Building the Old Time Religion

Women Evangelists in the Progressive Era

280 pages

December, 2013

ISBN: 9780814723845



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Priscilla Pope-Levison is Associate Dean for External Programs at the Perkins School of Theology in Southern Methodist University. Her previous books include Sex, 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; and Evangelization in a Liberation Perspective.

All books by Priscilla Pope-Levison

2015 Smith/Wynkoop Book Award presented by the Wesleyan Theological Society

2014 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

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In this ground-breaking study, Priscilla Pope-Levison dusts off the unpublished letters, diaries, sermons, and yearbooks of these pioneers to share their personal tribulations and public achievements.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.


  • “Argues that historians have ignored the significant number of independent religious organizations founded by evangelical and Catholic women in the progressive era. This institution-building by progressive-era women was fundamental to reshaping American Christianity in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century as it moved from 'itinerant to institutional revivalism.' A great strength of this work is to bring to the fore stories that are either not as well known as they need to be, or not known at all, a testament to the huge amount of archival research done by the author. This will be a significant contribution to American religious history."

    —Paul Harvey, University of Colorado

  • "Brings to life a series of fascinating, charismatic, and innovative women religious leaders. Priscilla Pope-Levison’s careful research, engaging narrative, and smart arguments make this an invaluable study for scholars in the fields of religion, gender, and the progressive era, as well as for general readers interested in the ways in which women have transformed American religious life.”

    —Matthew Avery Sutton, author of Aimee Semple McPherson and the Resurrection of Christian America

  • "Priscilla Pope-Levison’s lively account takes our understanding of gender and American religion to the next level, demonstrating the permanent impact of women on the institutional shape of twentieth-century Christianity. She introduces us to an unforgettable cast of characters, high-profile female evangelists and lesser-known toilers who founded schools, hospitals, and even denominations on a shoe-string. The women Pope-Levison brings to life are a colorful—and essential—piece of the larger story of religion in the United States."

    —Margaret Bendroth, Executive Director, Congregational Library

  • "Pope-Levison, professor of theology at Seattle Pacific University, has been fascinated with the history of Christian women for decades. The theologian, author, and ordained United Methodist minister shares her discoveries unearthed over the last 20 years through painstaking research in Building the Old Time Religion: Women Evangelists in the Progressive EraBuilding the Old Time features in-depth accounts of the lives, accomplishments, and controversies of influential Christian leaders such as Amanda Berry Smith, Evangeline Booth, Helen Sunday, Aimee Semple McPherson, Jennie Fowler Willing, Martha Lee, Anna Prosser, Minnie Draper, and numerous others."

    —Nicola Menzie, The Christian Post

  • "This deeply engaging book will interest audiences ranging from general readers (particularly those with an interest in women and Christianity, or Christianity during the Progressive Era) to students and scholars. It will be valuable in undergraduate or graduate classrooms."


  • "Priscilla Pope-Levison’s (Seattle Pacific University) new book Building The Old Time Religion: Women Evangelists in the Progressive Era is the most significant contribution to the collective memory of women evangelists in the United States since Janette Hassey’s 1986 No Time for Silence. There are so few books that focus on the contributions of women evangelists who were both amazingly gifted preachers and gifted institution builders. Pope-Levison’s achievement is that she is able to create a compelling narrative focused not on a single woman, but on many women’s contributions to ministry during this important time in American history. Building The Old Time Religion is an effortless read; so captivating that it might be easy to overlook the amount of painstaking archival research put into this book project . . . . Pope-Levison draws attention to the fact that it wasn’t just one woman who was breaking down barriers and opening doors for women to preach; it was countless women, upon whose shoulders we all stand."

    —Christy Mesaros-Winckles, Free Methodist Historical Society

  • "I really enjoyed this book. It is well organized, well written, and full of interesting details—a sign, no doubt, of many hours of research. . . . Scholars of American Christianity, the Progressive Era, the holiness movements, and American women's history (religious or otherwise) would all benefit from Pope-Levison's work in Building the Old Time Religion."

    —Paul Putz, Religion in American History blog

  • "This study suggests scholars can better understand woman as institution builders in American religion, even women as varied as Phoebe Palmer and Mother Angelica."

    The Journal of American History

  • "In her book, Pope-Levison explores the role of women evangelists as institution builders of evangelic enterprises, churches and denominations, religious training schools and benevolence ministries...Pope-Levinson utilizes an ecumenical approach in exploring religious institutions built by women during the Progressive Era."


  • “[Pope-Levison’s] rich and detailed history of these religious institutions has brought to life an understudied set of female evangelists who had a significant influence on American religious history by building lasting but sometimes forgotten religious organizations.” 

    The Historian

  • “Readers without detailed knowledge of the US political, social, and ecclesiological context will need to hold on tightly, but will be richly repaid through the sheer accessibility of the stories and, through them, the clearly presented context.”

    —, Wesley Methodist Studies

  • “Readers without detailed knowledge of the US political, social, and ecclesiological context will need to hold on tightly, but will be richly repaid through the sheer accessibility of the stories, through them, the clearly presented context.”

    Wesley and Methodist Studies

  • “Pope-Levison builds on work by Margaret Lamberts Bendroth, Matthew Avery Sutton, and Catherine A. Brekus to create further understanding of the ways female evangelists of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries pushed back against patriarchal norms to create spaces for themselves. Pope-Levision adds to previous scholarship by arguing that these women also pushed forward, founding churches, religious training institutes, and denominations.”

    Register of the Kentucky Historical Society