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TRANSFORMATION IN THE TABERNACLE: BILLY SUNDAY'S CONVERTS AND EMOTIONAL EXPERIENCE IN THE PROGRESSIVE ERA

  • Jeremy C. Young (a1)
Abstract

Millions of Americans watched the evangelist Billy Sunday preach during the years 1905–1935, and many were profoundly affected by the experience. Using letters, published and unpublished reminiscences, and other primary source documents, this article reconstructs the emotional experience of Sunday's converts and offers insights into the meaning of conversion and followership in Sunday's and other similar social movements. Through their emotional responses to the evangelist, followers recast socioeconomic problems and community pressures as personal, internal crises that could be resolved through adherence to Sunday's principles. The process of conversion was considered and volitional; it was also a long-lasting act of self-fashioning. Americans who converted in Sunday's tabernacles thoroughly reinvented themselves as followers of Sunday and then set out to remake society according to the evangelist's goals. Generalizing from these insights, the article argues that followership of inspirational leaders was a site of significant agency for Progressive Era Americans. It also identifies emotional experience as a way for historical figures to translate cultural trends into concrete social action. The article concludes by calling for additional research into how emotions shape and condition historical change.

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email: jcyoung84@gmail.com
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NOTES

1 Dates for the Youngstown campaign, and all other campaign dates cited, can be found in William Gerald McLoughlin, Jr., “Professional Evangelism: The Social Significance of Religious Revivals Since 1865,” vol. 2 (PhD diss., Harvard University, 1953), 771–84.

2 Ps. 1:1.

3 Mrs. Thomas Jenkins to Billy and Helen Sunday, n.d., folder 1, box 31 (microfilm: reel 27), Papers of William and Helen Sunday, Grace College and Theological Seminary.

4 William Gerald McLoughlin, Jr., Billy Sunday Was His Real Name (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1955), 1–4; Robert F. Martin, Hero of the Heartland: Billy Sunday and the Transformation of American Society, 1862–1935 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002), 5–6, 18–19.

5 Billy Sunday, The Sawdust Trail: Billy Sunday in His Own Words (orig. pub. Ladies' Home Journal, 1932–1933; Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2005), 48–50; Martin, Hero of the Heartland, 34.

6 Martin, Hero of the Heartland, 44–47; McLoughlin, Billy Sunday Was His Real Name, 8–10.

7 McLoughlin, Billy Sunday Was His Real Name, 293; Martin, Hero of the Heartland, xiii; Henry Arthur Bentson, “A Psychological Study of a ‘Billy’ Sunday Revival” (PhD diss., Columbia University, 1916), 53–55.

8 Biographies of Sunday written in the last twenty-five years include Martin, Hero of the Heartland; Lyle W. Dorsett, Billy Sunday and the Redemption of Urban America (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991); Roger A. Bruns, Preacher: Billy Sunday and Big-Time American Evangelism (New York: Norton, 1992); Wendy Knickerbocker, Sunday at the Ballpark: Billy Sunday's Professional Baseball Career, 1883–1890 (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2000); and W. A. Firstenberger, In Rare Form: A Pictorial History of Baseball Evangelist Billy Sunday (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2005).

9 No historical works examine the testimonials from the two largest sources (Sunday's papers and the Charlotte Evangelistic Campaigns project). Two articles by William McLoughlin and Margaret Bendroth, however, examine other follower testimonials in an attempt to understand women's support for Sunday. See McLoughlin, William Gerald Jr., “Billy Sunday and the Working Girl of 1915,” Journal of Presbyterian History, 54 (Fall 1976): 376–84; Bendroth, Margaret, “Why Women Loved Billy Sunday: Urban Revivalism and Popular Entertainment in Early Twentieth-Century American Culture,” Religion in American Culture, 14 (Summer 2004): 251–71.

10 Introductory material for Collection 295, Charlotte Evangelistic Campaigns Research Project, Billy Graham Center, Wheaton College, http://www.wheaton.edu/bgc/archives/GUIDES/295.htm (accessed Feb. 27, 2014).

11 Grant Wacker, America's Pastor: Billy Graham and the Shaping of a Nation (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2014), 266.

12 McLoughlin, Billy Sunday Was His Real Name, 16, 76–78, 311.

13 Bentson, “Psychological Study of a ‘Billy’ Sunday Revival,” 58.

14 Emmett Gowen, “Still Raid: Featuring Billy Sunday,” reprinted in Melton Wright, Giant for God: A Biography of the Life of William Ashley (“Billy”) Sunday (Boyce, VA: Carr, 1951), 101–2; McLoughlin, Billy Sunday Was His Real Name, 274; Bruns, Preacher, 229; Martin, Hero of the Heartland, 116–17.

15 T. J. Jackson Lears, No Place of Grace: Antimodernism and the Transformation of American Culture, 1880–1920 (New York: Pantheon, 1981), xiii.

16 William Gerald McLoughlin, Jr., Revivals, Awakenings, and Reform: An Essay on Religion and Social Change in America, 1607–1977 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978), 2, 145–46.

17 Dalton, Kathleen, “Why America Loved Theodore Roosevelt: Or Charisma Is in the Eyes of the Beholders,” Psychohistory Review 8 (Winter 1979): 1626; Michael Kazin, A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan (New York: Knopf, 2006), 193–214.

18 Frances E. Willard, Glimpses of Fifty Years: The Autobiography of an American Woman (Chicago: H. J. Smith, 1889), 344–47; Ruth Bordin, Frances Willard: A Biography (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1986), 179; Nick Salvatore, Eugene V. Debs: Citizen and Socialist, 2nd ed. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2007), 65, 172, 225, 231; Randall K. Burkett, Garveyism as a Religious Movement: The Institutionalization of a Black Civil Religion (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press and American Theological Library Association, 1978), 7–9, 17; Theodore G. Vincent, Black Power and the Garvey Movement (Berkeley: Ramparts Press, 1971), 153–54; Lawrence W. Levine, “Marcus Garvey and the Politics of Revitalization” in Levine, The Unpredictable Past: Explorations in American Cultural History (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 121–22.

19 Tipson, Baird, “How Can the Religious Experience of the Past Be Recovered? The Examples of Puritanism and Pietism,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 43 (Dec. 1975): 696; Stearns, Peter N. and Stearns, Carol Z., “Emotionology: Clarifying the History of Emotions and Emotional Standards,” American Historical Review, 90 (Oct. 1985): 813, 816, 825; Robert H. Sharf, “Experience” in Mark C. Taylor, ed., Critical Terms for Religious Studies (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 97–98, 110–11. For a more detailed discussion, see Hall, David D., “Review Essay: What Is the Place of ‘Experience’ in Religious History?Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation, 13 (Summer 2003): 242–45, 250.

20 Ann Taves, Fits, Trances, and Visions: Experiencing Religion and Explaining Experience from Wesley to James (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999), 3, 17–18, 79, 133; John Corrigan, Business of the Heart: Religion and Emotion in the Nineteenth Century (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), 241.

21 Corrigan, Business of the Heart, 261, 266–67.

22 Henry Watterson, “The Preacher in Politics” and “Temperance in Religion,” undated editorials, Louisville Courier-Journal, Henry Watterson Papers, University of Louisville, microfilm ed., reel 3.

23 Carl Sandburg to Alfred Harcourt, 1916, quoted in Sandburg, The Letters of Carl Sandburg, ed. Herbert Mitgang (New York: Harcourt, Brace, and World, 1968), 108; Donald E. Winters, Jr., The Soul of the Wobblies: The I.W.W., Religion, and American Culture in the Progressive Era, 1905–1917 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1985), 71–72.

24 William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature (New York: Longmans, Green, 1902), 189.

25 Lewis R. Rambo, Understanding Religious Conversion (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993), 9, 13, 44–46; Massimo Leone, Religious Conversion and Identity: The Semiotic Analysis of Texts (London: Routledge, 2004), 1.

26 Wacker, America's Pastor, 268–70.

27 The exact spelling of “Danzeisen” is not known, as the relevant oral history exists only in audiotape format. Kathryn Marie Hess Feldi interview by Robert Shuster, May 7, 1993, audiotape, side 1, tape 1, Collection 487, Billy Graham Center, Wheaton College.

28 Edgar G. Gordon to Billy Sunday, Nov. 16, 1913, folder 42, box 1 (reel 2), Sunday Papers.

29 Robert H. Wiebe, The Search for Order, 1877–1920 (New York: Macmillan, 1967), xiv; Richard Hofstadter, The Age of Reform: From Bryan to FDR (New York: Knopf, 1955), 7; Paul Boyer, Urban Masses and Moral Order in America, 1820–1920 (Cambridge, MA, and London: Harvard University Press, 1978), 125–30; Lears, No Place of Grace, 16, 29–31; and Michael McGerr, A Fierce Discontent: The Rise and Fall of the Progressive Movement in America, 1870–1920 (orig. pub. The Free Press, 2003; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 48, 54.

30 Harry Sherman to Billy Sunday, Feb. 13, 1914, folder 23, box 1 (reel 1), and O. R. Derby to Billy Sunday, June 1, 1930, folder 39, box 1 (reel 2), Sunday Papers.

31 Frank Lambert, “Pedlar in Divinity”: George Whitefield and the Transatlantic Revivals, 1737–1770 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994), 136–37, 150–52.

32 Charles H. Thurston, “From One of the Converts” in “Personal Gains from the Sunday Campaign: A Sheaf of Testimonies,” The Congregationalist, Feb. 22, 1917, 257.

33 Interview with William Ward Ayer in The Billy Sunday Story, dir. Irvin S. Yeaworth, Jr. (orig. pub. Chester Springs, PA: Sacred Cinema/Westchester Films, ca. 1960; Garland, TX: Beacon Video Ministries, 1989).

34 Gordon to Sunday, Nov. 16, 1913, folder 42, box 1 (reel 2), Sunday Papers.

35 Thurston, “From One of the Converts,” 257.

36 The name “Ole” has been changed from “Ollie” in the transcript to better accord with Wyzenbeek's pronunciation on the audiotape. Andrew Wyzenbeek interview by Robert Shuster, May 16, 1978, audiotape, side 1, tape 1, Collection 43 (Billy Graham Center, Wheaton College), transcript available at http://www.wheaton.edu/bgc/archives/trans/040t01.htm (accessed Feb. 27, 2014).

37 McLoughlin, Billy Sunday Was His Real Name, 252–53.

38 Martin, Hero of the Heartland, 85.

39 Clifford Putney, Muscular Christianity: Manhood and Sports in Protestant America, 1880–1920 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001), 59.

40 Thekla Ellen Joiner, Sin in the City: Chicago and Revivalism, 1880–1920 (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2007), 176; McLoughlin, “Billy Sunday and the Working Girl of 1915,” 377; Bentson, “Psychological Study of a ‘Billy’ Sunday Revival,” 58.

41 Thurston, “From One of the Converts,” 257.

42 Mrs. W. T. Skates to Billy Sunday, Jan. 3, 1931, folder 40, box 1 (reel 2); Margaret Bowman Morningstar to Billy Sunday, Sept. 28, 1915, folder 24, box 1 (reel 1); Mary Ellen Reiff to Billy Sunday, 1916, folder 25, box 1 (reel 1); and Mrs. E. H. Cole to Billy Sunday, Dec. 18, 1911, folder 20, box 1 (reel 1), Sunday Papers.

43 Thomas S. Kidd, George Whitefield: America's Spiritual Founding Father (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014), 49; Bruce J. Evensen, God's Man for the Gilded Age: D. L. Moody and the Rise of Modern Mass Evangelism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 40–41.

44 Chicago Tribune, March 6, 1918, quoted in Joiner, Sin in the City, 179.

45 Some sources spell the name “Speice.” Homer Rodeheaver, Twenty Years with Billy Sunday (Winona Lake, IN: Rodeheaver Hall-Mack, 1936), 122, and tabernacle blueprints, reel 26, Sunday Papers.

46 Bentson, “Psychological Study of a ‘Billy’ Sunday Revival,” 8–9.

47 Wendy A. Danforth Wilson, “The Theatricality of Revivalism as Exemplified in the Artistry of Billy Sunday and Aimee Semple McPherson” (MA thesis, University of Oregon, 1974), 19.

48 Wyzenbeek interview, Billy Graham Center, Wheaton College.

49 Rodeheaver, Twenty Years with Billy Sunday, 72.

50 Sunday, The Sawdust Trail, 50; James C. Downey, “The Gospel Hymn, 1875–1930” (MA thesis, University of Southern Mississippi, 1963), 109–10.

51 R. G. Lineberger questionnaire, folder 17, box 1 (reel 1), Charlotte Evangelistic Campaigns Research Project.

52 Mrs. John E. Walker questionnaire, folder 17, box 1 (reel 1), Charlotte Evangelistic Campaigns Research Project.

53 The Billy Sunday Story; McLoughlin, Billy Sunday Was His Real Name, 158.

54 Wyzenbeek interview, Billy Graham Center, Wheaton College.

55 Lineberger questionnaire, folder 17, box 1 (reel 1), Charlotte Evangelistic Campaigns Research Project.

56 William T. Ellis, “Billy” Sunday: The Man and His Message (Philadelphia: John C. Winston, 1914), 139; Wilson, “Theatricality of Revivalism as Exemplified in the Artistry of Billy Sunday and Aimee Semple McPherson,” 41–42.

57 Matthew Avery Sutton, Aimee Semple McPherson and the Resurrection of Christian America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007), 77.

58 Howard B. Arbuckle, Jr., questionnaire, folder 17, box 1 (reel 1), Charlotte Evangelistic Campaigns Research Project.

59 J. W. Booth questionnaire, folder 17, box 1 (reel 1), Charlotte Evangelistic Campaigns Research Project.

60 Ayer interview in The Billy Sunday Story; italics suggested by Ayer's pronunciation.

61 Rodeheaver, Twenty Years with Billy Sunday, 24.

62 Questionnaires by James B. Pickard and G. F. Shrum, folder 17, box 1 (reel 1), Charlotte Evangelistic Campaigns Research Project.

63 Myron James, who was interviewed by Wendy Wilson, attributed the performance to Homer Rodeheaver rather than to Sunday. Questionnaires by John Franklin Boyd, Jr., Eugene F. Davis, Alice B. Whitener, and unidentified respondent, folder 17, box 1 (reel 1), Charlotte Evangelistic Campaigns Research Project; Leslie A. Outterson, This I Believe—Thank You, Billy Sunday, for the Goodness and Mercy Which I Know (Hicksville, NY: Exposition Press, 1977), 18; and Wilson, “Theatricality of Revivalism as Exemplified in the Artistry of Billy Sunday and Aimee Semple McPherson,” 30.

64 Outterson, This I Believe, 18.

65 Ibid., 141.

66 McLoughlin, Billy Sunday Was His Real Name, 97–98.

67 Thurston, “From One of the Converts,” 257.

68 Lewis Rambo has termed this type of conversion “intensification,” as opposed to the more stereotypical “affiliation” involving an actual switch between religions or away from nonbelief. Rambo, Understanding Religious Conversion, 13.

69 “R. F. Clarke, Lawyer, Cuts off Wife in Will,” New York Times, Sept. 30, 1921.

70 Nomad [Felicite Clarke], Varied Verse on Billy Sunday (Tarrytown, NY: Roe Printing Co., 1924), 9–10.

71 T. J. Hutchison to Billy Sunday, 1933, folder 42, box 1 (reel 2), Sunday Papers.

72 See Wacker, America's Pastor, 258, for a similar conclusion about Graham's followers.

73 Bentson, “Psychological Study of a ‘Billy’ Sunday Revival,” 40, 48.

74 Jenkins to Billy and Helen Sunday, n.d., folder 1, box 31 (reel 27), Sunday Papers.

75 Hutchison to Billy Sunday, 1933, folder 42, box 1 (reel 2), Sunday Papers.

76 Wyzenbeek interview, Billy Graham Center, Wheaton College.

77 Jamie Biggerstaff Goldsmith to Billy Sunday, 1924, folder 33, box 1 (reel 2), Sunday Papers.

78 Clarke, Varied Verse on Billy Sunday, 5–6, 13, 16–18. Compare Felicite Clarke, The Marble Spirit (Tarrytown, NY: Roe Printing Co., 1924).

79 Eleanor and John P. Fox to Billy Sunday, n.d., folder 1, box 1 (reel 1), Sunday Papers; underscore in original.

80 Frances Elder to Billy Sunday, 1917, folder 26, box 1 (reel 1), Sunday Papers.

81 “Mit” to “Mr. Jeffray,” n.d., folder 1, box 1 (reel 1), Sunday Papers; original full-capitalization removed.

82 Reproduced in Ellis, “Billy” Sunday, insert between pp. 310–11.

83 Elder to Billy Sunday, 1917, folder 26, box 1 (reel 1), Sunday Papers.

84 Evangeline M. George to Billy Sunday, May 29, 1930, folder 39, box 1 (reel 2), Sunday Papers.

85 Margaret H. Booth questionnaire, folder 17, box 1 (reel 1), Charlotte Evangelistic Campaigns Research Project.

86 Elder to Billy Sunday, 1917, folder 26, box 1 (reel 1), Sunday Papers.

87 Rodeheaver, Twenty Years with Billy Sunday, 125.

88 Ayer interview in The Billy Sunday Story; Ann Weldon, “William Ward Ayer: 50 Years of Ministry and Still Going Strong,” Evening Independent, Oct. 11, 1975, 4.

89 Robert William Aschan to Billy Sunday, Dec. 22, 1914, folder 23, box 1 (reel 1), Sunday Papers.

90 Martin, Hero of the Heartland, 138.

91 George Christian to Billy Sunday, Sept. 29, 1932, folder 41, box 1 (reel 2), Sunday Papers.

92 John Graham, “From a Maine Pastor” in “Personal Gains from the Sunday Campaign: A Sheaf of Testimonies,” The Congregationalist, Feb. 22, 1917, 257.

93 Feldi interview, Billy Graham Center, Wheaton College.

94 Goldsmith to Billy Sunday, 1924, folder 33, box 1 (reel 2), Sunday Papers.

95 Dorsett, Billy Sunday and the Redemption of Urban America, 151.

96 “Historical Sketch of Billy Sunday Club, Chattanooga, TN,” 1926, pp. 10, 13, folder 35, box 1 (reel 2), Sunday Papers,

97 Wade R. Todd questionnaire, folder 17, box 1 (reel 1), Charlotte Evangelistic Campaigns Research Project.

98 Quoted in Better Be Right Than Be Radical,” Herald of Gospel Liberty 107 (Jan. 14, 1915), 36.

99 McLoughlin, Billy Sunday Was His Real Name, 143–45, 257–60; Martin, Hero of the Heartland, 84; South Bend Tribune, “Sunday Favors Woman's Suffrage,” n.d., quoted in Theodore Thomas Frankenberg, Billy Sunday, His Tabernacles and Sawdust Trails: A Biographical Sketch of the Famous Baseball Evangelist (Columbus, OH: F. J. Heer, 1917), 190.

100 Rodeheaver, Twenty Years with Billy Sunday, 32.

101 Omaha Bee, Oct. 27, 1915, quoted in Valentine, Leslie R., “Evangelist Billy Sunday's Clean–Up Campaign in Omaha: Local Reaction to His 50-Day Revival, 1915,” Nebraska History, 64 (1983): 222–23.

102 Valentine, “Evangelist Billy Sunday's Clean-Up Campaign in Omaha,” 222–24.

103 “Sunday Comes Late Today,” Columbus Citizen, Dec. 28, 1912, 1, quoted in Donald Elden Pitzer, “The Ohio Campaigns of Billy Sunday with Special Emphasis upon the 1913 Columbus Revival” (MA thesis, Ohio State University, 1962), 95, 124.

104 Joiner, Sin in the City, 199–201.

105 McLoughlin, Billy Sunday Was His Real Name, 233. On the Michigan vote, see Maynard Donavon Hilgendorf, “Billy Sunday: ‘I Am Glad I Came to Detroit’: A Study of Rhetorical Strategies in the 1916 Campaign” (PhD diss., University of Michigan, 1985), 319.

106 J. S. Caster to Billy Sunday, Dec. 20, 1905, folder 14, box 1 (reel 1), Sunday Papers.

107 McLoughlin, Billy Sunday Was His Real Name, 35, 252; Lears, No Place of Grace, 58; Jackson Lears, Rebirth of a Nation: The Making of Modern America, 1877–1920 (New York: HarperCollins, 2009), 10–11.

108 Martin, Hero of the Heartland, 103–4.

109 Boyer, Urban Masses and Moral Order in America, 125, 132; Robert M. Crunden, Ministers of Reform: The Progressives' Achievement in American Civilization, 1889–1920 (New York: Basic Books, 1982), 28.

110 Shelton Stromquist, Reinventing “The People”: The Progressive Movement, The Class Problem, and the Origins of Modern Liberalism (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006), viii, 9–10; Alan Dawley, Changing the World: Amerian Progressives in War and Revolution (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), 80–83, 109–16, 139–40.

111 Some of this work has already been done, notably in Dalton, “Why America Loved Theodore Roosevelt,” 16–26; and Kazin, A Godly Hero, 193–214. For a particularly creative approach, see Burkett, Garveyism as a Religious Movement, 7–9, 17. Alan Brinkley, Voices of Protest: Huey Long, Father Coughlin, and the Great Depression (New York: Knopf, 1982), 194–215; and Wacker, America's Pastor, 248–82, are important studies of follower emotion in the 1930s and 1940s.

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The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era
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  • EISSN: 1943-3557
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