Aimee Semple McPherson (1890-1944), was an evangelist and founder of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel. Born on a farm near Ingersoll, Ontario, Aimee Kennedy was raised in a devout Methodist home and was greatly influenced by her mother’s participation in local Salvation Army activities. In early 1908 Aimee attended a revival held by Robert Semple, a young Pentecostal preacher recently emigrated from Ulster. She underwent a Pentecostal experience and soon thereafter wed the young evangelist. Moving to Chicago they were both ordained in 1909, and were sent out the next year as missionaries to China. Within three months of their arrival, Robert died; a month later Aimee gave birth to their daughter, Roberta. Returning to America, she met and married Harold McPherson in Chicago in 1912. After their son Rolf was born in 1913, Aimee felt increasingly restless about the need to resume her preaching, a decision which eventually led to divorce in 1921.
McPherson meanwhile took to the road across the country, attracting increasingly huge crowds and publicity for her Pentecostal message and faith healing ministry. On January 1st, 1923 she opened a 5,000-seat church in Los Angeles she dubbed Angelus Temple, the Church of the Foursquare Gospel (she officially incorporated her denomination in 1927). “Sister Aimee’s” ministry prospered in the early and mid-1920s: her magazine Bridal Call had a circulation in the hundreds of thousands; she operated one of the first religious radio stations, KFSG (1923); and, opened her own LIFE Bible College. In 1926 her celebrity became notorious in the wake of a celebrated feared drowning, elaborate kidnapping tale, and subsequent trial. Controversy continued as she wed her third husband, David Hutton, in 1931 and divorced him in 1935. McPherson died of a drug overdose in an Oakland hotel in 1944, a death the coroner ruled accidental. Today the ICFSG has more than 1,200,000 members in 1,800 churches in the United States, and more than 5 million members in 123 countries worldwide.
For further reading see Edith L. Blumhofer, Everybody’s Sister: Aimee Semple McPherson (Eerdmans, 1993), Matthew Avery Sutton, Aimee Semple McPherson and the Resurrection of Christian America (Harvard, 2009).