Sister Aimee: The Life of Aimee Semple McPherson

Overview

In Wichita she held up her hand to stop the rain. Aimee Semple McPherson was consecrated to God, before she was born, by her mother, a soldier of the Salvation Army. She was a scamp in school, a young widow in China, and a neurotic housewife in Rhode Island. But when the Lord spoke to her as she was at death's door, she accepted her ministry. She preached up and down the United States, traveling in a 1912 Packard with her mother and her children, without a man to fix tires. She preached in tents, concert halls, ...
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Overview

In Wichita she held up her hand to stop the rain. Aimee Semple McPherson was consecrated to God, before she was born, by her mother, a soldier of the Salvation Army. She was a scamp in school, a young widow in China, and a neurotic housewife in Rhode Island. But when the Lord spoke to her as she was at death's door, she accepted her ministry. She preached up and down the United States, traveling in a 1912 Packard with her mother and her children, without a man to fix tires. She preached in tents, concert halls, boxing rings, and speakeasies, prayed for the healing of hundreds of thousands of people, founded a Church, built a Pentecostal temple of Hollywood dimensions in Los Angeles (Charlie Chaplin advised her on sets, Anthony Quinn played saxophone in the pit), and she became, in the 1920s and 1930s, such a celebrity that the press publicly thanked her for having given work to so many journalists. Sister Aimee is the story of a unique woman; of the power of passion that rejects compromise and a faith that will not be shaken. But it is also the story of the price of fame. Exhaustion, insomnia, nervous breakdowns, sexual scandals, lawsuits, and ultimately loneliness.

A powerhouse biography, Sister Aimee fills a significant gap in the history of revivalism, America's most distinctive religious form, with the sensational tale of Aimee McPherson--an evangelist who had greater drawing power than Houdini, Teddy Roosevelt, or P.T. Barnum before she paid the price for her fame.

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Editorial Reviews

Lindsay Throm
An evangelist's life is automatically subjected to a skepticism that often borders on hostility. Through careful scholarship and direct presentation of both documented facts and unexplainable occurrences, however, Epstein expertly circumvents doubt and generates interest in Aimee Semple McPherson (1890-1944), whose life provides eventful narrative while Epstein's thoughtful analysis creates an intriguing portrait. Incidents in Aimee's childhood demonstrate her strong presence, abounding confidence, and debating skill, and their accumulation accounts for how she became a powerful leader. Her later success as a healer is presented with the same finesse, as Epstein recounts events and their reception at the time, then analyzes them in the light of modern medical knowledge. Aimee's followers were passionately loyal and astoundingly diverse, coming not only from varying segments of society, from prominent citizens to gypsies, but also from segments traditionally opposed to each other, such as blacks and the Ku Klux Klan. In a career that progressed from solitary itinerant preaching through extensive tours in portable tents to sermons in her Los Angeles temple that became lavish, costumed productions, she was profoundly successful, and Epstein clearly shows why: she preached an inclusive philosophy; she questioned, but did not judge. This biography deserves inclusion in every collection.
Kirkus Reviews
Powerhouse biography of perhaps the most charismatic and controversial woman in modern religious history. Although now less than a household name, Aimee Semple McPherson dominated the American spiritual landscape of six or seven decades ago. Her Pentecostal meetings, held first in tents and then in the gigantic Angelus Temple she built in Los Angeles, attracted millions of admirers. The media lionized her. The denomination she founded, the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, today boasts 17,000 churches worldwide. Epstein (Love's Compass, 1990, etc.) seems half in love with his subject, and understandably so. He emphasizes her "angelic and foxlike" beauty, her erotic magnetism as a preacher; he takes her side in the great controversy of her life—her mysterious month-long disappearance in 1927, which she ascribed to a foiled kidnapping and her detractors to a romantic fling with her radio operator. Most notably, Epstein is able to write about "miracles" like glossolalia and faith healing (at McPherson's services, the deaf heard and the blind walked, or so eyewitnesses reported) without sneering—or, for that matter, without fawning. He presents the evidence, offers nonreligious (mostly psychoanalytical) explanations, and points out their shortcomings. The author seems to have gathered every scrap of material on McPherson, including such odd items as her surreptitious friendship with atheist Charlie Chaplin and her kind words to a teenaged Anthony Quinn, who played saxophone at her Temple. Epstein never skimps on details, whether limning McPherson's triumphs or her many falls—into depression, nervous breakdowns, loneliness, bad marriages, lawsuits. But this isanything but a lifeless patchwork: The author's admiration and his subject's breathtaking story give the narrative abundant energy. Holy-roller religion at its best, told with fire.
From Barnes & Noble
A scamp in school, a widow in China, and a neurotic housewife in Rhode Island. Then the Lord spoke to Aimee, and a ministry was born. Here's the story of a unique woman whose ministry brought her fame as well as loneliness.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780151826889
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 3/28/1993
  • Edition description: 1st ed
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 475
  • Product dimensions: 6.41 (w) x 9.49 (h) x 1.54 (d)

Table of Contents

1 The Early Years
Mount Forest, Ontario, 1915 3
Aimee's Parents 5
Childhood Memories 14
School Days 20
Rebellion 29
First Love 40
Conversion 47
Marriage 54
China 64
The Old-time Power 76
Mount Forest, 1915 79
Triumph 86
2 Her Rise to Fame
Corona, New York, 1916 95
A Miraculous Healing 106
Fame 114
The Gypsy Life 126
Philadelphia, 1918 135
California 146
Baltimore, 1919 154
3 The Healing Touch
Washington, D.C., 1920 177
The Rising Tide 184
California, 1921 201
The Great Campaigns 215
The First Abduction 241
4 The Temple
New Year's, 1923 247
At Home in Los Angeles, 1924 259
Scandal 282
Kidnapped 296
Vindication 315
Aimee vs. Minnie, 1927 322
The Crash 338
5 The Final Years
Attar of Roses 355
The Commissary 369
Show Business 383
Sharing the Stage, L.A., 1935 390
Sanctuary 416
Epilogue 439
Notes 441
Bibliography 459
Index of Biblical Passages and References 471
Chronology of Aimee Semple McPherson 473
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