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Collection 047 Papers of Melvin E. Trotter

Identifier: CN 047

Scope and Contents

Sermons, personal memorabilia, audio tape of Trotter's preaching, negatives, photographs, minutes, reports, newspaper clippings, and correspondence related to Trotter's ministry as an evangelist and in rescue mission work. Collection combines Trotter's papers and the City Rescue Mission's records, including invitations to speak, responses to invitations from Trotter to speak at the mission, an abstract of a deed, requests for funds, testimonials to the good work of the mission, reports from co-workers of activities, and handbills announcing various revival campaigns.  Personalities featured include B.D. Ackley, Charles Alexander, William Asher, Paul Beckwith, Homer Hammontree, Henry Ironside, Harry Monroe, W.D. Patton, Paul Rader, Homer Rodeheaver, and Billy Sunday.  Newspaper clippings and scrapbooks include much information on Trotter and his activities.  Subject covered include numerous sermon topics based on Bible passages or figures.


  • Created: 1899-1972

Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions on the use of this collection.

Biographical Information

Melvin was born the son of William and Emily Lorch Trotter on May 16, 1870. He and his two brothers, George and William, helped their father tend bar and seemed to be little influenced by their mother's prayers and exhortations to live a Christian life. The family moved twice within Illinois and, by 1887, had settled in Freeport. That same year, Trotter set off on his own as a barber. On April 23, 1891, he married Lottie Fisher. Trotter began to drink heavily and had difficulty in holding onto a job. He became an alcoholic and committed petty crimes to help buy liquor. He was away from his wife and baby son for long periods of time. He came home after one such period to find the son dead. On January 9, 1897 he was in Chicago. He had sold his shoes to buy alcohol and, having spent that, he was utterly destitute. Somehow, he came to the Pacific Garden Mission, a rescue mission for the city's down-and-out where they could eat, sleep, and hear the Gospel. Trotter listened to the sermon, preached by mission superintendent Harry Monroe, and committed his life to Christ.

He sent for his wife to join him, got a job barbering, and spent as much time as he could at the mission - singing, doing odd jobs, listening to Monroe, and testifying. Soon, he and Monroe were going out to preach in nearby cities. In 1900 he, Monroe, and others from the mission went to Grand Rapids, Michigan, to hold a series of religious meetings. The local committee which had invited Monroe then asked for his help in starting a rescue mission in their city. He recommended Trotter for the post of superintendent, and Trotter accepted the position when it was offered. He moved to Grand Rapids, which was to be his home for the rest of his life. The City Rescue Mission opened on February 24, 1900. In 1940, it was renamed the Mel Trotter Rescue Mission.

The Mission soon outgrew its headquarters and was moved to a building on Market Street, which it had outgrown by 1905; it was moved again to the former Smith Opera House. In 1956, the Mission was again moved to a location on Commerce Street. The Mission includes a cafeteria, beds, an assembly hall for evangelistic meetings, and storage space for gifts of food and clothing.

In addition to administrating the work in Grand Rapids, Trotter helped found dozens of missions around the country in communities such as Muskegon and Kalamazoo, Michigan; Dayton, Ohio; Duluth, Minnesota; Los Angeles, California; and Cleveland, Ohio. Many missions were headed by people trained and inspired by Trotter. He was one of the founders of the Brotherhood of Rescue Mission Superintendents which always held its annual meetings in January in Grand Rapids.

Trotter was also successful as an evangelist. Sometimes he preached with other evangelists, such as William "Billy" Sunday, R.A. Torrey, and J. Wilbur Chapman.

He would also preach on his own, both in revival campaigns and at Bible Conferences. After 1920, he usually worked with song leader Homer Hammontree and pianist Howard Hermansen.

Trotter was separated from his wife in the 1920's. Two notable events during his last years were the receipt in 1935 of a D.D. degree from Bob Jones College and a trip he took to England in 1937 with Dr. Harry A. Ironside to preach at the Dwight L. Moody Centenary celebration. When he died, September 11, 1940, he was survived by his adopted daughter, Mrs. Clarence Fortuin, and his brother, George. He was buried in Grand Rapids, Michigan, at Graceland Mausoleum.


3.25 Cubic Feet (7 boxes (6 DC, 10 DC); Audio Tape; 3 Reels of Microfilm; Negatives; Photographs.)

Language of Materials


Arrangement of Material

[NOTE: In the Arrangement description, the notation "Folder 1-5" means Box 1, Folder 5.]

After 1900, the life of Melvin Trotter was inextricably tied up in the work of the City Rescue Mission. His papers and records of the Mission are similarly combined. The correspondence, sermons, photographs, and other material in this collection almost all date from after 1900, and are mostly concerned with some aspect of Trotter's rescue mission activities in Grand Rapids and other cities or with his evangelistic campaigns. The folders in the collection are arranged alphabetically according to title. As much as was possible, the material inside each folder (except for Folder 1-5) was also arranged chronologically.

The collection contains a few items of Trotter's personal memorabilia, such as his address book (Folder 1-1); his Bible (Folder 1-2); a guest book from his home (Folder 2-2); and his passports, including the one with the visas from his 1929 Asian trip (Folder 4-1). Most of the other records deal more directly with evangelism and mission work. Folder 1-3, for example, contains the constitution and some of the annual meeting programs of the Brotherhood of Rescue Mission Superintendents. Trotter was one of the founders of this organization. Folder 1-4 contains two of the annual reports issued by Trotter's Grand Rapids Mission. These reports contain reports and photographs of the Mission workers, testimonies from converts, financial statements, and lists of contributors. Other documents of the Mission's work include: a minutes book of the Ladies Auxiliary group (Folder 2-2), a mimeographed list which is apparently a follow-up report on the spiritual state of people who were converted at the Mission (Folder 2-3), and position descriptions for the posts of missionary superintendents and assistant missionaries (Folder 2-4).

The correspondence file deals mostly with problems of mission work. Some letters are addressed to Trotter, some to other mission workers. Only a few letters are written by Trotter. Several letters from the early part of 1900 deal with the meetings Harry Monroe held in Grand Rapids which resulted in the founding of the Mission and the appointment of Trotter as superintendent. These include: letters from Monroe detailing how the meetings should be arranged, epistles from the committee arranging the meetings to local businessmen inviting them to participate, letters from W.D. Patton of the committee to Trotter offering the post of head of the Mission, and handbills and tickets for the Gospel meetings.

Later letters from that same year include messages from friends responding to the optimistic reports they had received from Trotter about the Grand Rapids work, correspondence with board members, a report from a missionary to India on the work there, and several notes of encouragement from Harry Monroe. There is a scattering of letters from other years up to Trotter's death in 1940. Topics include: invitations to speak, such as the one from William Asher inviting Trotter to come to Duluth; donations to the Mission; responses to invitations from Trotter to speak at the Mission, such as the 1905 reply from Billy Sunday; an abstract of a deed for Smith's Opera House, which Trotter hoped to purchase for the Mission; requests for funds from Trotter to purchase the Opera House; Trotter's brother William's joining a pentecostal church and his subsequent dismissal from his post as superintendent of the Los Angeles Union Rescue Mission; offers to Trotter to fill the post his brother had vacated; testimonials to the good work of the Grand Rapids Mission; and reports from co-workers in their activities. There are several undated items in the back of the folder, such as some pamphlets on the Mission's work, a Christmas letter from Trotter, handbills announcing various revival campaigns, and Trotter's business cards.

Correspondents, besides those mentioned above, include, in the order of their appearance in the file: Thomas Peck, Mrs. S.D. Clarke, P.W. Bracken, Sister Maurice Trotter, Dan Bush, C. Cruys, Dennis Clancy, S.E. Mc Cosh, Roger Butterfield, Edmund Barry, G.W. Healy, E.P. Hawkins, John M. Currie, Charles Alexander, John W. Blodgett, E.H. Emett, Giles Kellogg, T.C. Horton, W.E. Mc Vay, Walter H. Fisher, Arthur H. Vandenberg, E.J. Amsted, niece Ruby Darlene, Paul Beckwith, and Homer Hammontree.

A wealth of information on Trotter and his activities is contained in the newspaper clippings and scrapbooks in boxes 2 and 3. The scrapbook in Folder 3-1 contains most of the articles on Trotter's evangelistic campaigns around the country in cities such as Los Angeles, Detroit, Denver, and Philadelphia. Many of these articles quote his sermons verbatim. The articles, unfortunately, are not arranged in the scrapbook in chronological order and do not appear to follow any logical pattern. The scrapbook in Folder 3-2 and most of the loose clippings in Folders 2-5 to 2-31 deal with the City Rescue Mission in Grand Rapids. The stories include coverage the annual meetings of the Brotherhood of Mission Superintendents held in January and of sermons given by visiting ministers. Also, there are frequent updates on Mel Trotter, who appears to have been a well-known and popular citizen. Press clippings on the mission also appear in Folders 8-22 through 8-30. Included are accounts about evangelists coming to the Mission, results of Trotter's fund raising, and several different obituaries of Trotter.

The collection also contains almost one hundred and fifty sermons and sermon outlines. Most of these are Trotter's, although some might be notes he took during talks given by other ministers. The notes in Folder 6-3, for example, appear to have been by Trotter during a Bible conference held in August 1913. Speakers included G. Campbell Morgan, R.A. Torrey, and Stuart Holden. The notes in boxes 6 and 7 for Trotter's own sermons range from a few cases of verbatim accounts to many cases of sentence outlines to a few cases of a few words jotted on a piece of paper. Some of the sermons appear to be very short and may have been brief talks given by Trotter at the Mission. After many of the sermons, there is a list of the dates and places where the discourse was given (or heard). The earliest date on the list is the one assigned to the sermon in the folder title. Folder 6-1 contains fugitive pages of sermon notes.

More than half of the photographs in the collection are, unfortunately, unidentified. These include both portraits and action shots. There are also several photographs of Trotter (mostly from his later years), his co-workers, family, and friends. One folder contains a few photos of the City Rescue Mission and rescue mission work. Especially interesting are the photo album in Folder 4-2 and a framed photograph of the seventh annual Bible conference, which includes Trotter and several of his converts who later became mission superintendents. (See Location Record: Photographs in this guide.)

The origin of this album is unknown, but it dates from 1916-1917 and includes photographs of army and navy recruits in training and of the prominent buildings of Washington, D.C., in 1917. The last half of the album seems to have photos taken during a family vacation on the East Coast of the United States. On the very last pages are some photos of Mel Trotter.

The collection also contains a tape of Trotter preaching. This tape was made from radio broadcasts of Trotter's sermons. The first sermon is entitled Am I Ashamed of Christ? This sermon is incomplete, as is the next one (dated ca. 1937) which lacks a beginning. Following that sermon is part of a broadcast of the radio program Unshackled, which contains a dramatization of Trotter's life.

Several folders contain material on Trotter's death and funeral in September, 1940. Folder 1-5 contains some of the dozens of condolence messages that were sent to the Mission, to Trotter's associate Ruth Hartman, and to his brother George. The messages are arranged in the folder alphabetically according to sender. Folder 1-7 contains a copy of the funeral service, including the sermon delivered by Dr. Harry Ironside, and Folder 7-79 contains the roster signed by visitors to the service. Folders 2-23 and 3-3 contain some of the newspaper accounts of the event.

The records in Folders 1-6, 2-24 through 2-31 and 3-3 document, in a sporadic manner, the mission's activities after Trotter's death. These records are mostly newspaper announcements and coverage of events at the Mission. Folder 1-6 contains some of the pamphlets published by the Mission to describe its work.

Folders 8-1 through 8-21 also include some copies of Mel Trotter's sermons. The sermons have the dates on which they were used and occasionally the number of people making a decision during the service. Trotter's sermons are filed alphabetically by title.

Note on the Microfilm Edition

None of box 4 was microfilmed, except Folder 4-1, and none of box 5, which contained photographs removed and placed in the Photo File. The photographs in these boxes were copied and placed in the Center's holdings. The tape of Trotter speaking was also copied onto a reel and a cassette for the Center's holdings. Certain records among the materials loaned to the Center by the Mission, such as duplicate newspaper clippings, correspondence from the 1960's, and records having no relationship to Trotter were not included in the collection and thus were not microfilmed.

Accruals and Additions

The originals from which the copies in this collection were made were loaned for microfilming to the Archives of the Billy Graham Center in September 1978, by the Mel Trotter Mission in Grand Rapids, Michigan, after which they were returned to the Mission. Additional records were received on April 3, 1979 from John Schaich of Flint, Michigan. The newspaper clippings he sent were copied and returned to him. Early in 1981, the Board of the Mel Trotter Mission voted to transfer the original documents (which had been previously microfilmed) to the Archives of the Billy Graham Center. They were received by the Center from the Board of the Mel Trotter Mission on February 25, 1981.

Accession (Microfilm not accessioned), 79-32, 81-67

November 1, 1978

Robert Shuster

K. Hoglund

J. Stambaugh

M. Schimmels

July 16, 1979

Mary Ann Buffington

G. Gallup

June 25, 1981

Galen R. Wilson

March 7, 1984, revised

Frances L. Brocker

J. Nasgowitz

June 14, 1990, retyped

P. Ericksen

L. Ferguson

Related Materials

The following items were given to the EVANGELISM & MISSIONS COLLECTION:

Accession: 79-32

Funeral Service of Rev. Melvin E. Trotter, D.D. (private printing; 1949).

Inman, Lee B. et al. "Boss" and His Mission (private printing; 1949).

Trotter, Melvin E. Jimmie Moore of Bucktown (private printing, 10th Ed.; n.d.)

Collection 047 Papers of Melvin E. Trotter
Bob Shuster
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Repository Details

Part of the Evangelism & Missions Archives Repository

501 College Avenue
Wheaton IL 60187 US