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Building the Old Time Religion

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

Priscilla Pope-Levison
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Building the Old Time Religion
    Book Description:

    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 proteges. 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marked a seismic shift in American Christianity.In this ground-breaking study, Priscilla Pope-Levison dusts off the unpublished letters, diaries, sermons, and yearbooks of these pioneers to share their personal tribulations and public achievements.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-Levisonis Professor of Theology and Assistant Director of Women's Studies at Seattle Pacific University. Her previous books includeSex, 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; andEvangelization in a Liberation Perspective.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-4442-0
    Subjects: Religion, Sociology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-ix)
  4. Introduction: Converted, Called, Commissioned: A Phalanx of Institution Builders
    (pp. 1-25)

    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.² 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...

  5. 1 Tents, Autos, Gospel Grenades: Evangelistic Organizations
    (pp. 27-65)

    At the appointed hour, on a sultry, mid-July afternoon, the highly decorated, customized Model T autovan, nicknamed “Rome’s Chariot,” arrived on the corner of Washington Street and Chestnut Hill Avenue in Brighton, Massachusetts. In the autovan rode Martha Moore Avery and David Goldstein, the featured lecturers for the meeting to be held that evening sponsored by the Catholic Truth Guild. The Model T had been modified to hold evangelistic meetings from within its doors. It housed a moveable platform, complete with a stand-up rostrum known as the “perambulating pulpit” that folded out at a forty-five-degree angle from the front of...

  6. 2 Mothers, Saints, Bishops: Churches and Denominations
    (pp. 67-109)

    When Mary Lena Lewis Tate, whose titles extended to “mother,” “Saint Mary Magdalena,” “chief overseer,” “first revivor,” “president,” and “bishop,” first “felt moved by the Holy Spirit of God to go out into the world and preach the gospel,” she began close to home, journeying thirty miles away from Dickson to Steel Springs, Tennessee.² Soon, however, the miles this African American woman traveled extended to several hundred as she crossed state lines into Kentucky and Illinois. Along the way, she gathered converts first into “Do Rights” bands, then into a church, which came to be called the Church of the...

  7. 3 Biblical, Practical, Vocational: Religious Training Schools
    (pp. 111-137)

    With empty coffers and a faith promise, thirty-year-old Mattie Perry opened the doors of Elhanan Training Institute in Marion, North Carolina, a sparsely populated farming community at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. She confessed in her autobiography that she never expected, as a woman, to begin and oversee a religious training school. “I was an evangelist and still hoped to go to China as a missionary, but during the three years of waiting on God for a man to open an institution of this kind, the call sank deeper and deeper into my own heart. No man seemed...

  8. 4 Soap, Soup, Salvation: Rescue Homes and Rescue Missions
    (pp. 139-171)

    Wearing a long, black dress gathered at the waist and topped with a starched white collarband, a forty-five-year-old woman—whose stern face and tight lips belied her maternal epithet—opened the shuttered door and walked into the dimly lit brothel. Martha “Mother” Lee and her companions had stayed up late to visit in the Omaha slums, knock on doors, distribute gospel tracts, and tell anyone who would listen about “the love of Jesus and His power to save, and how He saved me.” Lee entered the brothel’s gathering room, took in the scene of young women smoking and drinking, playing...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 173-182)

    Nearly twenty years ago, I came across the name Iva Durham Vennard while searching for material on women for an introductory lecture on American evangelism. Scads of resources on a succession of male evangelists, from Jonathan Edwards (1703–58) to Charles Finney (1792–1875) to Dwight Moody (1837–99) to Billy Sunday (1862–1935), to Billy Graham (1918–), I could find. Information on women, I could not, at least during the mid-1990s, when I began my research. No sooner had I scratched the surface on Vennard that I found myself enthralled because of intersections between her life and mine....

  10. APPENDIX: Evangelists and Institutions
    (pp. 183-186)
  11. NOTES
    (pp. 187-232)
    (pp. 233-256)
    (pp. 257-268)
    (pp. 269-269)
    (pp. 270-270)