“Are We Electing Our Last President?”: The Chicago Convention Campaign

The event of a lifetime has become the opportunity of a lifetime!” So claimed the flashy mass marketing letter inviting one and all to the Chicago Convention Campaign. Spearheaded by Torrey Johnson, the tireless president of Youth for Christ, and drawing widespread support from churches and religious leaders across the Upper Midwest, the 1952 Convention Campaign offers a glimpse into mid-century mass evangelism efforts, particularly the potent combination of evangelistic and patriotic fervor.

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“I Could Not Do Otherwise… Though It Put My Body in the Grave”: Elections As Apocalyptic Events

In the United States’ never-ending election cycle, the 2020 Presidential campaign is reaching a new level of intensity this month, as the voting day on November 3rd draws closer. The Wheaton College Billy Graham Center Archives contains many stories of individual Christians, who were impelled by their faith to influence local, state, and national elections.

In the first decades of the twentieth century, a key issue for many fundamentalist Protestants was Prohibition—a national ban on the manufacture and sale of alcohol for consumption. For example, Prohibition was a leading reason why evangelist Billy Sunday held his 1918 revival meetings in Chicago. The bombastic revival preacher was an outspoken advocate of Prohibition, and the Windy City was poised to determine via local initiative whether it should ban the sale of alcohol. Former presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan also came to town to assist the effort. It failed. As the popular Frank Sinatra song “Chicago (That Toddlin’ Town)” boasts, “It’s the town Billy Sunday could not close down.” But the Eighteenth Amendment, ratified in 1919, made Prohibition the law of the land.

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Celebrating 40 Years of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center!

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Billy Graham poses with Harold Anderson outside the partially constructed Billy Graham Center, August 1979.

Forty years ago this month, the newly completed Billy Graham Center was dedicated for Christian service on Wheaton College’s campus, the culmination of a decade’s worth of prayer, planning, and construction.  The open-air dedication ceremony featured an array of processions, invocations, addresses, and prayers, flanked by performances of Caesar Giovannini and Ralph Vaughan Williams by the Wheaton College Conservatory combined choral groups. The ceremony’s centerpiece was a dedicatory address (Part 1 and Part 2) by the building’s namesake, Dr. Billy Graham, detailing the evangelist’s own intentions for the Center and its impact on the global Christian Church through ongoing education, training, and resources. This September, we celebrate the ongoing realization of Graham’s guiding hopes and commemorate the past four decades of fruitful Christian ministry documented in the Archives’ Collection 3: Records of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center Continue reading

Introducing the Records of International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES)

The summer months are a favorite season at the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center Archives, a noticeable shift from the marathon of the academic year to the sprint of summer research visits. This year, the manuscripts reading room is eerily dark and quiet, while dissertations, articles, monographs, documentaries, and other research projects wait on pause during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Providing access to collections, however, is only one of many archival tasks. Long before researchers can scroll through finding aids, dig through boxes, or submit duplication requests, collections must be processed—a meticulous procedure of arranging, describing, and preserving historical documents. Depending on staff resources and the size and physical condition of the materials, some processing jobs can require years of effort.

This silent summer in the manuscripts reading room provided one unanticipated benefit for archivists—uninterrupted time for processing—and allowed us to put the final processing touches on a significant new collection.

This August, the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center Archives is pleased to announce the opening of Collection 640: Records of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES) for research. Continue reading

“To Show Kindness to Israel”: William Blackstone’s Memorial

This July, the Wheaton College Billy Graham Archives highlights the evangelistic ministry of Eugene Blackstone (1841-1935), a self-educated American businessman, evangelist, and author, perhaps best known as the creator of the Blackstone Memorial, a petition calling for the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

A fervent dispensationalist, Blackstone’s belief in the imminent return of Jesus Christ spurred his interest in Jewish evangelism and commitment to Christian Zionism. Blackstone played a prominent role in founding the Chicago Hebrew Mission (later American Messianic Fellowship) and became its first superintendent in 1889. He also served as the sole trustee of the Milton Stewart Evangelistic Fund, which financially supported Jewish evangelism efforts in far-flung corners of the globe. Recipients of the Milton Fund include Bible colleges, seminaries, and parachurch organizations, stretching from Poland to Palestine and New York City to Korea. Blackstone’s correspondents included professors, evangelists, missionaries, and administrators serving with the likes of the American Bible Society; All Russian Union of Evangelical Christians; Barbican Mission to the Jews; China Inland Mission (Blackstone’s parents were missionaries to China); Mount Carmel Bible School, Haifa; New York Gospel Mission to the Jews; and Women’s Bible Institute, Korea, among many others. In addition to his evangelistic efforts, Blackstone also authored multiple works, including Satan: His Kingdom and its Overthrow, The Millennium, and the the best-selling Jesus is Coming, which was translated into multiple languages.

Blackstone’s personal papers are described in Collection 540: Papers of William Eugene Blackstone. and include a variety of materials, including correspondence, sermons, manuscripts, reports, and periodicals.

Founders Montage

The photograph montage above of the founders of the Chicago Hebrew Mission (1887) illustrates Blackstone’s central place in the organization. He is in the center right oval, wearing spectacles. The image is found in “Twenty-Five Years of Blessing,” a commemorative pamphlet published in 1913. From Collection 540, Box 1, Folder 1.

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Evangelical Protestantism as a Global Tradition in the 20th Century: The J. Edwin Orr Papers

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In 1931, a bakery clerk began to hold evangelistic meetings in the streets of his home town of Belfast, Ireland. The next year he set off on a lifelong journey that would take him around the world to stadiums and tiny churches and academic lecture halls. It was a ministry and vocation which included rigorous historical scholarship into deep spiritual mysteries and enthusiastic preaching to crowds of seekers.

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J. Edwin Orr speaking to a group of university students in India, 1956.

Collection 355: Papers of J. Edwin Orr, not only tell Orr’s life story, but also documents Protestant evangelicalism around the world in every continent except Antarctica. This June, the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center Archives is pleased to announce that this greatly expanded collection can now be used by Christian workers, scholars, and the general public. Continue reading

Adventures in Storytelling Evangelism: “The Story of a Nail”

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The cover of a well-used copy of “The Story of a Nail” curriculum kit held in Small Collection 113. Undated.

Storytelling is a ubiquitous tool in evangelism efforts—The Archives’ collections are replete with examples of evangelists, missionaries, and lay preachers wielding the power of simple narratives to explain the Christian gospel. While the most famous example of storytelling evangelism might be The Jesus Film (1979), sponsored by Campus Crusade for Christ, many parachurch organizations have developed their own curricula for communicating biblical stories or theological concepts with dance, music, puppets, posters, flannelgraph, mime, and more.

This May, the Archives features “The Story of a Nail,” an evangelism kit using a simple narrative and illustrations to present the story of the crucifixion. Originally developed for radio broadcast by Bob Pierce, founder of both Samaritan’s Purse and World Vision, “The Story of a Nail” was later published as a pamphlet with eight illustrated panels. The pamphlet includes tips and techniques for presenting “The Story of a Nail” to Sunday school classes, Vacation Bible School audiences, and other groups using the “flash card” method to match the colorful panels to narrative cues. Presenters are encouraged to memorize the KJV scripture verses in advance and to maintain eye contact throughout the story. Continue reading

Autographs as Artifacts

In the Archives’ collections, personal signatures are everywhere, littering correspondence, membership rosters, covenants, and random scraps of paper. These signatures come in all shapes and sizes, some deliberate and others barely more than doodles—breezy nicknames closing a letter, hasty initials scrawled on a memo, or elaborate signatures finalizing deeds and contracts, or legitimizing passports. Occasionally, signatures are accompanied by additional information, like a favorite biblical text, personal motto, illustrations, or decorative flourishes. Depending on the size and style of handwriting, signatures can give researchers insight into a subject’s personality, level of education, and even nationality.

This April, the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center Archives features the autograph album of Edna Asher Case (1905-1999), a Chicago native and 1929 graduate of Wheaton College. In the 1920s, autograph albums were a popular way to document and remember the places and people you encountered and to exchange personal messages. Case’s autograph album—a slim 4×6 leather bound book with brightly-colored pages—offers readers today a glimpse into the bustling world of 1920s American evangelistic fervor, captured in the sprawling signatures and well wishes of celebrity revivalists, musicians, and urban social work crusaders who spread the gospel through revival meetings and rescue missions in the city that came to epitomize the Jazz Age.

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The worn cover of Edna Asher Case’s autograph album held in Collection 197 Papers of Virginia Healey Asher, Folder 1-1.

Born in 1905 to parents deeply involved in evangelism work in Chicago and St. Louis, Edna’s childhood coincided with the pinnacle of Billy Sunday’s revival ministry. Sunday’s traveling evangelistic team included Edna’s aunt, the vocalist and speaker, Virginia Healey Asher. Through her aunt’s connections, Edna was introduced to many of the leading evangelists and revival preachers of the early twentieth century whose signatures and personal messages fill her autograph book. The album contains dated entries spanning 1922-1929, and ranges from Chicago to Winona Lake, Indiana. Continue reading

“This is My Story, This is My Song”: Celebrating Two Centuries of Fanny Crosby

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Fanny Crosby in 1895. Accession 15-01.

When commemorating National Women’s History Month, the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center Archives could celebrate any number of extraordinary women represented in its collections: author and missionary Elisabeth Elliot, evangelist Helen “Ma” Sunday, prison preacher Rev. Consuella York, Mission Aviation Fellowship pilot Betty Greene, Holocaust-survivor and author Corrie ten Boom, faith-healer and evangelist Kathryn Kuhlman, and many others. But this March, the Archives remembers poet, hymnist, composer, social reformer, and public speaker, Fanny Crosby (1820-1915), born two hundred years ago this month.

Although she could print little more than her name, Fanny Crosby became the most prolific American hymnist of the nineteenth century, writing thousands of sacred songs, sometimes composing up to six or seven hymns a day. Her most famous works include “Blessed Assurance”, “To God be the Glory”, “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior”, and “Safe in the Arms of Jesus.” A household name in her lifetime, Fanny Crosby’s compositions still litter hymnals across American Protestant denominations today. Crosby’s enduring popularity is a testimony not only to the extraordinary volume of her musical corpus but also to the simplicity and power of her lyrics to convict, comfort, and inspire audiences around the globe.

In addition to photographs, song books, and memorabilia, the Archives holds nearly 2,400 original manuscripts of Crosby’s hymns and poetry, composed between 1862 and 1915. The majority of the manuscripts are numbered and dated, a helpful guide for researchers tracing Crosby’s immense literary output. The finding aid for Collection 35: Papers of Fanny Crosby provides more details about these materials. Continue reading

Remembering Consuella York, the “Jail Preacher”

York PortraitThis February, in celebration of African-American History Month, the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center Archives commemorates the life and spiritual legacy of Rev. Consuella York (1923-1995), the “Jail Preacher,” and showcases a few items from her personal papers.

Affectionately known as “Mother York,” she ministered in the Cook County correctional system for over 43 years, bringing the Christian message of love and redemption to inmates and correctional officers alike.

Born and raised in Chicago, Consuella York demonstrated an early aptitude for preaching, inherited from her Baptist preacher father. In her 1988 oral history interviews held in the Archives, York recalls winning a prize for oratory in 1948 and shortly afterward entered the Chicago Baptist Institute, where she studied advanced homiletics and pastoral theology, despite the fact that her church denomination did not ordain women as clergy members or allow them to preach. In the same oral history interview, York describes the day 1952 that changed the direction of her life: Continue reading