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Collection 095 Ephemera of William B. Riley

Identifier: CN 095

Scope and Contents

Films, including a home movie, microfilm of scrapbooks, notebooks, clippings, and sermons of William Bell Riley, noted Fundamentalist, Baptist minister, theologian,and founder and president of of Northwestern Bible School in Minnesota.


  • Created: 1903-1945

Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions on the use of this collection.

Biographical Information

William Bell Riley was born to Branson Radish and Ruth Anna Jackson Riley in Indiana just before the start of the Civil War. He was the sixth of eight children. He grew up on his parents' farms, first in Indiana and then in Kentucky. His family were devout Baptists and he made his own profession of faith in Christian doctrine in August of 1878. At eighteen, he earned a teacher's certificate after a year's attendance at a normal school. He continued his education through attendance at Hanover (IN) College, from which he received a B.A. degree in 1885 and an M.A. in 1888. After becoming convinced of his call to the ministry, he began preaching as a supply minister in 1881. He had his own churches by 1883 in Carrolton and Warsaw, KY, and he was ordained a Baptist minister the same year. He attended Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, KY, to increase his theological knowledge and while there was a personnel worker for an 1887 campaign held in that city by Dwight L. Moody. He graduated from the seminary in 1888. On December 31, 1890, he married Lillian Howard and they had six children: Arthur Howard (1892), Mason Hewitt (1894), Herbert Wilde (1895), Eunice (1901), William Bell (1904), and John Branson (1906). Lillian died in 1931 and in 1933 Riley married Marie R. Acomb.

After graduating from the seminary, Riley pastored churches of the Northern Baptist Convention in Lafayette, IN (1888-1890); Bloomington, IN (1890-1893); and Chicago, IL (1893-1897). While in Chicago, he entered into frequent debates with liberal Christian theologians on orthodoxy, attacked the city's growing crime rate and relaxed liquor laws, and became a friend of a YMCA worker known as Billy Sunday. In 1897, Riley accepted a call to the First Baptist Church in Minneapolis, MN, where he remained until his retirement in 1942. He became influential in the city, advocating various civic reforms and building up his church from 585 members when he started to approximately 3500.

He also developed a national reputation through his debates around the country with religious liberals on the orthodoxy of the Bible and, in the 1920's, evolution. He also held many revival campaigns including ones in Duluth, MN (1912); Peoria, IL; Seattle, WA; Dayton, OH; and Worcester, MA.

He was increasingly concerned about what seemed to him the falseness and prevalence of liberal Christianity. Numerous disputes within his own Northern Baptist denomination caused him to break ties with Convention leaders, although he remained in the Convention until shortly before his death. He, A.C. Dixon, and R.A. Torrey met with a few others in 1918 to discuss what should be done about liberalism. Out of this meeting eventually grew the World's Christian Fundamentalist Association, of which he was president until 1929. He assisted in the preparation of The Fundamentals, a basic statement of fundamentalist belief. He was already editor of The Christian Fundamentalist, a position in which he served from 1891 to 1933. Among Baptists, he helped organize the Baptist Bible Union in 1923. All of these activities, plus his support of William Jennings Bryan during the Scopes Monkey Trial, caused Riley to be recorded as a major, if not the leader of American fundamentalists.

He was also known as an educator. In 1902 he began the Northwestern Bible Training School to which eventually he added a seminary (1935) and a college. Billy Graham served briefly as president of the Northwestern Schools after Riley's death. Central Baptist Seminary and Northwestern College are descended from the schools.

Besides all of his other activities, Riley wrote dozens of books and pamphlets, including the forty-volume The Bible of the Expositor and the Evangelist. He died in Golden Valley, MN, in 1947.


10 Reels of microfilm

2 Films

Language of Materials


Arrangement and Description

The two black and white 16mm films of Riley, one sound and one silent. The silent film is a home movie of Riley with family and friends. Two of the friends are Homer Hammontree, who is shown reciting a poem, and Harry Rimmer. According to the donor of the records, "There is one scene of Dr. Riley having a discussion about the length of the days during creation as to whether they were twenty-four hour days or sidereal. The reason we mention this is because neither were aware their [sic] pictures were being taken so they are not putting on an act." The other film is of W.B. Riley preaching in 1943 on "The Blessed Hope."

Ten Reels of Microfilm contain scrapbooks of clippings, copies of sermons, articles, book reviews, pamphlets, indexes, and copies of three publications edited by Riley. Approximately one-third of these materials was written by Riley or are reports of his activities and opinions as a pastor, evangelist, leader of the fundamentalist movement, and author.

Reels 1 through 6 consist entirely of clippings in scrapbooks numbered 5 through 81, dated ca. 1903 to 1941. Some numbers are missing and are so noted on the reels. Reel 7 contains scrapbooks 82-85, dated ca. 1939 to 1945. Also included on this reel is a notebook of printed or typewritten sermons by Riley, ca. 1941 to 1945. Riley's column, "A Columnist on Columnists," 1942, forms the bulk of a second notebook that contains also a few undated clippings. A third notebook contains sermons printed in The Sermon Illustrator, clippings, stories for children, and a membership list of Calvary Baptist Church. Another notebook contains an index of Riley's sermons, his printed sermons from Pulpit, publication of the First Baptist Church, Minneapolis, MN, where he was pastor. A fifth notebook holds reviews of Riley's books, ca. 1935 to 1939. Reel 8 is a coded index of Riley's sermons by topics and titles, undated.

Sources include newspapers, journals, pamphlets, and brochures and are too numerous to list completely; a random selection follows: The Baptist Bulletin; Christian Beacon; The Evangelist; Fairmont Daily Sentinel; The Herald (First Baptist Church, Minneapolis, MN); Lutheran Herald; The Mennonite; The Pilot; Presbyterian Guardian; Sermon Illustrator; Southern Churchman; Temple Tidings; The United Presbyterian; Watchman-Examiner; Winona Republican Herald

Sermons, anecdotes, poetry, cartoons, religious, political, and social issues are contained on these reels and will give the researcher a broad overview of the years between 1903 and 1945, from the vantage point of a man intensely involved with many of the major religious issues of the time and with current events as they influenced the churchman. Because Riley's interests were so wide-ranging, it is possible to list only some of the subjects or significant names about which there is a concentration or mention on these reels. They are listed below, but the researcher should not assume that the subjects are necessarily limited to these reels alone.

Topic/Names Reels

Archaeology/Science 3-6

Baptists 2-7

Bryan, William Jennings 1-3, 5

Buchman, Frank/Oxford Group 5-6

Catholic Church 1-2, 5-6

Chapman, J. Wilbur 1-2, 7

Christian Science 1-2

Communism/Russia 3-7

Darrow, Clarence 3, 6

Depression (U.S.) 5-7

Evangelism 1-7

Evolution/Creationism 2-7

Federal Council of Churches 6

Fundamentalist/Modernist Controversy 1-7

Hitler, Adolph/World War II 5-7

Mc Pherson, Aimee Semple 3-4

Mormons 2, 5

Pre-millenialism/Second Coming 1, 3, 7

Prohibition/Temperance 1-2, 4-5, 7

Riley, William B., sermons and articles 1-8

Smith, Gypsy 1-2

Spurgeon, Charles Haddon 1, 4-6

Sunday, Billy 2, 5, 7

Torrey, Reuben Archer 1-2, 7

Accounts of the deaths of the following personalities will be found as indicated: Mark Twain and J. Wilbur Chapman, Reel 2; William Booth, Reel 3; William Jennings Bryan, Reel 5; Clarence Darrow and Thomas Edison, Reel 6. Book 23, Reel 2, is entirely on Billy Sunday.

A random selection of subjects follows to provide a more detailed sample of the wide range of research possibilities on these reels:

Reel 1: Book 6; white/black issue, missionaries and missions, Ira Sankey, prayer, forgiveness, emigration, John Bunyan (most articles subjected, ca. 1904).

Reel 2: Book 20; articles about Riley's campaigns, Riley's sermons about abolishing rented pews, socialism, Mormonism, men and women in Christianity, divine healing, prayer (ca. 1907-1912).

Reel 3: Book 36; college and faith, fundamentalist/modernist debate, denominational issues, Russia, communism and Christianity, article by Churchill, pamphlet on Aimee Semple Mc Pherson during trial, atheism (ca. 1923-1928).

Reel 4: Book 41; archaeological and scientific discoveries, report of first trans-Atlantic TV transmission, discovery of King Tut's tomb, religion in the news, Spurgeon defended by his successor, charges against Luke Rader (ca. 1925-1931).

Reel 5: Book 56; prohibition, article by Ghandi, Balfour Declaration, article about being a minister's child, Christian education, biography of Adoniram Judson, church colleges, youth, World's Fair plans (ca. 1928-1933).

Reel 6: Book 79; Fascism or freedom, Father Coughlin's peace plea, science versus religion, church/state in America, defense of Catholicism, Hitler's speeches, Riley on Communism (ca. 1933-1939).

Reel 7: Notebook, "A Column on Columnists," by Riley; contains reactions to Gallup, Dorothy Thompson, Pegler, Eleanor Roosevelt, among others (1942).

Reels 9 and 10 contain copies of three magazines edited by Riley--Church and School (later School and Church), Christian Fundamentals in School and Church, and The Christian Fundamentalist. See reel listing for dates. Church and School was published monthly for Northwestern Bible and Missionary Training School in Minneapolis. A cumulative index preceding copies of the journal includes such topics as Baptists and Pre-millenialism, Bible training schools and conferences, Catholicism, evangelism, studies of individual books of the Bible, missions, Sunday schools, and Billy Sunday.

Subjects in The Christian Fundamentalist in School and Church include the Bible and scientific accuracy, higher criticism, Christian schools, mission activity reports, reports of conferences on Christian Fundamentals, evolution. Index pages of each issue are filmed; there is no cumulative index of these publications. They were published by Northwestern Bible and Missionary Training School.

The Christian Fundamentalist was published in Minneapolis as an organ of the World's Christian Fundamentals Association. An index preceding copies of the magazine includes such subjects as anti-evolution, atheists, the Bible, colleges, the Federal Council of Churches, modernism, reports on denominational activities, and reports of the Association activities. Each issue is also indexed.

With the exception of Reel 8, a topical index, all other reels are particularly valuable for a study of the fundamentalist/modernist controversy, evolution and science as opposed to biblical teaching, American churchmen's views of Russia and communism in the 1930's and early 1940s, and a wide range of theological issues, with particular attention on the position of pre-millenialism and the Second Coming.

Accruals and Additions

The material in this collection was given to the Billy Graham Center Archives in June and August of 1979. Microfilm materials were received from Northwestern College of Minneapolis, MN in October, 1980.

Accession 79-62, 79-89, 80-140

January 23, 1980

Robert Shuster

S. Kouns

May 13, 1983, updated

Frances L. Brocker

J. Nasgowitz

March 22, 1993

Entered and revised

M. L. Wohlschlegel

K. Baisley

Collection 095 Ephemera of William B. Riley
Bob Shuster
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Roman Script

Repository Details

Part of the Evangelism & Missions Archives Repository

501 College Avenue
Wheaton IL 60187 US