Marie Woodworth Etter
July 22nd 1844- September 16th 1924
Father may we get fresh insight into eternity and into the present time of the work of Your Spirit on the earth and the burden of Your heart.
Maria was a spiritual pioneer who crisscrossed America preaching the Gospel, healing the sick and either strengthening or starting new churches. She was a voice and champion for women in ministry, made a powerful stand against slavery and sought out the poor and disadvantaged. Maria was used as a modern John the Baptist heralding the coming of the 20th century Pentecostal Movement. a
Maria Etter traveled across America, turning it upside down with powerful demonstrations of the Holy Spirit. Using just a tent and her voice and trusting the Holy Spirit, she drew huge crowds and saw revivals throughout the nation. Her ministry lasted for over forty years (1880-1924). As one journalist put it…
“By some supernatural power she just knocks them silly when they are not looking for it, and while they are down she applies the hydraulic pressure and pumps the grace of God into them by the bucketful.”1
As we look at this time in history, America had seen the Third Great Awakening followed by the Civil War. Biblical foundations were being challenged through rational thought and Darwinism. The Bible was no longer seen as the infallible truth, but just opinion. Stotts said regarding the ministry of Maria…
“The Christ she preached represented for man as absolute in a period of American history when science and technology, Darwinism, and higher criticism were all eroding the foundation of biblical absolutism. The common man found in her services a reaffirmation of the Bible as absolute.”2
She was truly a spiritual pioneer who lived in a period when many believers were seeking to walk in Biblical holiness and needed empowering from God to help them fulfill the great commission. Maria was born for such a time and pushed the boundaries of what was known about the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the ministry and power of the Holy Spirit. Many years before Topeka or Azusa Street, Maria was introducing the world to Pentecostalism. Even to this day, her ministry was perhaps marked with some of the greatest demonstrations of the Holy Spirit we have ever seen Like Dowie, Maria belonged to the Holiness Movement and while Dowie would operate in the healing ministry a few years before Maria (Dowie 1882, Maria 1885), Maria would have a Pentecostal ministry, years before the Azusa Street Revival. She was clearly a front runner and opened the doors to Pentecostalism. Her ministry saw perhaps hundreds of thousands come to know the Lord.
American church historian, Grant Wacker described Maria as “the most prominent healing evangelist of the era and that no one commanded greater awe in Pentecostal circles.”3 Historian Edith Blumhofer said that she pioneered the salvation-healing meetings that “later Pentecostals imitated.” 4 Yet another historian, Carl Brumback, said of her, ‘Looking just like your grandmother, but who exercised tremendous spiritual authority over sin, disease, and demons.”5
Maria would also be a pioneer who broke the male dominated Christian pulpit and helped many women step up to the plate and serve in ministry.
Maria pronounced Mariah was born on July 22nd, 1844 in (New) Lisbon, OH. She was not born to a non-Christian family, Samuel and Matilda Underwood, and so had no religious influence in her early life. Lisbon, Oh, known then as New Lisbon, was famous for being a town where slaves would stopover on their way north and to freedom. She did speak of remembering the Methodist church as a child and her opinion of it impacted her style of ministry…
“The people fell under the power of God, shouted, danced, got healed from diseases and did lots of other thing…they obeyed God, and they were happy people, they had great power.” However, later while in ministry she said of the Methodist church, “They are saying, ‘We don’t know God, He left us. We don’t see Him.” b
In 1855, her father joined the Disciples Church. He died one year later while praying for his family. Her father died of sunstroke and the death was a very difficult event for Marie. Her father was an alcoholic. Her father would pawn his clothes to buy drink. Maria describes her childhood as “full of terror and hardships.”6 We can only imagine that according to Littlewood, that “Underwood would abuse his children and his sickly, broken hearted wife.”7
“Our young lives were full of terror and hardships. This is the reason we were left in poverty, with a sickly, brokenhearted mother and eight helpless children, not one in the wide world to come to our rescue.”8
Even from an early age, Marie had a heart after God. When she was thirteen, in 1857, during the Third Great Awakening, she was born again while attending a meeting at the Disciples Church. The preacher was Warren Asa Belding (1816-1902). He was also a ministry pioneer5. He would baptize thousands during his sixty plus years of ministry. He traveled throughout America preaching the Gospel in the Disciples Church. He like Maria Etter kept meticulous diaries of their work.
“When I heard the story of the cross, my heart was filled with the love of Jesus. My eyes seemed to be fountains of tears.”9 Maria rushed to the front and there the minister took interest in her and prayed, “that my life might be a shining light.”10 Little could this minister or Maria have imagined the future that God had in store for her. The next day, Maria was taken down to the creek to be baptized…
“Maybe she will be drowned.” It scared me a little I thought, ‘Maybe I might,’ but I said, ‘Lord I will go through if I do’; so I asked the Lord to save me fully, trusting myself in His hands; and while going into the water, a light came over me, and I was converted. The people saw the change and said I fainted.”11
The Call to Ministry
Maria’s life was changed and from that point one she experienced peace and joy in the Lord’s love. She became fixated on the Lord and desired to get an education. According to Wagner se was never considered, “brilliant, yet neither was she ignorant or unrefined.” C Not long after her conversion…
“I heard the voice of Jesus calling me to go out into the highways and hedges and gather in the lost sheep.”12
However, Maria faced several obstacles:
- She was uneducated
- She was a woman and her church did not believe women had any right in ministry
- She was single
Maria pondered the call in her heart like Mary but said she had no one to get counsel or talk about it with. D She was very concerned if she did talk about the call she would simply be ridiculed as it was unheard of for women to preach. The problem was her church and the church in general, did not believe that women had any right in ministry. Her only option would be to get married and become a missionary. She had determined to marry an earnest Christian, and they would team together in ministry. Soon the late teenaged, Maria, met Philo Harrison (P. H) Woodworth, who had just returned home after a head injury lead to him being discharged during the Civil War. They had a whirlwind relationship and soon married. The problem was he did not meet the criteria to aid her in her call and divine purpose. He was at best “nominally religious.” 13 They settled in the country and took up farming. She would become the mother of six children. However, her health failed and everything she tried just seemed to fail. They were unable to go to church and every time Maria would hear the church bells she would cry herself to sleep.
“I had one trial after another, and temptations and discouragements beset me on every side.”14
No one can fully understand the burden of the Lord. When He calls you into ministry, so often it seems He fails to tell those around you. It is a time in the wilderness, where we must die and choose, though none go with me, still I will follow. It is a place of absolute surrender and death. The call to obedience comes at a price. We must take up our cross and follow Him. Maria resisted the call for a number of years like so many. She had what seemed genuine excuses, except with the Lord. When we look at her ministry looking back and the power she saw, we must never forget the price she paid. We live in an hour where as Dr. Michael Brown says, “we want to snap our finger and have it happen!” 15 It is not because as Dr. Brown further explains, “that God is going to make you suffer” 16 to earn the gift.Dr. Brown gives an excellent example how an athlete must prepare for the event. They are not suffering to earn it, but preparing themselves to be successful. You don’t decide one day to just get up and run a marathon. You must condition the body and train for it. “God must prepare our entire being for His purpose to be fulfilled.”17 We must remember that the greater the call the greater the reparation necessary. “It is not a blessing to have instant success to everything you put your hands to.” 18 We must learn and develop a heart of compassion and learn to walk by faith. “Many people who start fast, fail fast as well.”19
We may not have to go through what Maria suffered, but we too must go through the process nevertheless. The process never stops until we finish our race and see Him face to face. We must put ourselves on the altar of the Lord and have our flesh consumed. Like all the heroes of faith, we must learn to be emptied of ourselves, our agendas, our excuses, and make a full consecration and surrender to Jesus. “It is the scorched ones that He can use,” according to Dr. Brown.20
There comes a place where we like Jacob wrestle with the Lord and finally come to the place where we give in. We never walk the same, because we have had an encounter with the Lord Almighty. As we look at her ministry we can see how God was truly preparing her to be a pioneer.
“The very sensational nature of Woodworth’s meetings naturally attracted huge controversy and she showed enormous courage and fortitude in rebuffing attacks- verbal, written and even physical- from opponents within and without the church. Throughout it all she nevertheless remained very feminine, reveling in the role she believed God had called her to, that of a woman evangelist.”21
Maria wrote about the period of her resistance to the call…
“All these years God had been preparing me- for I was not willing. I felt like a worm in His sight., It seemed impossible for me to undertake the work of salvation of souls; but the time had come to promise or die. I promised God that if He would restore my health, and prepare me and show me the work, I would try to do it; I began to get better immediately.”22
The more she resisted the stronger the call came for ministry. In the midst of this difficult time in Maria’s life the Lord turned up in visions, calling her to step into ministry. During this season, she would bury five of her six children. At the age of thirty-five, after the death of her youngest son, Wilbur, she finally yielded to the call. Troubles as Kathryn Kuhlman stated either make you better or bitter.e The deaths of the children had a permanent impact on her husband. She described him as being “deranged,” and “he has never been well since.”f I believe, that during the season, Maria gained great compassion for the sick and those in difficult situations.
Almost immediately, the Lord gave her experiences to confirm the call.
“I have brought you here; go to work.”23
However, Maria had a fear of man. In many ways based on her life and the fact that women were not accepted in ministry it is easy to understand this fear. She begged God to send someone else! When we discover the reality of the call and come to a place where we realize it is beyond us, our natural tendency is to think, “Lord you got the wrong person, send someone else!”
“Then the Lord in a vision caused me to see the bottomless pit open in all its horror and woe. There was weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. It was surrounded by a great multitude of people who seemed unconscious of their danger, and without a moment’s warning they would tumble into this awful place. I was above exhorting and pleading with the people to come upon the plank and escape that awful place.”24
We need a fresh revelation of the true spiritual reality of things. When we see things in light of truth and eternity, everything changes. Slowly God, was breaking Maria, and birthing in her a love for souls. At the same time, the Lord was sending ministers to her to confirm the call. However, she initially continued to use her son as an excuse. But soon he would die and her final excuse was gone.
In another vision she saw angels come into her room. They took her to the West, over prairies, lakes forests, and rivers. She saw a long, wide field of waving golden grain. Then she began to preach in the vision and saw the grain begin to fall in sheaves, similar to Ezekiel’s vision.” 25
Maria decided that she needed to study and prepare for the work and thought that as she studied somehow the Lord would work on the heart of her husband and those around to support her. Her husband had no desire for ministry However, she had a vision…
“The dear Savior stood by me one night in a vision and talked face-to-face with me and asked what I was doing on earth. I felt condemned and said, ‘Lord I am going to work in Your vineyard.’ The Lord said, ‘When?” and I answered, “When I get prepared for the work.” Then the Lord said to me, ‘Don’t you know that while you are getting ready, souls are perishing? Go now, and I will be with you.” 26
Around this time she encountered Mr. Charles Stratton. A man she later said, “led her to Christ.” G She had been visiting Damascus, Ohio, during a religious revival. She did not want to get involved, but, Mr Stratton, “Finally, this man here, who was taking an active part in the meetings, earnestly solicited me to attend just one meeting, I might see things in a different light he told me.” She did attend the meeting and was changed. H
Women in Ministry
Maria began searching the Word as she struggled with the call and being a woman in ministry. “The more I investigated, the more I found to condemn me.”27
Maria then had a vision in which angels came into her room and took her “to the West, over the prairies, lakes, forests and rivers where she saw a long wide field of golden grain. As the view unfolded she began to preach and saw the grains begin to fall like sheaves. Then Jesus told her that, ‘just as the grain fell, so people would fall’ as she preached.”28
So, finally, she answered yes to His call. Regarding women in ministry, Maria would write…
“My dear sister in Christ, as you hear these words may the Spirit of Christ come upon you, and make you willing to do the work the Lord has assigned you. It is high time for women to let their lights shine; to bring out their talents that have been hidden away rusting; and use them for the glory of God, and do with their might what their hands find to do, trusting God for strength, Who said, ‘I will never leave you.’ Let us not plead weakness; God will use the weak things of this world to confound the wise. We are sons and daughters of the Most High God. Should we not honor our high calling and do all we can to save those who sit in the valley and shadow of death? Did He not send Moses, Aaron- Miriam to be your leaders? Barak dared not meet the enemy unless Deborah led the van. The Lord raised up men, women, and children of His own choosing- Hannah, Hulda, Anna, Phoebe, Narcissus, Tryphena, Persis, Julia, the Marys and the sisters who co-labored with Paul. Is it less becoming for women to labor in Christ’s kingdom and vineyard now that it was then?’29
Early Days of Ministry
Maria began her ministry in in a little town made up of mainly her husband’s family. As my mom always taught me, “start as you mean to continue,” and that’s what Maria did. She would get up not knowing what she would preach on but trust the Lord to fill her mouth. Her first message was “Set thy house in order, for thou shalt die and not live.” 30 As she began to preach, the man fearing spirit soon left her. One can only imagine standing up and preaching to family members who must have thought her crazy. But, Maria was learning the importance of holy desperation in prayer. Soon, her sister-in-law broke down and within days twenty claimed to have been converted. Soon people were converted throughout the neighborhood.
Another night she got up to preach to a crowded church. She did not know what she was going to say, but her pray of desperation was answered and the Lord as usual turned up and gave her the words to say. She wrote that “It seemed that all I had to do was open my mouth. The people all through the house began to weep.”i
During this meeting, Maria claims “I received the baptism of the Holy Ghost. It seemed as if the house was full of the glory of God.”j
At this meeting, her future son-in-law was converted, John F. Ormsby. He is buried beside his wife and Maria in Memorial Park cemetery.
In the early days Maria continued to work at home and preach on weekends. She traveled to towns all around and sought to raise money so she could go, “West.” Everywhere she went the houses were crowded. As she opened her mouth people began to weep and the Holy Spirit began moving on the crowd. She preached throughout Columbiana County for about a year and a half. She held nine revivals, organized two churches, organized a Sunday school of about 100 members, preached in 22 meeting places, four schools and delivered over 200 messages.
Her success got the attention of several groups. The Friends Church invited her to travel with a minister and his wife for a year to conduct revival meetings. The United Brethren wanted her to take leadership of the Women’s Missionary Society and the Bible Christian Group wanted her to take charge of three churches. The Methodist’s offered her a church. Maria felt the burden to go west and beyond Columbiana County. However, her husband and teenager daughter were opposed.
She then went to the “Devil’s Den.” It was a place of great infidelity and not open to Christianity. Maria initially was reluctant to go but became convinced the Lord would shake the foundations of the city spiritually and bring change. The crowds came initially out of curiosity. Maria got a lot of publicity in the newspapers. While most of it was negative, it served a purpose as a powerful marketing tool. She was referred to as the “trance evangelist.” Maria would often go into a trance, as would many people in her meetings.
The Press became a powerful tool for Mrs. Woodworth. George Whitefield said…
“Thousands of prayers are put up for us, and thousands of lies are spread abroad against us.”31
“No man’s speeches or lectures should be judged of by an ordinary newspaper summary, which in any case is a mere sketch, and in many instances is a vile caricature.”32
For example, The Greencastle Banner and Times wrote in an article, “Trance Religion,” that “the notorious Mrs. Woodworth, but we assume that all other evangelists whose religious work is accompanied by trances are the fruit of her work or an off-shoot from the same stock. Some may think the subject not worth the cost of ink it takes to print it, but knowing as we do that some of the most devout and deeply spiritual souls have been led to accept this delusion under the impression that they are dealing with a great power of God…”33
The Indianapolis Journal wrote about her in an article called, Mrs. Woodworth’s Sanity…
“Two physicians filed a complaint in the Probate Court today for an inquiry as to the sanity of Mrs Maria B. Woodworth, the noted evangelist. Mrs. Woodworth has been holding meetings here for several months, and certain members of her audience became possessed of what she terms, ‘the power.”34
The Indianapolis Journal also said…
“Sensation more attractive than simple eloquence in drawing crowds”35
“Mrs. Davis overcome by emotion passes into a trance lasting for hours…A Woodworth meeting with exciting incidents and manifestations- an aged lady long afflicted with deafness becomes unconscious…The largest crowds she has yet talked to during the series of meetings Mrs. Woodworth last night. The aisles of the Corinthian Baptist Church were so closely packed as pews, and though the people stood for two hours, very good order was preserved.”36
“Mrs. Woodworth creating considerable excitement in Indianapolis. 37
“The lame, halt and blind are coming in from all quarters, and they profess to have experienced miraculous cures. A little girl in this city, who has been on crutches for five years, is claimed to have been perfectly cured in minutes. An old man professed to have been perfectly healed of cancer in the nose, and another with a stiff knee is reported to be entirely restored.”38
Maria B. Woodworth, the female evangelist… is now conducting nightly meetings with the same trance manifestations and faith cures which attracted physicians four years ago. The meetings are held in the Church of God, which she founded before she left St. Louis to evangelize the South. Already forty persons have been converted and a dozen or more have been healed of all manner of diseases. Among the healed are several persons afflicted with spinal diseases, resulting in paralysis of parts of the body…Many people cured by Mrs. Woodworth four years ago are now testifying to her healing powers.”39
“Sick made whole by faith.”40
“Maria Woodworth, the trance medium evangelist, is finding many gullible people in Wells county. She is sought by people who travel a distance of 12 miles, each evening with crippled children whom the imposter is purporting to heal by Divine power. Marie Woodworth is another of the Schroeder-Schlatter-Dowie type.”41
As you can see the newspapers were either for her or strongly against. But it is clear she was making an impact. In reading her Diary, you can track it by reading newspaper articles that confirm she did preach in that city.
The Holy Spirit Moved
Maria started evangelizing western Ohio and it was while at Fairview, a key feature of her ministry first began to manifest, trances.
When you read the account of any revival it would go beyond the local church. This was exactly what happened in the ministry of Maria Woodworth-Etter. She went to Hartford City Indiana and began in January 1885 preaching in a Methodist Church. People filled the church. Maria began to pray for the city that the Lod would shake for miles around. Suddenly things started to happen as the Spirit moved. People started weeping and falling prostrate. Because Maria kept a diary we can track events with a timeline. This allows us to then confirm such events through local papers. So, for example, this revival in Hartford we can read her account and then confirm the revival in the papers.
“The power of the Lord, like a wind, swept all over the city, up one street and down another, sweeping through places of business, the workshops, saloons, and dives, arresting sinners of all classes. The Scriptures were fulfilled: ‘The wicked flee when no man pursueth’ (Proverbs 28:1). Men, women, and children were struck down in their homes, in their places of business, on the highways, and lay as dead. They had wonderful visions and rose up converted, giving glory to God. When they told what they had seen their faces shone like angels. The fear of God fell upon the city. The police said they never saw such a change, that they had nothing to do with it.”42
The newspapers wrote…
“whose revival work here has been characterized by so many remarkable exhibitions, is now at New Corner, Ind.”43
“The remarkable revival at Hartford City continues with unabated interest.”44
“Hartford City, Ind. Feb 2nd. Mrs. Woodworth, the lady evangelist closes her meeting at this place today. As a result of her ministrations one hundred and twenty-seven express conversion, forty have joined the M. E Church and over thirty have been tranced…She is at all events a very wonderful woman, not given to vanity or egotism, asks no compensation for her labors- only enough to supply her necessities…Some of the worst sinners in the community have been brought into the church at these meetings.”45
In fact, she got the attention of the New York Times, who wrote…
“These reports from the Hartford City religious craze, carried on under Mrs. Woodworth, are beyond belief. Mrs. Woodworth is well-known in the State and enjoys a good reputation. A letter from there gives some instances of the so-called conversions which rival and outdo the celebrated ‘Yerks” in Kentucky a half century ago.”q
As you can see the Lord clearly moved with power and the world took notice.
By 1885, Maria had gained great momentum.
So, often we forget that trances are mentioned in the Word. Marie Etter’s ministry was marked by trances. As we have seen she was nicknamed the “trance evangelist.” Many came to mock the trances but all soon discovered the Holy Spirit does not play games. One doctor came to investigate the trances. Maria wrote of the event…
“He did not want to admit the power was of God. He would only have been glad if they could prove it was something else. He went, expecting to find something new. To his surprise he found his son at the altar and wanted his father to pray for him. He could not pray, God showed him what he was, and what he was doing. He began to pray for himself. While praying he fell into a trance, and saw the horrors of hell. He was falling in. After a terrible struggle God saved him. He went to work to win souls for Christ.” 46
Maria gives several accounts where the Lord intervened and dealt with a scoffer. Here we have an independent account saying something similar. In the Indianapolis Sentinel, they ran a great article on a service and a man trying to disrupt the service. The article stated, “evangelical work in Indiana= conversions accompanied by trances. They wrote…
“Many of the class termed as scoffers are almost afraid to go into the edifice. Every evening the house is thronged with people to its utmost capacity, and each afternoon, at 2 or 3 o’clock the following morning. Among the conversions is a man familiarly known about the town, whose name is withheld from publication, a man of convivial habits, and who on this occasion was loaded to the guards. Determined on breaking up the meeting he marched within feet of the pulpit, and began a torrent of profane abuse until, as he says his tongue failed him. He sat silent, annoyed at being overcome by a woman who had caused this result without making any special effort in his direction. He seems, as he says, when asked what his sensations are like, not to understand what it is, but replies in an injured tone of a man who has been personally affronted: ‘Go up yourself and find out.””47
Praying for the Sick
In March of 1885, Maria went to Columbia City Indiana, which is just outside of Indianapolis. It was here that the Lord dealt with her on the gift of healing and the laying on of hands for the sick. Maria has been in ministry around six years and is now holding daily meetings. She is constantly working and often does not get to bed until 2 am. During this time, the Holy Spirit begins to speak to her as I said on divine healing. It disturbs her and for three nights despite being exhausted she lies awake. Maria’s heart was for souls for Jesus. Here concern as she put it, “I thought if I would preach divine healing, they would bring all the cripples in the country, and I would neglect the salvation of souls.”48 However, the Lord explained that he was in control and would take care of the work. So, from this time on Maria began to preach divine healing. As we can read even from the newspaper articles thousands were healed in her ministry and she never did neglect the most important message of salvation.
Strongholds No Match
Maria did not back down from strongholds. She went after cities like Kokomo, which was a wicked city that one editor called the Sodom and Gomorrah of Indiana.r Maria once again had incredible success and had to keep looking for a bigger building to hold the crowds. The religious elite, however, gave her mixed reviews. Some applauded her efforts while others condemned her.
Maria would hold what she described as one of the “most wonderful meetings I ever held.”s in Alexandria, in the Fall of 1885. Here around 20,000-25,000 people gathered to hear her preach. The crowd was too big for any tent. Despite not having a microphone and speaker, hundreds were converted and healed.
In 1886-87, she held a revival in Anderson Indiana. Here the church did not welcome her and boycotted her meetings. However, unbelievers turned up in support of her and filled the tent to capacity. Maria as usual preached no-holds-barred and as usual scores rushed to the altar. By the end of the three weeks she had touched the entire city despite its boycott.
“Many others- doctors, lawyers, drunkards, agnostics, and church members- from the tallest cedar down to the weakest, were shown their need of the Savior and bowed unashamedly at the camp meeting altar.”t
During one of the meetings she preached on the Holy Ghost and “many fell to the ground. Others stood with their faces and hands raised to heaven. The Holy Ghost sat upon them. Sinners were converted, and began to testify and praise God. I was overpowered, and carried to my tent.”dd
In June 1888, after successful revivals in various cities in Illinois she moved to Springfield and had her most successful meeting in Illinois. At the time 24,000 lived in Springfield and she knew none of them. However, her meetings attracted thousands. Her first meeting drew only 18 people but ended in thousands. A local editor challenged ministers and doctors to attend. The ministers did take up the challenge but for the wrong reasons. Dr. John Briney, pastor of the Christian Church, told his congregation that he planned to prove Maria was a fraud.u
The ministers challenged her to debate him. Maria wrote about it…
“They had brought together, ‘history, doctor books and the devil’s work to prove that the power of God had been taken from the church.”v
She lacked the education to compete with such a person and so trusted the Lord and said…
“I believe the best proof of our being called of God to preach was the fact that souls were saved,’ she said, ‘I asked who had been converted in these meetings to stand up, and over two hundred arose.”w
As we stated early, Maria married Philo Woodworth when she was young. He appeared as a war hero to her and perhaps she felt he would be a brave soldier for the Lord. Their one month courtship never allowed them time to really get to know each other. He was resistant to his wife’s ministry call. Maria claimed he was converted at a Methodist church shortly after they were married and she said his conversion was ‘very bright” and that he ‘seemed to speak with other tongues.” Maria claimed that for a while they had a happy home, until troubles came and the deaths of the children.k Her husband had consented to her preaching in the local area but refused to venture into the west. So, initially, Maria joined the United Brethren Church and preached in the surrounding communities. Maria knew she was called to go further, but wondered why God did not speak to her husband. L I believe this created in Maria a true holy desperation and perseverance in prayer that became critical for where the Lord would take her in ministry. She would face many challenges that demanded that she know how to boldly approach the Throne Room and remain until God answered. She understood her absolute need of Him. She did not have the education or equipping or support to accomplish the task. She had to rely totally on the Lord. If the Lord did not move she was stuck. However, the Lord never failed.
Finally, the United Brethren endorsed her going on a mission trip out West and her husband agreed to go with her. Somehow, he finally did allow her to go and he accompanied her, taking charge of the tent, as well as operating the food and book stands. Philo would be greatly criticized by the press for his merchandizing, that today has become standard. It appears he has his own agenda. We do know Philo did get “exhorter’s credentials for the Church of God. However, many questions regarding Philo remain unanswered. He clearly was not the earnest Christian she had sought to marry. He clearly did not want to follow his wife set up tents and listening to her preach. They clearly were not the idea team in ministry. However, Maria held marriage sacred and stood by him, never publicly coitizing him. She kept her martial relationship confidential.
Newspapers would point out his lack of charity and that he had a different heart that Maria. They quoted examples such as how he was disgusted at the slow response to an offering appeal in Hartford City, Indiana, where he “rose in his place and made some observations that were untimely, and most certainly did not come from a peaceful heart.”L Another reporter wrote about him, “Her husband… does not attract, but rather repels.”m
The storm came to a head in December of 1889 while in Oakland, California. Philo had taken ill and Maria assigned a committee to take care of the tent. Philo resisted the group.
Philo would have repeated affairs with two black women and a prostitute. This would come at a very bad time for Maria, during her very difficult time in California. Thankfully, the news did not become aware of them. In fact, they did not come out until September 1890. However, it was during their time in Oakland, that Maria kicked him out and sent him on his way east.
When, Maria then went to St Louis, two doctors tried to have her committed to an insane asylum. Philo, took the opportunity to write letters to his wife chief adversaries explaining why he was forced to leave her. However, people who were in Oakland stated to reporters in St. Louis that Philo’s behavior was so bad he had to be ordered away.n
In January 1891, Maria served him with divorce papers. Philo would claim:o
- Maria was having an affair with a St Louis preacher
- The trance business was a fraud
- His wife’s visions were humbug
- Their work was a money-making scheme
- Worshippers were deceived
- Churches she established did not last
Maria was represented by Judge William R. West, who testified he was converted and healed in one of her meetings in 1886. p
Maria, claimed that Philo threatened her with a gun49 in the divorce proceedings. The last straw before this was the fact that Philo made sexual advances towards two of Maria’s female helpers.50 The couple were finally divorced on February 26th, 1891. Philo sought to discredit Maria after the divorce and made many claims regarding her, including that she was “deceiving worshippers for money.”51 Philo remarried within a month after his divorce. However, he died not long after from typhoid. Maria took time off from her crusade to attend and even be a part of her former husband’s funeral.52
Maria does not speak much about her husband and never spoke negatively about him. I believe she understood the importance of guarding her heart. She had made a mistake in seeking to do the Father’s will and believing the only way was to be married, so she married Philo. Too, often, we can be sincere but sincerely wrong. If we look at two of Maria’s successors, Kathryn Kuhlman and Aimee Semple McPherson, both of them also made mistakes in marriage. As you look at many heroes of the faith, a good marriage was a blessing to them, and a bad one a weight. The life Maria was called to was not easy. Living in a tent, traveling across country and enduring all kinds of weather, lack of sleep, and sometimes no food, would be a challenge for anyone. If you did not feel the call, as clearly Philo didn’t, this would have made life miserable.
If we look at John Carey, or John Wesley, both made bad decisions in marriage. John Wesley, who married a widow, Molly Vazeille, like Woodworth, found himself with a partner who was nominally spiritual at best. However, Wesley, felt that if he had of married a better wife it might have tempted him away from his life as an itinerant evangelist.53
In 1902, Maria remarried a man called, Samuel Etter. She referred to him as a gift from God.54. She wrote of him…
“He stood bravely with me in the hottest battle, and since the day we married has never shrank…The Lord knew what I needed, and it was all brought about by the Lord through his love and care for me and the work.”55
After she married Samuel Etter, Maria disappeared from the public scene for about seven years. During this time, they moved to Cisne, Illinois and lived on a farm.56 Maria did still hold limited evangelistic meetings. She would resume her traveling campaign in 1912. In 1914, during a Philadelphia campaign she received the news that her ailing husband had died.
The Wild West
“Throughout her long ministry crisscrossing the country, Woodworth described her work in colorful battle terms…The battle lines could be drawn any place, and they always pitted God’s soldiers against the devil’s, good against evil. And often in Woodworth’s method of viewing the battlefield, she could see the enemy troops and their big guns made up of preachers, hoodlums, and newspaper reporters.”x
Perhaps one of the most challenging times for Maria was her campaign out west. Here she would receive great criticism 57. Storms would tear the tent down58. Cold rain meant only 23 people turned up to her meeting. However, Maria refused to quit and the crowds slowly grew.
“If she could have seen the future, however, maybe Woodworth would have closed the meeting and ordered the tent taken down after the first few nights. For her in Oakland, she would experience the most difficult meeting of her ministry, one that would have shattered the average evangelist at the end of the nineteenth century. This would be her husband’s last crusade. Here critics would launch their greatest offensive thrust. Here a predicted tidal wave-earthquake would plummet Woodworth’s credibility to the bottom of the Bay.”y
They were attacked by gangs, who sought to harass the meetings. They would hid6 explosives in the wood stoves, though miraculously no one was hurt. 59 Despite all the persecution from the press and infidels, Maria refused to leave Oakland until she felt the Lord was finished. One of her persecutors was none other than Alexander Dowie, who had just arrived from Australia. Maria wrote of him…
“After stating in our meeting before thousands, that he never saw such power of God, and so wonderfully manifested, and after advising all his people to stand by me, he went up and down the coast preaching against me and the meetings until he broke up all his missions. His only objection was that some were struck down by the power of God in our meetings. He lectured against me two or three times in San Francisco, and said I was in line with Satan. Many went to hear him…but this talk was such that many people left in disgust while he was talking. I told the people that I had been his friend and had treated him like a brother, and that he was not fighting against me, but the Lord and His Word. I always told the people that I would leave him in the hands of God and that I would go right on with the Master. I told them to watch and see how we would come out, and they would see that he would go down in disgrace, and that I would be living when he was dead.”60
The people who bought her the biggest tent she ever had for the meetings, soon became concerned over the manifestations and trances and wanted them to be stopped. When Maria refused they left taking about two hundred people with them to form their own church.
Maria would endure great persecution from ministers and citizens who sought to close down the meetings.
Maria’s prophesy of an earthquake that would strike San Francisco would follow her. The newspapers and press used this greatly to persecute her.
“A St. Louis dispatch says” Marie B. Woodworth, the San Francisco prophetess who predicted the destruction of the Golden Gate City was mobbed in a tent meeting on Gamble Street. She had been preaching in a tent since her advent here six weeks ago, and has predicted all sorts of disasters.”61
We have already touched on the fact that Maria preached divine healing with the laying on of hands. She documented many healings in her journal and even provided names and addresses so people could verify. We have seen newspaper articles confirm healings and even state people testified of still being held years later. Belief in divine healing was not unique. What was unique was what Dowie and others began preaching, that not alone could the Lord heal you but He wanted you healed. Further, as Lance explains…
“It is a commonly held belief (among Pentecostals) that Satan, not God, is the author of sickness. It was Satan who got Adam and Even to sin by disobeying God, so it is Satan who is the author of sin, sickness and death, not God.”62
Maria believed like Jesus, that sickness could be caused by demons. This was a commonly held belief among Pentecostals. Maria in many ways was similar to Smith Wigglesworth, and could be very unorthodox. For example, when dealing with a young man with a tumor in his neck, she said, “We’ll just cut it out with the Sword of the Spirit,’ and then proceeded to hit him with her Bible on his neck. The young boy was healed.63
George R. Stotts, stated, “Woodworth perhaps should receive more credit for preparing the church for the Pentecostal revival than others such as Charles F. Parham, William Seymour, and Aimee Semple McPherson.”aa
We can find ample examples of people who were taught in Maria’s meeting to seek a more powerful Christian Experience. Maria was part of the holiness movement which believed the believer needed an encounter or baptism in the “power.” In Maria’s services we can find many examples of “speaking in tongues” and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. They did not tie the two together as Parham did later in 1901. If you read Maria’s work, “The Life, Work and Experience of Maria Beulah Woodworth,” which was published in 1894, based on terms she used, you would believe it was written after Azusa Street. We know for example at the Fairview OH revival of 1883, she wrote how the people confessed their sin and “prayed for a baptism of the Holy Ghost and of fire.”bb. This was written in 1894 of an event 18 years before Topeka, and before she would have access of reports of Topeka. In 1885 during the Chambersburg, PA, revvial, Maria said it was a “Pentecostal meeting from the beginning…(they) went down by the mighty wind power of the Holy Ghost. He sat upon the children of God til their faces shone like Stephen’s when his enemies said he looked like an angel. Many received gifts; some for the ministry, some as evangelists, some of healing, and hundreds of sinners received the gift of eternal life.”cc
In 1890 while in St Louis in June, Maria wrote…
“Many were baptized in the Holy Spirit and received may gifts, all the gifts were manifested by the Holy Spirit…. some received the gift of new tongues, and spake very intelligently on other languages as the Spirit gave them utterance. He gave them to know what they were speaking.”64
Maria stated that she herself spoke in three different languages and also would sing in the Spirit. 65
“The emphasis Etter placed upon Pentecostal power, the gifts of the Spirit, the imminent return of Christ, and divine healing cannot be minimized, nor their importance for the new, but rapidly growing, Pentecostal movement underestimated. Not only do her books continually mention the importance of returning to Apostolic days and that God ‘has poured out His Spirit in all my meetings,’ but reporters who covered her campaigns corroborate this emphasis.”66
He further added that
“that through her ministry, her preaching and her books: (Woodworth) more than Parham, Seymour or Aimee Semple McPherson, prepared thousands of people for the ‘Latter Rain’ outpouring spoken by the prophet Joel.”67
In 1912, Maria was invited by F. F. Bosworth to attend a campaign in Dallas Texas. The campaign would last five months. It was a powerful meeting with many people being baptized in the Holy Spirit and speaking in other tongues. This meeting lead, R. J. Scott to invite Maria to preach in Los Angeles at a World Wide Camp Meeting. The Arroyo Seco Camp Meeting was attended by over 200 ministers. According to Littlewood, Maria, who was 69, at the time, “galvanized into a new lease of evangelism by the life and fire of the emerging Pentecostal movement.” 68
Her book, “Signs and Wonders” was translated into different languages and sold worldwide. Boddy who brought Pentecostalism to Britain purchased many copies of her book to distribute69. Mlle Biolley who translated the book into French for Ruban Bleu in 1919, helped the Pentecostal revival in France. 70
The Race Issue
In the Third Great Awakening in 1857 in America, one issue the Lord began to address was slavery. The small town where Maria grew up was a town many black slaves fled to from the South on their way to the North and freedom.
Maria Etter’s ministry focused on the poor and uneducated and socially deprived. It crossed racial lines which at the time was a major source of persecution for her. White separatists did not appreciate her inviting black people into her meetings. It is hard to imagine how extreme racism was at the time and the stand Maria took. Maria believed…
“God made the whole human family of one blood. Christ died for all. God said, ‘Go preach my Gospel to all nations, to every creature.”71
Maria Etter would accept and visited black churches in the towns she ministered in. However, this did not sit well with everyone, and Maria received death threats from white supremacists.72
Maria Etter believed true Christians belonged to the Church of God and not denominations. She said…” There is no such thing as Methodist, Baptists, Presbyterians, and all the rest…All such distinctions are of men and woe unto them who try to enter the kingdom in any other way than they Church of God. All such are thieves.”73 The Weekly Evangel, wrote of her meeting in San Francisco… “In a very unusual way, God seems to be laying a foundation for a deep work which He is going to carry on till Jesus comes. The saints of various beliefs and missions are being brought together and bound together by the one Spirit.”74
Her Later Years
After forty-five years of ministry where she traveled across America, Maria got a vision to build a tabernacle for God. Maria chose Indiana because of its central location. It is interesting that today Indiana is considered the cross roads of America. Maria built the tabernacle next store to her house and ministered there for the last six years of her life. The tabernacle was a 500 seat building, which at the time was very large for a church. The church was dedicated on May 19th, 1918. The church today, though in a different location is affiliated with the Assemblies of God.
In 1913, Maria would meet with Aimee Semple McPherson. Aimee was deeply impacted by Maria and read everything she wrote. Maria never made any public comments regarding the meeting, but her traveling companion stated Maria was concerned about the direction Aimee’s ministry was going because of the theatrical performances.75
Maria Etter never did meet Smith Wigglesworth, though it is strongly believed he was greatly impacted by her ministry and he did preach at her church after her death. 76
In 1920, saw the ratification of the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote. It was also the year, Maria would be accused while in Freemont Nebraska, of practicing medicine without a license. The public prosecutor, Joseph C. Cook heaped more public scorn on Maria than anyone else in the 20th century. He had Maria arrested along with four others. The Local ‘Evening Tribune” was at the time very tolerant and even pro Maria Woodworth and her work. In fact, on the September 22nd cover of the Tribune it stated, “Cripples Walking After Prayers of the Divine Healer. Miraculous Cures Accomplished by Woman Who Claims No Reward. Blind See, Deaf Hear.”ee
Cook, who had launched the most vicious attack against Maria for praying over the sick, offered a reward for any one healed of goiter. Otis Gardner of the Tribune, challenged Cook to attend a meeting and make his challenge in front of the crowd. Cook never did get the case to trial, as he became ill and the trial had to be rescheduled. It was finally dismissed.
In 1914, Maria became seriously ill with pneumonia and this became one of the few things to keep her from traveling. However, she did recover and in February of 1915 was in Florida preaching.
From about 1912 Maria began living in Indianapolis where of course she built her tabernacle. In 1924, she became very ill and weak. During the summer of that year, she received word that her only remaining child, daughter Lizzie, aged sixty, was killed in a streetcar accident. Now, all her family and two husbands had gone to be with the Lord. Maria did do the funeral service for her daughter.
Maria struggled wo walk and was often weak. However, when she stepped on the platform, the Spirit would pour out on her and she would walk up and down preaching.
Three weeks before she died, the Lord revealed to her, “it was only a matter of days before she would leave.”77
“Her eyesight was good for a person of her age. Her mental powers were keen to the very end. These was not a single moment during all her sickness but what she could freely converse with you on any topic that came up. The saints around her came in freely at all times to see her and have council with her. Some came as they were led by the Spirit to pray with her; others again to be prayed for by her. She laid hands on the sick and prayed for who were in need. This she did ‘til the very end. She did this while at the same time she knew that her own strength was rapidly slipping away. She has repeatedly said during her ministry that she would sooner wear out for Jesus than rust out.” 78
She went home to be with the Lord on September 16th, 1924. On her gravestone is reads…
M. B. Woodworth-Etter
Thou showest unto Thousands Lovingkindness79
- Lairdon, Roberts. “Maria Woodworth-Etter: The Complete Collection of her Life Teachings. Tulsa, Albury Publications, 2000. P 27
- Stotts. Mary Woodworth-Etter. Pp. 31-32
- Wacker, Grant. “Heaven Below: Early Pentecostals and American Culture.” Cambridge, MA and London England. Harvard University Press, 2001. Pp 84, 114
- Wagner, Wayne. Maria Woodworth-Etter: For Such a Time As This.” Gainesville, FL. Bridge-Logos. 2004. Xii
- Edith, Blumhofer. “Restoring the Faith.” Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press. 1993. Pp 20, 24
- Woodworth-Etter, Maria, “Dairy of Signs and Wonders.” Page 8
- Littlewood, David. “Maria Woodworth-Etter: Mother of Pentecost.” Creativa. 2016. Loc 98
- Woodworth-Etter, Maria, “Dairy of Signs and Wonders.” Page 8
- Warren, Belding. Biography of Dr. W. A. Belding, including sixty years of ministerial pioneer work. 1862
- Woodworth-Etter, Maria, “Dairy of Signs and Wonders.” Page 8
- Warner, Wayne “Maria Woodworth-Etter: For such a Time as This: Her Healing and Evangelizing Ministry.” Bridge-Logos, Alachua FL. 2004. Page 8
- Woodworth-Etter, Maria, “Dairy of Signs and Wonders.” Page 9
- Brown, Dr. Michael. “Marie Etter.” Heroes Audio
- Littlewood, David. “Maria Woodworth-Etter: Mother of Pentecost.” Creativa. 2016. Loc 14
- Woodworth-Etter, Maria, “Dairy of Signs and Wonders.” Page 14
- Wagner, Wayne. Maria Woodworth-Etter: For Such a Time As This.” Gainesville, FL. Bridge-Logos. 2004. P11
- Ibid page 17
- Ibid page 19
- Warner, Wayne, E. “Neglect Not the Gift That is in Thee.” Etter Sermon from the Woman Evangelist (Metuchen NJ and London: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1986) 307, Appendix C
- Woodworth-Etter, Maria. “A Diary of Signs and Wonders.” Tulsa OK, Harrison House. 1916, page 215-216
- Woodworth-Etter, Maria, “Dairy of Signs and Wonders.” Page 20
- Spurgeon. C. H. “Eccentric Preachers. (http://www.spurgeon.org/misc/ep/htm download 23/1/07)
- Greencastle Banner and Times. Putnam County, 20th July 1894.
- Indianapolis Journal. Marion County, 3 September 1890.
- The Indianapolis Journal. “Two Forms of Religion.” Thursday January 15th, 1891
- The Indianspolis Journal. “She Looked Into Heaven.” Saturday, January 17th 1891
- Wabash Express. “Exciting Times.” Terre Haute, Vigo County, 15 December 1886
- The Americus Ledger (Americus Kansas). “A Faith Cure Meeting.” Friday July 13th, 1888, page 2
- San Francisco Chronicle. “She Heals by Faith.” Thursday April 20th, 1893, Page 1
- Terre Haute Express, Sunday Morning. “Sick Made Whole by Faith.” September 18th, 1887
- The Monroeville Breeze. Thursday, March 11th, 1897, page 4
- Woodworth-Etter, Maria, “Dairy of Signs and Wonders.” Page 54
- The Republic (Columbus, Indiana), Wednesday, February 18th, 1885
- The Indianapolis News, Tuesday, January 27th, 1885
- Indiana State Sentinel. Indianapolis, Marion County, 11 February 1885
- Woodworth-Etter, Maria. “A Diary of Signs and Wonders.” Tulsa OK, Harrison House. 1916, page 67-68
- Indianapolis Sentinel. Marion County. “Remarkable Results.” 2nd February 1885
- Woodworth-Etter, Maria, “Dairy of Signs and Wonders.” Page 61
- Maria B. Woodworth vs. Philo H. Woodworth, divorce complaint, Fulton County, Indiana, Dec 27, 1890
- Warner, For Such a Time. P 126
- Ibid p 127
- Liardon, Roberts. “God’s Generals: Why They Succeeded and Why Some Failed.” Albury Publishing, Tulsa OK, 1996. Page 58
- Peterson, Martin Luther, P 70
- Liardon, Roberts. “God’s Generals: Why They Succeeded and Why Some Failed.” Albury Publishing, Tulsa OK, 1996. Page 60
- Ibid 61
- Oakland Tribune. “Dr. Bothwell’s Critic.” Mon December 9th, 1889
- San Francisco Chronicle. Tue, December 24th, 1889
- Liardon, Roberts. “God’s Generals: Why They Succeeded and Why Some Failed.” Albury Publishing, Tulsa OK, 1996. Page 58
- Woodworth-Etter, Maria. “Life And Testimony of Mrs. M. B. Woodworth-Etter.” Page 12
- Warren County Democrat. “They Mobbed the Prophetess.” Vol 3. Number 40. 26th June 1890
- Lance. “Maria Woodworth-Etter.” Page 48
- Liardon, Roberts. “God’s Generals: Why They Succeeded and Why Some Failed.” Albury Publishing, Tulsa OK, 1996. 73
- Woodworth-Etter. Diary. Page 117
- Woodworth-Etter, Maria. Acts of the Holy Ghost.” P 335
- Stotts. “Mary Wordworth-Etter.” Page 30
- Ibid page 31
- Littlewood, David. “Maria Woodworth-Etter: Mother of Pentecost.” Creativa. 2016. Loc 1108
- Boddy, Alexander. A. “On the Sides of Angels” The Confidence Magazine, 1919 page 36
- Littlewood, David. “Maria Woodworth-Etter: Mother of Pentecost.” Creativa. 2016. Loc 1108
- Warner For Such a Time. Page 227
- Littlewood, David. “Maria Woodworth-Etter: Mother of Pentecost.” Creativa. 2016. Loc 814
- Oakland Daily Evening Tribune. “The Tent Rumpus.” January 9th, 1890
- The Weekly Evangel. “Sister Etter at San Francisco, California.” December 9th, 1916
- Liardon, Roberts. “God’s Generals: Why They Succeeded and Why Some Failed.” Albury Publishing, Tulsa OK, 1996. 70
- Ibid page 71
- Woodworth-Etter, Maria. “Life & Testimony of Mrs. M. B. Woodworth-Etter.: page 124
- Warner. “For Such a Time.” Page 324
- Wagner, Wayne. Maria Woodworth-Etter: For Such a Time As This.” Gainesville, FL. Bridge-Logos. 2004. P. 6
- Wagner, Wayne. Maria Woodworth-Etter: For Such a Time As This.” Gainesville, FL. Bridge-Logos. 2004. Pp.25-26
- Wagner, Wayne. Maria Woodworth-Etter: For Such a Time As This.” Gainesville, FL. Bridge-Logos. 2004. P.7
- Wagner, Wayne. Maria Woodworth-Etter: For Such a Time As This.” Gainesville, FL. Bridge-Logos. 2004. Xp.7
- Kuhlman, Kathryn. “Heart to Hearth.” Vol. 1. Alachua, Florida, Bridge-Logos. 1983. loc 548
- Woodworth-Etter, Maria, B. “Life and Experiences.” 1885. P.33
- Wagner, Wayne. Maria p 2
- Ibid p18
- Ibid p18
- Ibid p 19
- Ibid 22
- Ibid 119
- Indianapolis Sentinel, Dec 17, 1886
- Wagner, Wayne. Maria p 126
- Ibid p 127
- New York Times, Jan 30th, 1885
- Ibid 55
- Ibid 63
- Ibid 65
- Ibid 71
- Ibid 72
- Ibid 72
- Ibid 86
- Ibid 88