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Collection 195 Papers of William Biederwolf

Identifier: CN 195

Scope and Contents

Sermons, speeches, scrapbooks, articles, correspondence, and other materials which document William Biederwolf's education and evangelistic activities.

[NOTE: In the Scope and Content description, the notation "folder 2-5" means box 2, folder 5.]

The collection consists mostly of scrapbooks, magazine articles, and manuscripts of Biederwolf's sermons and speeches. There are also a few letters and some miscellaneous items. They were in no particular order when received by the Archives, so the folder titles and the arrangement are the archivist's.

Most of the speeches and sermons date from Biederwolf's college days. They were either exercises for class or were perhaps given at small gatherings or at city rescue missions. The speeches touch on political and social questions of the day, such as the position of Blacks in America (folder 1-28), the prohibition party (folder 1-31), and land policy inequities (folder 1-26). Others praise famous men (folder 1-32) or patriotism (folder 1-30). The sermons, similarly, trace the development of his style. Some sermons have a number of dates on the front cover which indicate when they were delivered. The latest date was put on the folder title. A few sermons are from his later career, such as folders 1-20 and 1-23.

A few items are concerned with his Spanish-American War experiences--a sermon he preached when he left home in 1898 (folder 1-21) and comments he made when he returned home (folder 1-36).

Biederwolf apparently was a devoted scrapbook keeper. Some of the scrapbooks in the collection (folders 1-8, 1-10, 2-4, and 2-5) consist largely of anecdotes and sermons from other preachers, such as T. DeWitt Talmage, J. Wilbur Chapman, and many others. Others appear to have been compiled during Biederwolf's own activities. The scrapbook in folder 1-7 is concerned mainly with a rescue mission in Scranton, Pennsylvania, which Biederwolf served briefly as superintendent in 1892. The scrapbook in folder 3-1 contains articles, handbills, tickets, posters, and letters from Biederwolf's apprenticeship with Mills and Chapman as well as records of his own evangelistic meetings. There are numerous accounts of the work of the three men in different cities around the country, descriptions of the reactions they provoked, and lengthy excerpts from sermons. The scrapbook in folder 1-9 contains newspaper accounts of (apparently) Biederwolf's sermons. Folders 2-1, 2-2, and 2-3 contain magazines which give a very complete picture of evangelism in early twentieth-century America and the pitch of enthusiasm which was reached just before World War I. There are several magazines devoted solely to "revivalism," "trail-hitting," etc., which describe the techniques for united meetings of all churches, single church meetings, and simultaneous campaigns. Several magazines describe the Kansas Forward Campaign of 1908-1909 in which Biederwolf carried the idea of simultaneous campaigns a step further and held evangelistic meetings all over an entire state. Other articles discuss the Men and Religion Forward Movement, which was a national evangelistic effort. Virtually every evangelist of any fame has his or her work described in one of these journals. Among those mentioned are Billy Sunday, Henry Stough, Gypsy Smith, and John Linden. Folder 2-3 contains several magazines from Australia describing the evangelistic meetings held by Chapman and Charles Alexander in that country in 1909. Of special interest are two issues of Brann's Iconoclast in folder 2-2 which contain extended critiques of Billy Sunday's work and a movie review of D. W. Griffith's film classic Intolerance in the February 1917 issue of The United Presbyterian. Folder 2-3 contains a brochure about the attempts of the Men and Religion Forward Movement in Atlanta, Georgia, to deal with white slavery and prostitution.

Folder 1-5 contains some brochures explaining the work of various components of an evangelistic campaign, such as the music committee and the personnel workers. There are also in the same folder pamphlets describing Biederwolf's meetings in Plainfield, New Jersey; New Brunswick, New Jersey; Alton, Illinois; Rushville, Indiana; and Hamilton, Ohio.

The correspondence in folder 1-1 mainly deals with theological questions, such as what is the unforgivable sin. There are also testimonials to Biederwolf's work. Apparently he used these letters for advertising purposes or as sermon illustrations. There is an interesting note in this file by a Mr. Holden stating that he would not be able to speak at the Winona Lake Conference and hinting that the reason is because Mel Trotter had been removed from the conference.


  • Created: 1884-1922

Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions on the use of this collection.

Biographical Information

William was the seventh child of two German immigrants to America, Michael and Abolana Schnetzer Biederwolf. He was born in and grew up in Monticello, Indiana. After receiving his secondary education, he taught school briefly and, during an evangelistic meeting in Monticello, made a public confession of his faith in Christ. Shortly afterwards, in the fall of 1886, he enrolled as a student at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana. In 1890 he enrolled at Princeton University in New Jersey, where he received his A.B. in 1892 and his M.A. in 1894. He was also on the football team and during the summer he worked in city rescue missions in New York and Pennsylvania. He next attended Princeton Seminary, from which he graduated in 1895. Upon graduation, he spent a year assisting evangelist B. Fay Mills. He received a fellowship from Princeton to study Greek. He left in April 1896 to study at the University of Berlin in Germany, following which he toured Palestine. After a stay in Paris, he returned to the U.S. in 1897. He was ordained as a Presbyterian minister the same year. His first pastorate was Broadway Presbyterian Church of Logansport, Indiana. The next year, 1898, he volunteered for service in the Spanish-American War and was made chaplain of the 161 Indiana Volunteer Infantry. His year of military service included six months in Cuba. He returned to Logansport for two more years as a pastor and in 1900 resigned to go into evangelistic work full time.

For a number of years, he spent much of his time assisting in the evangelistic campaigns of J. Wilbur Chapman. Then, as he became better known, he began to hold more of his own meetings. Between 1910 and 1920, he was often listed with Chapman and Billy Sunday as one of the leading evangelists in the country. Besides city-wide meetings, he also was involved in attempts to organize state-wide simultaneous meetings. In 1923-1924, he left the U.S. for a preaching tour of the Far East. He served for a time as president of the Interdenominational Association of Evangelists and then as chairman of the Commission on Evangelism of the Federal Council of Churches. In 1909, he began the Family Altar League which encouraged members of families to pray and have devotions together. Many of his activities centered on Winona Lake, Indiana. From 1922-1939, he served as director of the Winona Lake Bible Conference. He also served as director of the Winona School of Theology from 1922-1933 and was president from 1933-1939. These posts were in addition to the pastorate of the Royal Poinciana Chapel which he held from 1929 until his death on September 10, 1939. He had several books published, including several volumes of selected sermons. He received an honorary Doctorate of Divinity from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1931 and an honorary Doctor of Laws from Bever College in 1934.

In April 1896, William married Ida Casad, who also grew up in Monticello.


3 Boxes

1 Oversize File

Language of Materials


Accruals and Additions

The material in this collection was given by J. Palmer Muntz to his son, J. Richard Muntz, who in turn gave the material to the Billy Graham Center Archives in May 1980 and September 1981, except for a 1915 postcard which was acquired from a manuscript dealer in January 1981.

Accession 80-74, 81-1, 81-87

December 17, 1981

Robert Shuster

J. Malone

J. Nasgowitz

Collection 195 Papers of William Biederwolf
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