along with a host of others.

By the 1900s, there was some controversy about the excessives of some revivalist preachers and the long-term success of revivalist crusades. Large city-wide interdenominational crusade were on the wane, though there were still revivalists who could function at that level, such as Billy Sunday (1862–1935) and Aimee Semple McPherson (1890–1944).

As many churches stepped back from revivalist methods, the newest religion on the block, Pentecostalism, adopted revivalist traditions—in large measure reviving revivalism.

Of the host of girl evangelists from the 1920s and 1930s whose denominational affiliation can be determined, about 70% had some affiliation with Pentecostalism, and many of them were clearly influenced by the leading woman preacher, the Pentecostal McPherson.