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Sister Aimee | Article

McPherson's Life and Women's Roles


Butler: Sister Aimee is... the very determined, successful woman who is not just a businesswoman, but she's created a sort of religious empire in a sense.

Sutton: Aimee Semple McPherson was the most exciting, enthusiastic, controversial evangelist between World War I and World War II. Everybody in the United States knew about her. She was basically a combination of Oprah Winfrey, Jennifer Aniston, Billy Graham, and to add a political dimension, Pat Robertson. She was the person everybody was talking about, she was the patron saint of California.

Butler: What influences Aimee growing up is watching the Salvation Army... Women get to wear their great epaulets, and the suits, and the fancy uniforms, everything that's there. But even more important than that, she sees men and women working together equally. And that's very important, because there's not very many models for that. And when Aimee sees women standing on the street corners just like men, leading the worship services just like men, she begins to form an image in her mind... "I can do this too, despite the fact that I'm a woman."

Sutton: Aimee's life with [second husband] Harold [McPherson] probably began pretty well, but almost immediately it began to just fall apart. She had found that she was not happy. She was experiencing what Betty Friedan called "the problem that has no name," this kind of lethargy, this kind of dissatisfaction. She's looking out at her parlor, she's looking out at her baby furniture, she's asking, "Why can't I be happy? Other women are happy with this." But she was not. She felt like God was constantly prodding her, God was calling her to go and preach the Word, "Go and preach the Word." And she just couldn't get this voice out of her head.

Butler: She's plucky in a different sort of way for women during this time period. She knows that most of the men don't really want to see a woman preacher... she is tenacious, but she's also a good purveyor of this gospel message. She knows how to give people a good show, but it's more than just a show... She knows it, she believes it, and she puts her whole heart and soul into it... And in the midst of all this she's trying to balance out being a mother, sometimes being a wife...

Aimee Semple McPherson turned out to be the great celebrity... with the flowers, the vibrant woman who's out preaching the gospel... It's the image of celebrity. Perhaps if Aimee's life had been different, if [her first husband] Robert Semple had not died, she would have had a different life. She would have been in China, she would have had children, she would have ministered with her husband for the rest of her life.

And I think, in a way, she would have liked that life just as much as she liked the life at Angelus Temple... [But] she's given us a great story about what women can do.

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