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Collection 061 Papers of Billy and Helen Sunday

Identifier: CN 061

Scope and Contents

Microfilm edition of original documents held in Winona Lake, Indiana, including correspondence, sermons, reports, revival ephemera, and scrapbooks dealing mainly with the career of evangelist Billy Sunday from its beginning to his death and about the work of his wife Helen, who, besides acting as his general manager, was a fundamentalist leader in her own right, especially after his death. Persons featured include numerous fundamentalist figures and institutions; sermon topics cover a wide range of issues and biblical texts. The collection also contains information about the Prohibition movement in America and life on the home front during World War I.

Until 1977, the material in this collection was stored in various locations in the Billy Sunday Home in Winona Lake, Indiana. The original arrangement of the materials, if any existed, was no longer discernible so the processor divided the material into the following groups based on subject content. (Note: Through the collection are many items dated by the archivist by internal evidence. The date for these items usually appears in pencil in the upper right hand corner.) As described on page 24, boxes 29 and 30, were not included in collection list or the microfilm nor were the photographs files in boxes 24 through 28.


  • Created: 1882-1974

Conditions Governing Access

The original documents of this microfilm collection are held in the library of Grace College and Theological Seminary in Winona Lake, Indiana. They were processed, organized, described and microfilmed in 1978 as part of a joint project between the Billy Grahaam Center Archives at Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois and Grace College and Theological Seminary, Winona Lake, Indiana, under the supervision of archivist, Robert Shuster. Anyone wishing to quote or publish from any of the documents in the collection must obtain permission from: The Librarian, Grace Schools, Winona Lake, IN 49590.

Biographical Information

Biography of Billy Sunday:

Full Name: William Ashley Sunday, Sr.

Birth: November 19, 1862, Ames, Iowa

Death: November 5, 1935 , Chicago, Illinois. Buried in Forest Home Cemetery, Forest Park, Illinois


Parents: William and Mary Jane (Corey) Sunday

Siblings: Two older brothers: Albert Monroe and H. Edward Sunday and a half-brother, Leroy Heizer, and half-sister, Elizabeth Heizer

Marital Status: Married Helen Amelia Thompson, September 5, 1888

Children: Helen Edith (1890-1932), George Marquis (1892-1933), William Ashley, Jr. (1901), Paul Thompson (1907)

Conversion: At the Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago, 1886

Ordination: 1903 by the Presbyterian Church


1887-1888 Evanston Academy of Northwestern University (winter term)


ca. 1876-1883 Held various jobs including fireman, janitor, and undertaker's assistant

1883-1888 Played professional baseball for the Chicago White Stockings (1883-1888) and the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia clubs (1888-1891)

1891 Entered full-time Christian service as a worker at Chicago's YMCA

1893 Worked for evangelist J. Wilbur Chapman and Milan B. Williams

1896-1920s Began holding evangelistic campaigns starting in Garner, Iowa. These meetings gradually became large scale, city-wide evangelistic campaigns as Sunday's fame spread

1898 Licensed to preach by the Presbyterian Church

1917 Lengthy campaign in New York City

1920s-1935 Smaller Sunday campaign meetings

Other significant information:

1912 Received a Doctor of Laws degree from Westmont College

1917 Wrote, Love Stories of the Bible

1935 Received a Doctor of Divinity degree from Bob Jones College

Billy Sunday's style of preaching won him an enormous amount of newspaper exposure, as did the enthusiasm with which his campaigns were received. He used colorful, slangy language and entertained and instructed his audiences with mimicry, impersonations, as well as memorable epigrams and anecdotes. His messages laid great stress on every human being's need for personal salvation through Jesus Christ and on the authority and reliability of the Bible. He was also a strong critic of alcoholic beverages and favored their prohibition in his most famous sermon, Get on the Water Wagon. He was a popular speaker on the Chautauqua lecture circuit as well.

He was also deeply involved in support of the American war effort: helping to sell war bonds, speaking on the need to save food and fuel, and vigorously encouraging young men to enlist. Sunday, throughout his career, was a critic of American moral laxity and an unabashed admirer of American civilization.

For most of his ministry, Sunday had vocal critics as well as defenders. Like famous evangelists who preceded him, he was taken to task by liberal church leaders for being too simplistic in his theology, while others insisted that he placed too much emphasis on individual piety and salvation at the expense of social reform. Some ministers who participated in his campaigns complained that they received little benefit from the meetings because those who came forward already belonged to churches or had only a vague idea of what Sunday was asking them to commit themselves. Secular journalists, such as John Reed and George Creel, accused Sunday of being a tool used by the ruling elite to defuse lower class discontent. The suspicion was often expressed or inferred in newspapers that Sunday was little more than a grafter getting wealthy from his temporary congregations. Supporters, however, disagreed that Sunday's meetings did not produce results, denied any personal dishonesty on his part, and dismissed criticisms of his theology since the criticisms were based on a world view and understanding of Christ's gospel very different than Sunday's.

Large scale evangelistic campaigns received much less national attention after the first world war. However they continued to be an important of the life of fundamentalist and Pentecostal churches. Sunday was affected by a parallel decrease in his national exposure and influence, although until his death he never lacked invitations to speak and hold campaigns. Besides leading meetings, Sunday spent much of his time defending the constitutional amendment on the prohibition of alcoholic beverage and fighting its repeal. He was involved as well in the management of the Winona Bible Conference (later Winona Institutions and later the Winona Christian Assembly). Personal troubles such as the well publicized difficulties and divorces of his sons, George Marquis and William Ashley, added great sorrow and financial difficulties of his later years.

Biography of Helen Sunday

Full Name: Helen Amelia Thompson Sunday

Birth: June 25, 1868

Death: February 20, 1957, Arizona


Parents: William and Ellen (Binnie) Thompson

Siblings: Jennie, Ada, William, and ?

Marital Status: Married William Ashley Sunday, Sr., September 5, 1888

Children: Helen Edith (1890), George Marquis (1892), William Ashley, Jr. (1901), Paul Thompson (1907)

Other significant information:

From about 1908 on, Helen Sunday was in effect the general manager of the campaigns and had final control over almost all parts of the work, including finances and the hiring and firing of staff.

Mrs. Sunday began an active ministry shortly after her husband's death. She traveled extensively throughout the country helping to raise money for rescue missions and similar Christian institutions, addressing youth rallies, serving on the boards of the Winona Christian Assembly and Bob Jones University (from which she received an honorary LLD in 1938), and giving talks on her husband's career and influence. In the early fifties, she spoke at some of Billy Graham's crusades as well as those of other evangelists. She traveled out of the country on a pleasure trip to Europe in 1937 and again in 1952 on a trip to Quito, Ecuador, to attend the ceremonies celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Voice of the Andes radio station. As with her husband, family problems and sickness (she had a heart attack in 1948) added sorrow to the last decade of her life.


29 Reels of microfilm

1 Negative File

1 Photograph File

Language of Materials


Accruals and Additions

Virtually all the materials in the Sunday collection were found in the residence of Billy and Helen Sunday at 1111 Sunday Lane, Winona Lake, Indiana. Upon the death of Mrs. Sunday in 1957, the house and its contents were deeded to Winona Lake Christian Assembly. In 1972, a small portion of the materials were moved to the Administration Building of the Assembly was controlled Grace Schools; all the assets and liabilities of the W.L.C.A. were assumed by Grace Schools. As one result of the merger, the Sunday documents were moved in 1977 from the Sunday and the Administration Building to the Library of Grace Theological Seminary on permanent loan.

In the early months of 1978, through a joint cooperative effort between Grace Schools and the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois, the Sunday records were arranged, described and microfilmed under the supervision of Robert Shuster, the Graham Center Director of Archives. Assisting were Robert Ibach (Grace Schools' Library Director), William Darr, Lois (Bea) Mayhue, and Linda Hearing of the Grace Schools' library staff; Clarence MacNeil; and Abraham Labiano, Jane Nelson, Shirley Short, Mary Schimmels of the Billy Graham Center staff. James Stambaugh, Director of the Museum, aided in almost every aspect of the project from transporting the records to designing the cover of the original guide to the microfilm edition.

Several boxes of material included in the items loaned to Grace Schools by the Assembly were not included in the Sunday collection because their connection to the Sundays was slight or because their identification was uncertain. These boxes include: newspaper clippings duplicate to those in the collection; a newspaper clipping containing recipes, dress patterns, anecdotes, epigrams, etc.; form letters and printed reports sent out by Christian institutions; birthday cards, Christmas cards, anniversary cards, etc.; unidentified photographs; and a set of Red Cross scrapbooks which may have been given to Sunday during or shortly after World War I.

No accession number


Robert Shuster

June 28, 1994

Robert Shuster

J. Archer

M. Larson

Collection 061 Papers of Billy and Helen Sunday
Bob Shuster
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Early Twentieth Century Handwriting
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Evangelism & Missions Archives Repository

501 College Avenue
Wheaton IL 60187 US