The hand of a woman: four holiness-pentecostal evangelists and American culture, 1840-1930
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Nineteenth-century evangelist and popular writer Phoebe Palmer is widely recognized as the mother of the American holiness movement, which produced pentecostalism in the early twentieth century. This dissertation examines Phoebe Palmer and three subsequent holiness-pentecostal women evangelists for the ways their writings and sermons responded to critical issues in American culture. In the mid-nineteenth century Phoebe Palmer responded to American revivalism’s focus on emotion and changes in gender roles arising from industrialization with popular religious books that relieved emotional distress and justified women’s activity in public. Amanda Berry Smith, an African American holiness evangelist, began her career in 1870s New York City. Despite the fact that Smith lived at the most contentious time in American race relations, she became phenomenally popular among white holiness audiences because she offered hope for a spiritual solution to racial strife. Although white audiences often viewed Smith in stereotypical ways, in her autobiography and sermons Smith testified to the complexity of her racial identity and called attention to the plight of African Americans in the United States. Mary Magdalena Tate, an African American pentecostal evangelist in the South in the early twentieth century, was Palmer and Smith’s religious descendent. Tate’s ministry and writings offered her southern African American followers an alternative to racism with teachings that challenged racial segregation, offered psychological safety, and established an alternative community. Tate’s struggle to maintain control of the denomination she founded reveals much about African American gender relations and the impact of the Great Migration. Although Aimee Semple McPherson, the Los Angeles celebrity evangelist popular in the 1920s, was a clear descendent of Palmer and Smith, she was also on the cusp of change. During McPherson’s lifetime evangelical Protestantism began to lose its power as a cultural common denominator and secular opportunities for women in the public arena began to emerge. McPherson’s teachings responded to these cultural shifts by spanning the divide between religion and popular culture.