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Building the Old Time Religion

Women Evangelists in the Progressive Era

Priscilla Pope-Levison

Publication Year: 2013

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In this ground-breaking study, Priscilla Pope-Levison dusts off the unpublished letters, diaries, sermons, and yearbooks of these pioneers to share their personal tribulations and public achievements.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 ChristianityTurn the Pulpit Loose: Two Centuries of American Women EvangelistsReturn to Babel: Global Perspectives on the BibleJesus in Global Contexts; and Evangelization in a Liberation Perspective.

Published by: NYU Press


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pp. 1-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-x

As I stare out the study window past my lush garden—even in winter—to the Puget Sound in the distance, random, quotidian memories of “squandered” time pepper my thoughts—weeding, doing laundry, walking our dog on the neighborhood beach, talking with Jack, my spouse, over tea and rosemary crackers, ...

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Introduction: Converted, Called, Commissioned: A Phalanx of Institution Builders

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pp. 1-26

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 ...

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1. Tents, Autos, Gospel Grenades: Evangelistic Organizations

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pp. 27-66

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. ...

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2. Mothers, Saints, Bishops: Churches and Denominations

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pp. 67-110

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 ...

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3. Biblical, Practical, Vocational: Religious Training Schools

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pp. 111-138

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. ...

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4. Soap, Soup, Salvation: Rescue Homes and Rescue Missions

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pp. 139-172

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, ...

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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. ...

Appendix: Evangelists and Institutions

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pp. 183-186


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pp. 187-232


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pp. 233-256

Index of Names and Subjects

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pp. 257-268

Index of Scripture References

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pp. 269-280

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About the Author

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pp. 270-281

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; ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780814744420
E-ISBN-10: 0814744427
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814723845
Print-ISBN-10: 0814723845

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2013