Uldine Utley and the Industry of Revival
332 pages, 6.00 x 9.00 in, 20 b&w photos
- Published: July 2016
Uldine Utley defined the "girl evangelist" of the 1920s and 1930s. She began her preaching career at age eleven, published a monthly magazine by age twelve, and by age fourteen was regularly packing the largest venues in major American cities, including Carnegie Hall and Madison Square Garden. She stood toe to toe with Billy Sunday and Aimee Semple McPherson, the most famous revivalist preachers of the day. She became a darling of the secular press and was mimicked and modeled in fiction and plays.
In Preacher Girl, the first full biography of Utley, author Thomas Robinson shows that Utley’s rise to fame was no accident. Utley’s parents and staff carefully marked out her path early on to headline success. Not unlike Hollywood, revivalism was a business in which celebrity equaled success. Revivalism mixed equal parts of glamour and gospel, making stars of its preachers. Utley was its brightest.
But childhood fame came at a price. As a series of Utley’s previously unpublished poems reveal, after a decade of preaching, she was facing a near-constant fight against physical and mental exhaustion as she experienced the clash between the expectations of revivalism and her desires for a normal life. Utley burned out at age twenty-four. The revival stage folded; fame faded; only a broken heart and a wounded mind remained.
Both Utley’s meteoric rise and its tragic outcome illuminate American religion as a business. In his compelling chronicle of Utley’s life, Robinson highlights the surprising power of American revivalism to equal Hollywood’s success as well as the potentially devastating private costs of public religious leadership. The marketing and promotion machine of revivalism brought both fame and hardship for Utley—clashing by-products in the business of winning souls for Christ.
Chapter 1: Dreaming Dreams
From Childhood to Hollywood
Chapter 2: Seeing Visions
From Call to Action
Chapter 3: Utley, Inc.
From Ministry to Marketing
Chapter 4: Utley’s Religion
From Pentecostal to Methodist
Chapter 5: Utley’s Revivalism
From Novice to Stage Master
Chapter 6: "Kindly Remove My Halo"
From Famous to Forgotten
…an engaging and meticulously researched biography of the childhood career of Pentecostal revivalist Uldine Utley.~Emily Bailey, Reading Religion
Robinson tells the story of Utley's life with verve and compassion, filling in the background of America in the Roaring Twenties and Depressing Thirties. He is well aware of the secondary literature, from Frederick Lewis Allen to Alan Heimert...Robinson neither blames God nor exonerates Him for the tragedy of Utley's life. Instead he tells the story with tears, as it looks from the earth, not from a heavenly perspective.~Charles White, Fides Et Historia
Building on Utley's own writing, Robinson skillfully weaves into this biography of Utley during her years of fame snapshots of the multiple contexts in which she came to shine.~Choice
The life of Uldine Utley is a story of audacity, innovation, defiance, and unspeakable tragedy. Thomas A. Robinson tells it well.~Randall Balmer, Dartmouth College, Author of The Making of Evangelicalism: From Revivalism to Politics and Beyond
…Robinson succeeds in reintroducing a neglected yet once widespread phenomenon in American religious and cultural history—the child evangelist. At the very least, he confronts readers with the problem of what it meant to be a ‘conservative’ in the culture wars of the 1920s when contending for the faith often took the form of anything but adherence to traditional ecclesiology or statements of faith and practice.~Richard M. Gamble, Journal of Ecclesiastical History
[Robinson] provides a full account of the controversies and difficult family dynamics behind Utley’s smiling public presence and does not shrink from the hard reality that revivalism was a business, ultimately about making money.~Margaret Bendroth, Journal of American History
Uldine Utley just may be the most famous religious figure in twentieth-century American history about whom most alive today have never heard. This is a fascinating story, well told, of the religious roaring twenties.~Douglas A. Sweeney, Professor of Church History and the History of Christian Thought, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
With lively narrative and vivid detail, Robinson provides a complete account of the life and ministry of Uldine Utley, one of the most prominent, and certainly one of the most fascinating, figures in the history of American revivalism. Those interested in the story of this ‘preacher girl’ can find no better introduction than Robinson’s sympathetic and engaging account.~Kristin Du Mez, Associate Professor of History, Calvin College
This is the first deep study of Uldine Utley, the most famous of an army of little girl preachers that popped up all over North America in the 1920s and 1930s. It is fascinating reading for anyone interested in how fundamentalist Christianity intersected with the public’s hunger for spectacle that marked 1920s popular culture. Preacher Girl is an especially poignant and sobering look at the way the pressures of high-profile revivalism can split the revivalist’s personality between its public and private dimensions.~Michael S. Hamilton, Professor and Chair, Department of History, Seattle Pacific University