Jump to content

Billy Sunday

This is a good article. Click here for more information.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Billy Sunday
Billy Sunday (1921)
William Ashley Sunday

(1862-11-19)November 19, 1862
DiedNovember 6, 1935(1935-11-06) (aged 72)
Resting placeForest Home Cemetery, Forest Park, Illinois
Occupation(s)Baseball player
Christian evangelist
SpouseHelen Thompson Sunday

Baseball career
Batted: Left
Threw: Right
MLB debut
May 22, 1883, for the Chicago White Stockings
Last MLB appearance
October 4, 1890, for the Philadelphia Phillies
MLB statistics
Batting average.248
Home runs12
Runs batted in170
Stolen bases246
Career highlights and awards
  • National League pennant (1885, 1886)

William Ashley Sunday (November 19, 1862[1] – November 6, 1935) was an American evangelist and professional baseball outfielder. He played for eight seasons in the National League before becoming the most influential American preacher during the first two decades of the 20th century.

Born into poverty near Ames, Iowa, Sunday spent some years at the Iowa Soldiers' Orphans' Home before working at odd jobs and playing for local running and baseball teams. His speed and agility provided him the opportunity to play baseball in the major leagues for eight years.

Converting to evangelical Christianity in the 1880s, Sunday left baseball for the Christian ministry. During the early 20th century, he became the nation's most famous evangelist with his colloquial sermons and frenetic delivery. Sunday held widely reported campaigns in America's largest cities, and he attracted the largest crowds of any evangelist before the advent of electronic sound systems. Sunday was a strong supporter of Prohibition, and his preaching likely played a significant role in the adoption of the Eighteenth Amendment in 1919. Though his audiences grew smaller during the 1920s, Sunday continued to preach and promote conservative Christianity until his death.

Early life[edit]

Billy Sunday was born near Ames, Iowa. His father, William Sunday, was the son of German immigrants named Sonntag, who had anglicized their name to "Sunday" when they settled in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. William Sunday was a bricklayer who worked his way to Iowa, where he married Mary Jane Corey, daughter of "Squire" Martin Corey, a local farmer, miller, blacksmith, and wheelwright.[2] William Sunday enlisted in the Iowa Twenty-Third Volunteer Infantry on August 14, 1862. He died four months later of pneumonia at an army camp in Patterson, Missouri, five weeks after the birth of his youngest son, William Ashley. Mary Jane Sunday and her children moved in with her parents for a few years, and young Billy became close to his grandparents and especially his grandmother. Mary Jane Sunday later remarried, but her second husband soon deserted the family.[3]

When Billy Sunday was ten years old, his impoverished mother sent him and an older brother to the Soldiers' Orphans Home in Glenwood, Iowa, and later to the Iowa Soldiers' Orphans' Home in Davenport, Iowa. At the orphanage, Sunday gained orderly habits, a decent primary education, and the realization that he was a good athlete.[4]

By fourteen, Sunday was shifting for himself. In Nevada, Iowa, he worked for Colonel John Scott, a former lieutenant governor, tending Shetland ponies and doing other farm chores. The Scotts provided Sunday a good home and the opportunity to attend Nevada High School.[5] Although Sunday never received a high school diploma, by 1880 he was better educated than many of his contemporaries.[6]

In 1880, Sunday relocated to Marshalltown, Iowa, where, because of his athleticism, he had been recruited for a fire brigade team. In Marshalltown, Sunday worked at odd jobs, competed in fire brigade tournaments, and played for the town baseball team.[7]

Professional baseball player[edit]

Sunday's professional baseball career was launched by Cap Anson, a Marshalltown native and future Hall of Famer, after his aunt, an avid fan of the Marshalltown team, gave him an enthusiastic account of Sunday's prowess. In 1883, on Anson's recommendation, A.G. Spalding, president of the Chicago White Stockings, signed Sunday to the defending National League champions.[8]

Sunday struck out four times in his first game, and there were seven more strikeouts and three more games before he got a hit. During his first four seasons with Chicago, he was a part-time player, taking Mike "King" Kelly's place in right field when Kelly served as catcher.[9]

Sunday's speed was his greatest asset, and he displayed it both on the basepaths and in the outfield. In 1885, the White Stockings arranged a race between Sunday and Arlie Latham, the fastest runner in the American Association. Sunday won the hundred-yard dash by about ten feet.[10]

Sunday's personality, demeanor, and athleticism made him popular with the fans, as well as with his teammates. Manager Cap Anson considered Sunday reliable enough to make him the team's business manager, which included such duties as handling the ticket receipts and paying the team's travel expenses.[11]

In 1887, when Kelly was sold to another team, Sunday became Chicago's regular right fielder, but an injury limited his playing time to fifty games. During the following winter Sunday was sold to the Pittsburgh Alleghenys for the 1888 season. He was their starting center fielder, playing a full season for the first time in his career. The crowds in Pittsburgh took to Sunday immediately; one reporter wrote that "the whole town is wild over Sunday." Although Pittsburgh had a losing team during the 1888 and 1889 seasons, Sunday performed well in center field and was among the league leaders in stolen bases.[12]

Billy Sunday, Center Fielder, Chicago White Stockings, c. 1887

In 1890, a labor dispute led to the formation of a new league, composed of most of the better players from the National League. Although he was invited to join the competing league, Sunday's conscience would not allow him to break the reserve clause, which allowed Pittsburgh to retain the rights to Sunday after his contract expired. Sunday was named team captain, and he was their star player, but the team suffered one of the worst seasons in baseball history. By August the team had no money to meet its payroll, and Sunday was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies for two players and $1,000 in cash.[13]

The Philadelphia team had an opportunity to win the National League pennant, and the owners hoped that adding Sunday to the roster would improve their chances. Although Sunday played well in his thirty-one games with Philadelphia, the team finished in third place.[14]

In March 1891, Sunday requested and was granted a release from his contract with the Philadelphia ball club. Over his career, Sunday was never much of a hitter: his batting average was .248 over 499 games, about the median for the 1880s. In his best season, in 1887, Sunday hit .291, ranking 17th in the league. He was an exciting but inconsistent fielder. In the days before outfielders wore gloves, Sunday was noted for thrilling catches featuring long sprints and athletic dives, but he also committed a great many errors. Sunday was best known as an exciting base-runner, regarded by his peers as one of the fastest in the game, even though he never placed better than third in the National League in stolen bases.[15]

Sunday remained a prominent baseball fan throughout his life. He gave interviews and opinions about baseball to the popular press;[16] he frequently umpired minor league and amateur games in the cities where he held revivals; and he attended baseball games whenever he could, including a 1935 World Series game two months before he died.[17]


On a Sunday afternoon in Chicago, during either the 1886 or 1887 baseball season, Sunday and several of his teammates were out on the town on their day off. At one street corner, they stopped to listen to a gospel preaching team from the Pacific Garden Mission. Attracted by the hymns he had heard his mother sing, Sunday began attending services at the mission. After talking with a former society matron who worked there, Sunday – after some struggle on his part – decided to become a Christian. He began attending the fashionable Jefferson Park Presbyterian Church, a congregation close to both the ball park and his rented room.[18]

Although he socialized with his teammates and sometimes gambled, Sunday was never a heavy drinker. In his autobiography, he said, "I was never drunk but four times in my life. ... I used to go to the saloons with the baseball players, and while they would drink highballs and gin fizzes and beer, I would take lemonade."[19] Following his conversion, Sunday denounced drinking, swearing, and gambling, and he changed his behavior, which was recognized by both teammates and fans. Shortly thereafter, Sunday began speaking in churches and at YMCAs.[20]


In 1886, Sunday was introduced at Jefferson Park Presbyterian Church to Helen Amelia "Nell" Thompson, daughter of the owner of one of Chicago's largest dairy products businesses. Although Sunday was immediately smitten with her, both had serious on-going relationships that bordered on engagements.[21] Furthermore, Nell Thompson had grown to maturity in a much more privileged environment than had Sunday, and her father strongly discouraged the courtship, viewing all professional baseball players as "transient ne'er-do-wells who were unstable and destined to be misfits once they were too old to play."[22] Nevertheless, Sunday pursued and eventually married her. On several occasions, Sunday said, "She was a Presbyterian, so I am a Presbyterian. Had she been a Catholic, I would have been a Catholic – because I was hot on the trail of Nell." Her mother liked Sunday from the start and weighed in on his side, and her father finally relented. The couple was married on September 5, 1888.[23]

Apprenticeship for evangelism[edit]

In the spring of 1891, Sunday turned down a baseball contract for $3,500 a year to accept a position with the Chicago YMCA at $83 per month. Sunday's job title at the YMCA was Assistant Secretary, yet the position involved a great deal of ministerial work. It proved to be good preparation for his later evangelistic career. For three years Sunday visited the sick, prayed with the troubled, counseled the suicidal, and visited saloons to invite patrons to evangelistic meetings.[24]

In 1893, Sunday became the full-time assistant to J. Wilbur Chapman, one of the best known evangelists in the United States at the time. Chapman was well educated and was a meticulous dresser, "suave and urbane."[25] Personally shy, like Sunday, Chapman commanded respect in the pulpit both because of his strong voice and his sophisticated demeanor. Sunday's job as Chapman's advance man was to precede the evangelist to cities in which he was scheduled to preach, organize prayer meetings and choirs, and in general take care of necessary details. When tents were used, Sunday would often help erect them.[26]

By listening to Chapman preach night after night, Sunday received a valuable course in homiletics. Chapman also critiqued Sunday's own attempts at evangelistic preaching and showed him how to put a good sermon together. Further, Chapman encouraged Sunday's theological development, especially by emphasizing the importance of prayer and by helping to "reinforce Billy's commitment to conservative biblical Christianity."[27]

Popular evangelist[edit]

Sunday preaches

Kerosene circuit[edit]

When Chapman unexpectedly returned to the pastorate in 1896, Sunday struck out on his own, beginning with meetings in tiny Garner, Iowa. For the next twelve years Sunday preached in approximately seventy communities, most of them in Iowa and Illinois. Sunday referred to these towns as the "kerosene circuit" because, unlike Chicago, most were not yet electrified. Towns often booked Sunday meetings informally, sometimes by sending a delegation to hear him preach and then telegraphing him while he was holding services somewhere else.[28]

Sunday also took advantage of his reputation as a baseball player to generate advertising for his meetings. In 1907 in Fairfield, Iowa, Sunday organized local businesses into two baseball teams and scheduled a game between them. Sunday came dressed in his professional uniform and played on both sides. Although baseball was his primary means of publicity, Sunday also once hired a circus giant to serve as an usher.[29]

When Sunday began to attract crowds larger than could be accommodated in rural churches or town halls, he pitched rented canvas tents. Again, Sunday did much of the physical work of putting them up, manipulating ropes during storms, and seeing to their security by sleeping in them at night. Not until 1905 was he well-off enough to hire his own advance man.[30]

In 1906, an October snowstorm in Salida, Colorado, destroyed Sunday's tent – a special disaster because revivalists were typically paid with a freewill offering at the end of their meetings. Thereafter he insisted that towns build him temporary wooden tabernacles at their expense. The tabernacles were comparatively costly to build (although most of the lumber could be salvaged and resold at the end of the meetings), and locals had to put up the money for them in advance. This change in Sunday's operation began to push the finances of the campaign to the fore. At least at first, raising tabernacles provided good public relations for the coming meetings as townspeople joined in what was effectively a giant barnraising. Sunday built rapport by participating in the process, and the tabernacles were also a status symbol, because they had previously been built only for major evangelists such as Chapman.[31]

Under the administration of Nell[edit]

Eleven years into Sunday's evangelistic career, both he and his wife had been pushed to their emotional limits. Long separations had exacerbated his natural feelings of inadequacy and insecurity.[32] Sunday depended on his wife's love and encouragement. For her part, Nell found it increasingly difficult to handle household responsibilities, the needs of four children (including a newborn), and the long-distance emotional welfare of her husband. His ministry was also expanding, and he needed an administrator. In 1908, the Sundays decided to entrust their children to a nanny so that Nell could manage the revival campaigns.[33]

Nell Sunday transformed her husband's out-of-the-back-pocket organization into a "nationally renowned phenomenon."[34] New personnel were hired, and by the New York campaign of 1917, the Sundays had a paid staff of twenty-six. There were musicians, custodians, and advance men; but the Sundays also hired Bible teachers of both genders, who among other responsibilities, held daytime meetings at schools and shops and encouraged their audiences to attend the main tabernacle services in the evenings. The most significant of these new staff members were Homer Rodeheaver, an exceptional song leader and music director who worked with the Sundays for almost twenty years beginning in 1910,[35] and Virginia Healey Asher, who (besides regularly singing duets with Rodeheaver) directed the women's ministries, especially the evangelization of young working women.[36]

Campaign platform[edit]

Billy Sunday preaching on March 15, 1915 in a temporary tabernacle erected on what was to become the site of the Central Library of the Free Library of Philadelphia. Illustration by George Bellows. Metropolitan Magazine, May 1915[37][38]

With his wife administering the campaign organization, Sunday was free to compose and deliver colloquial sermons. Typically, Homer Rodeheaver would first warm up the crowd with congregational singing that alternated with numbers from gigantic choirs and music performed by the staff. When Sunday felt the moment right, he would launch into his message. Sunday gyrated, stood on the pulpit, ran from one end of the platform to the other, and dove across the stage, pretending to slide into home plate. Sometimes he even smashed chairs to emphasize his points. His sermon notes had to be printed in large letters so that he could catch a glimpse of them as he raced by the pulpit. In messages attacking sexual sin to groups of men only, Sunday could be graphic for the era.

A theological opponent, Universalist minister Frederick William Betts, wrote:

Many of the things said and done bordered upon things prohibited in decent society. The sermon on amusements was preached three times, to mixed audience of men and women, boys and girls. If the sermons to women had been preached to married women, if the sermons to men had been preached to mature men, if the sermon on amusements had been preached to grown folks, there might have been an excuse for them, and perhaps good from them. But an experienced newspaper reporter told me that the sermon on amusements was "the rawest thing ever put over in Syracuse." I can not, must not, quote from this sermon....[a friend] says that Mr. Sunday's sermon on the sex question was raw and disgusting. He also heard the famous sermons on amusements and booze. [He] says that all in all they were the ugliest, nastiest, most disgusting addresses he ever listened to from a religious platform or a preacher of religion. He saw people carried out who had fainted under that awful definition of sensuality and depravity.[39]

Billy Sunday, Evangelist and Baseball Player, [ca. 1910]. Michael T. "Nuf Ced" McGreevy Collection, Boston Public Library
Billy Sunday, Evangelist and Baseball Player, [ca. 1910]. Michael T. "Nuf Ced" McGreevy Collection, Boston Public Library

Homer Rodeheaver said that "One of these sermons, until he tempered it down a little, had one ten-minute period in it where from two to twelve men fainted and had to be carried out every time I heard him preach it."[40] Some religious and social leaders criticized Sunday's exaggerated gestures as well as the slang and colloquialisms that filled his sermons, but audiences clearly enjoyed them.[41]

In 1907, journalist Lindsay Denison complained that Sunday preached "the old, old doctrine of damnation". Denison wrote, "In spite of his conviction that the truly religious man should take his religion joyfully, he gets his results by inspiring fear and gloom in the hearts of sinners. The fear of death, with torment beyond it—intensified by examples of the frightful deathbeds of those who have carelessly or obdurately put off salvation until it is too late—it is with this mighty menace that he drives sinners into the fold."[42] But Sunday himself told reporters "with ill-concealed annoyance" that his revivals had "no emotionalism."[43] Caricatures compared him to the extravagances of mid-nineteenth-century camp meetings, as in the famous drawing "Billy Sunday" by George Bellows.[44] Sunday told one reporter that he believed that people could "be converted without any fuss,"[45] and, at Sunday's meetings, "instances of spasm, shakes, or fainting fits caused by hysteria were few and far between."[43]

Crowd noise, especially coughing and crying babies, was a significant impediment to Sunday's preaching because the wooden tabernacles were so acoustically live. During his preliminaries, Rodeheaver often instructed audiences about how to muffle their coughs. Nurseries were always provided, infants forbidden, and Sunday sometimes appeared rude in his haste to rid the hall of noisy children who had slipped through the ushers.

Tabernacle floors were covered with sawdust to dampen the noise of shuffling feet (as well as for its pleasant smell and its ability to hold down the dust of dirt floors), and walking to the front at the preacher's invitation became known as "hitting the sawdust trail."[46] The term was first used in a Sunday campaign in Bellingham, Washington, in 1910. Apparently, "hitting the sawdust trail" had first been used by loggers in the Pacific Northwest to describe following home a trail of previously dropped sawdust through an uncut forest — described by Nell Sunday as a metaphor for coming from "a lost condition to a saved condition."

Billy Sunday's tabernacle (Detroit 1916)
New York City Tabernacle, 1917

By 1910, Sunday began to conduct meetings (usually longer than a month) in small cities like Youngstown, Wilkes-Barre, South Bend, and Denver, and then finally, between 1915 and 1917, the major cities of Philadelphia, Syracuse, Kansas City, Detroit, Boston, Buffalo, and New York City.[47] During the 1910s, Sunday was front-page news in the cities where he held campaigns. Newspapers often printed his sermons in full, and during World War I, local coverage of his campaigns often surpassed that of the war. Sunday was the subject of over sixty articles in major periodicals, and he was a staple of the religious press regardless of denomination.[48]

Over the course of his career, Sunday probably preached to more than one hundred million people face-to-face—and, to the great majority, without electronic amplification. Vast numbers "hit the sawdust trail." Although the usual total given for those who came forward at invitations is an even million, one modern historian estimates the true figure to be closer to 1,250,000.[49] Sunday did not preach to a hundred million different individuals but to many of the same people repeatedly over the course of a campaign. Before his death, Sunday estimated that he had preached nearly 20,000 sermons, an average of 42 per month from 1896 to 1935. During his heyday, when he was preaching more than twenty times each week, his crowds were often huge. Even in 1923, well into the period of his decline, 479,300 people attended the 79 meetings of the six-week 1923 Columbia, South Carolina, campaign – 23 times the white population of Columbia. Nevertheless,"trail hitters" were not necessarily conversions (or even "reconsecrations") to Christianity. Sometimes whole groups of club members came forward en masse at Sunday's prodding. By 1927, Rodeheaver was complaining that Sunday's invitations had become so general that they were meaningless.[50]

Wages of success[edit]

1911 bungalow in Winona Lake, Indiana

Large crowds and an efficient organization meant that Sunday was soon netting hefty offerings. The first questions about Sunday's income were apparently raised during the Columbus, Ohio, campaign at the turn of 1912–13. During the Pittsburgh campaign a year later, Sunday spoke four times per day and effectively made $217 per sermon or $870 a day at a time when the average gainfully employed worker made $836 per year. The major cities of Chicago, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Boston, and New York City gave Sunday even larger offerings. Sunday donated Chicago's offering of $58,000 to Pacific Garden Mission and the $120,500 New York offering to war charities. Nevertheless, between 1908 and 1920, the Sundays earned over a million dollars; an average worker during the same period earned less than $14,000.[51]

Billy Sunday at the White House, 1922

Sunday was welcomed into the circle of the social, economic, and political elite. He counted among his neighbors and acquaintances several prominent businessmen. Sunday dined with numerous politicians, including Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, and counted both Herbert Hoover and John D. Rockefeller Jr. as friends.[52] During and after the 1917 Los Angeles campaign, the Sundays visited with Hollywood stars, and members of Sunday's organization played a charity baseball game against a team of show business personalities that included Douglas Fairbanks, Sr.[53]

The Sundays enjoyed dressing well and dressing their children well; the family sported expensive but tasteful coats, boots, and jewelry. Nell Sunday also bought land as an investment. In 1909, the Sundays bought an apple orchard in Hood River, Oregon, where they vacationed for several years. Although the property sported only a rustic cabin, reporters called it a "ranch." Sunday was a soft touch with money and gave away much of his earnings.[54] Neither of the Sundays were extravagant spenders. Although Sunday enjoyed driving, the couple never owned a car. In 1911, the Sundays moved to Winona Lake, Indiana, and built an American Craftsman-style bungalow, which they called "Mount Hood", probably as a reminder of their Oregon vacation cabin. The bungalow, furnished in the popular Arts and Crafts style, had two porches and a terraced garden but only nine rooms, 2,500 square feet (230 m2) of living space, and no garage.[55]

Religious views[edit]

Sunday was a conservative evangelical who accepted fundamentalist doctrines. He affirmed and preached the biblical inerrancy, the virgin birth of Jesus, the doctrine of substitutionary atonement, the bodily resurrection of Jesus, a literal devil and hell, and the imminent return of Jesus Christ. At the turn of the 20th century, most Protestant church members, regardless of denomination, gave assent to these doctrines. Sunday refused to hold meetings in cities where he was not welcomed by the vast majority of the Protestant churches and their clergy.[56]

Sunday was not a separationist as were many Protestants of his era. He went out of his way to avoid criticizing the Roman Catholic Church and even met with Cardinal Gibbons during his 1916 Baltimore campaign. Also, cards filled out by "trail hitters" were faithfully returned to the church or denomination that the writers had indicated as their choice, including Catholic and Unitarian.[57]

Although Sunday was ordained by the Presbyterian Church in 1903, his ministry was nondenominational and he was not a strict Calvinist. He preached that individuals were, at least in part, responsible for their own salvation. "Trail hitters" were given a four-page tract that stated, "if you have done your part (i.e. believe that Christ died in your place, and receive Him as your Saviour and Master) God has done HIS part and imparted to you His own nature."[58]

Sunday never attended seminary and made no pretense of being a theologian or an intellectual, but he had a thorough knowledge of the Bible and was well read on religious and social issues of his day. His surviving Winona Lake library of six hundred books gives evidence of heavy use, including underscoring and reader's notes in his characteristic all-caps printing. Some of Sunday's books were even those of religious opponents. He was once charged with plagiarizing a Decoration Day speech given by the noted agnostic Robert Ingersoll.[59]

Sunday's homespun preaching had a wide appeal to his audiences, who were "entertained, reproached, exhorted, and astonished."[60] Sunday claimed to be "an old-fashioned preacher of the old-time religion"[61] and his uncomplicated sermons spoke of a personal God, salvation through Jesus Christ, and following the moral lessons of the Bible. Sunday's theology, although sometimes denigrated as simplistic, was situated within the mainstream Protestantism of his time.[62]

Social and political views[edit]

Cover of August 1914 issue of The Melting Pot: A Magazine of Protest, edited by Henry M. Tichenor, condemning Sunday as a tool of big business.
Tombstones of Billy and Helen Sunday, Forest Home Cemetery, Forest Park, Illinois

Sunday was a lifelong Republican, and he espoused the mainstream political and social views of his native Midwest: individualism, competitiveness, personal discipline, and opposition to government regulation.[63] Writers such as Sinclair Lewis,[64] Henry M. Tichenor,[65] and John Reed attacked Sunday as a tool of big business, and poet Carl Sandburg called him a "four-flusher" and a "bunkshooter."[66] Nevertheless, Sunday sided with Progressives on some issues. For example, he denounced child labor[67] and supported urban reform and women's suffrage.[68] Sunday condemned capitalists "whose private lives are good, but whose public lives are very bad", as well as those "who would not pick the pockets of one man with the fingers of their hand" but who would "without hesitation pick the pockets of eighty million people with fingers of their monopoly or commercial advantage."[69] Sunday expressed sympathy for the poor and tried to bridge the gulf between the races during the zenith of the Jim Crow era.[70] However, Sunday regularly received contributions from members of the Second Ku Klux Klan during the 1920s.[71] In another instance, in 1927, in Bangor, Maine, Sunday's partner and music director, Homer Rodeheaver, told Klansmen who briefly interrupted the service that "he did not believe that any organization that marched behind the Cross of Christ and the American Flag could be anything but a power for good."[72][73] Sunday himself praised Klansmen who assisted the police in vice raids.[74]

Sunday was a passionate supporter of America entering World War I. In 1918 he said, "I tell you it is [Kaiser] Bill against Woodrow, Germany against America, Hell against Heaven." Sunday raised large amounts of money for the troops, sold war bonds, and stumped for recruitment.[75]

Sunday had been an ardent champion of temperance from his earliest days as an evangelist, and his ministry at the Chicago YMCA had given him first-hand experience with the destructive potential of alcohol. Sunday's most famous sermon was "Get on the Water Wagon", which he preached on countless occasions with both histrionic emotion and a "mountain of economic and moral evidence." Sunday said, "I am the sworn, eternal and uncompromising enemy of the Liquor Traffic. I have been, and will go on, fighting that damnable, dirty, rotten business with all the power at my command."[76] Sunday played a significant role in arousing public interest in Prohibition and in the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment in 1919. When the tide of public opinion turned against Prohibition, he continued to support it. After its repeal in 1933, Sunday called for its reintroduction.[77]

Sunday also opposed eugenics, recent immigration from southern and eastern Europe,[78] and the teaching of evolution.[79] Further, he criticized such popular middle-class amusements as dancing,[80] playing cards, attending the theater, and reading novels.[81] However, he believed baseball was a healthy and even patriotic form of recreation, so long as it was not played on Sundays.[82]

Decline and death[edit]

Sunday's popularity waned after World War I, when many people in his revival audiences were attracted to radio broadcasts and moving pictures instead.[83] The Sundays' health also declined even as they continued to drive themselves through rounds of revivals—smaller but also with fewer staff members to assist them.

Tragedy marred Sunday's final years. His three sons engaged in many of the activities he preached against, and the Sundays paid blackmail to several women to keep the scandals relatively quiet.[84] In 1930, Nora Lynn, their housekeeper and nanny, who had become a virtual member of the family, died. Then the Sundays' daughter, the only child actually raised by Nell, died in 1932 of what seems to have been multiple sclerosis.[85] Their oldest son George, rescued from financial ruin by his parents, committed suicide in 1933.[86]

Nevertheless, even as the crowds declined during the last 15 years of his life, Sunday continued accepting preaching invitations and speaking with effect. In early 1935, he had a mild heart attack, and his doctor advised him to stay out of the pulpit. Sunday ignored the advice. He died on November 6, a week after preaching his last sermon on the text "What must I do to be saved?"[87]



  1. ^
  2. ^ McLoughlin, 1–2. Martin, 2.
  3. ^ McLoughlin, 1–3. Martin, 4–5.
  4. ^ Dorsett, 8–10, 13.
  5. ^ The 4-H baseball field in Nevada is named Billy Sunday Field.
  6. ^ "He had almost completed a high school education, which many young Americans of his generation lacked." Martin, 8. According to Lyle Dorsett, Sunday was "much better educated than the typical American." Dorsett, 14.
  7. ^ Firstenberger, William Andrew (2005). In rare form: a pictorial history of baseball evangelist Billy Sunday. University of Iowa Press. p. 12. ISBN 0-87745-959-2. Archived from the original on January 31, 2021. Retrieved December 17, 2010.
  8. ^ Anson's aunt, Emily Haviland attended Marshalltown games with her husband Marshall, who was the official team scorer in 1871. In 1916, Anson recalled that his aunt "finally induced me to give Billy a chance in Chicago. She was what you call a dyed-in-the-wool fan and never missed a game the Marshalltown club ever played." In 1921, Sunday told veteran writer William Phelon Jr., "It was owing to the fact that Capt. Anson of the Chicago team had an aunt in Marshalltown that I became a big leaguer." Cap "had Aunt Emma there and she was greatly interested in seeing me progress in baseball. She praised my playing to Anson, told him I was about the fastest fielder on earth and insisted that he give me a chance with Chicago and he agreed." Rosenberg, 132.
  9. ^ Cap Anson, Sunday's captain-manager, said in his 1900 autobiography that Sunday struck out his first thirteen times at bat. However, contemporary newspaper accounts report eleven strikeouts at most, with two of his other at-bats reported simply as outs, probably not made by striking out. Sunday's verifiable strikeouts-in-a-row are four. Knickerbocker, 31–32.
  10. ^ Knickerbocker, 45–47; Firstenberger, 18. Sunday had been uncomfortable with this race and tried to withdraw. Anson persuaded Sunday to run because a great deal of money had been bet on the outcome, some of it put up by Sunday's teammates. In later years he regretted having been involved in a gambling event. The win was noted by contemporary newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune (November 9, 1885, quoted in Knickerbocker, 47), as "by three yards", or about ten feet.
  11. ^ Sunday later said, "That was my first experience at bookkeeping and I was never shy a dollar." Bruns, 39–40; Knickerbocker, 37.
  12. ^ Knickerbocker, 73–75, 97, 109, 120; Bruns, 51; Dorsett, 36–39.
  13. ^ Knickerbocker, 125–131.
  14. ^ Knickerbocker,131–133; Bruns, 51; Dorsett, 36–39.
  15. ^ Fans reportedly said, "Billy is fast enough, but he can't steal first base." Knickerbocker, 135–137, 2–3.
  16. ^ For example, in 1917 Baseball Magazine published his opinions on baseball's patriotic value and the game's importance to the nation in wartime.
  17. ^ Sunday obituary in Sporting News, November 14, 1935, 2, quoted in Knickerbocker, 156. Sunday "attended one game of the 1935 World series, but declared himself so disgusted with the umpiring that he stayed away from the remaining contests."
  18. ^ Knickerbocker, 80–89; Dorsett, 24–28. Sunday could never remember the date of this experience, although he made repeated reference to it. The oft-told conversion story poses a number of chronological difficulties. The best explication of the problems and their partial solutions is Knickerbocker, 59–63, 79–89.
  19. ^ Billy Sunday, The Sawdust Trail, 67.
  20. ^ Dorsett, 29; Knickerbocker, 61–62.
  21. ^ Firstenberger, 7.
  22. ^ Dorsett, 34.
  23. ^ Dorsett, 32–34; Frankenberg, 62; Martin, 34.
  24. ^ Dorsett, 39–43, 48. Sunday's father-in-law was unhappy that Sunday had exchanged the promise of $3,000 for seven months of work for a six-day-a-week job that paid $1,000 per year.
  25. ^ Dorsett, 51.
  26. ^ Dorsett, 49–57.
  27. ^ Dorsett, 53–54, 57.
  28. ^ Dorsett, 58–59, 62–63.
  29. ^ Knickerbocker, 145–146; McLaughlin, 11. One newspaper reporting on the Garner revival "to be conducted by W.A. Sunday" noted that "this must be 'Billy' Sunday who used to play ball for Anson with the Chicago White Stockings. 'Billy' is as true a Christian gentleman as he was a rattling ball player, and that is saying a good deal."
  30. ^ Dorsett, 61–64.
  31. ^ Dorsett, 64–65; Firstenberger, 46.
  32. ^ Dorsett, 81–83.
  33. ^ Dorsett, 81–84; Firstenberger, 45, 98–100. In 1911, Nell Sunday met Nora Lynn at the Erie, Pennsylvania campaign and persuaded her to become the Sundays' live-in housekeeper. Lynn was employed by the Sundays for twenty years; she effectively became a member of the Sunday family and died in their house.
  34. ^ Dorsett, 86.
  35. ^ "Homer Rodeheaver Dies At Warsaw, Indiana, Home" (PDF). The Diapason. 47 (2): 23. January 1, 1956.
  36. ^ Dorsett, 86, 100–104; Firstenberger, 124–126. Firstenberger has documented more than seventy individuals who were members of the Sunday evangelistic team through the years of Billy Sunday's ministry. Virginia Asher and her husband William had known the Sundays since the 1890s and had previously worked for Dwight L. Moody and other evangelists. Asher organized permanent, post-campaign "Virginia Asher Councils" to continue work among those who, during that period, were called "businesswomen." Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist A. B. MacDonald was also an assistant in 1917.
  37. ^ Metropolitan Magazine Archived 2021-01-31 at the Wayback Machine, May 1915, pp 9-12. Accessed 6 March 2020.
  38. ^ "Evangelist Billy Sunday preaching" Archived 2020-08-07 at the Wayback Machine. Free Library of Philadelphia - Digital Collections. Accessed 5 March 2020. The Central Library opened on Logan Square on June 2, 1927.
  39. ^ Betts, Frederick William (1916). Billy Sunday, the Man and Method. Murray Press. p. 30, "rawest thing;" p. 43, "fainted under that awful definition;" p. 36. A liberal Congregationalist minister in Oak Park, Illinois, William E. Barton (1861-1930), likewise attacked Sunday's pulpit manner, "We wish he would stop his profanity....damned stinking something-or-other, 'To hell with' something or somebody.... We wish he were a gentleman....He is a harsh, unjust, bad-tempered man...a very defective Christian."Barton, Rev. William E. (February 4, 1915). "If Mr. Sunday Comes to Chicago". The Advance. 67 (2569): 593. Archived from the original on January 31, 2021. Retrieved May 24, 2019.
  40. ^ Martin, Robert Francis (2002). Hero of the Heartland: Billy Sunday and the Transformation of American Society, 1862–1935. Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-34129-9., p. 87
  41. ^ Firstenberger, 36–39. Fundamentalist leader Bob Jones Jr., who knew Sunday as a teenager, admitted in his memoirs that he was "repelled by the roughness" of Sunday's performance and noted that Sunday's messages seemed "studied and stage-managed" — which of course, they were. Bob Jones [Jr.], Cornbread and Caviar: Reminiscences and Reflections (Greenville, South Carolina: Bob Jones University Press, 1985), 89.
  42. ^ Denison, Lindsay (1907), "The Rev. Billy Sunday and His War On the Devil", The American Magazine, September, 1907, 64(5), p. 461 Archived 2012-11-11 at the Wayback Machine
  43. ^ a b McLoughlin, 128.
  44. ^ McLoughlin, 127.
  45. ^ Rocky Mountain News, September 7, 1914, 1, in McLoughlin, 128.
  46. ^ Firstenberger, 37; McLoughlin, 97; Dorsett, 91–92.
  47. ^ "BGEA New York Crusade". Archived from the original on April 26, 2012. Retrieved October 25, 2011.
  48. ^ Dorsett, 92–93. "Scores of newborn boys were named 'Billy Sunday' in his honor, and in Fulton County, Illinois, a recipe for 'Billy Sunday Pudding' was formulated by local residents. The pudding was designed to bake in the oven during his sermon and be ready when the family came home from the meeting." Firstenberger, 39.
  49. ^ Dorsett, 93; Firstenberger, 39, 120–123; Lyle W. Dorsett, "Billy Sunday", American National Biography, 21: 150–52; Bernard A. Weisberger, They Gathered at the River: The Story of the Great Revivalists and Their Impact upon Religion in America (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1958), 254.
  50. ^ McLoughlin, 98–105, 199–203; Dorsett, 136.
  51. ^ Dorsett, 90–91.
  52. ^ Dorsett, 93–94, 134, 149–50.
  53. ^ Dorsett, 93, 95; Knickerbocker, 156. The movie stars won, 1–0, and Sunday jokingly complained that his team could not get a break from the umpires, Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin.
  54. ^ In 1913, Sunday's mentor, J. Wilbur Chapman, wrote that he could not think of a time that Sunday had "had opportunity for conversation" that he had not asked, "Do you need any money?" Frankenburg, "Forward."
  55. ^ Dorsett,95–96. A good description of the house and its furnishings is in Firstenberger, 80–92. In her will, Nell Sunday donated the house and its collection of artifacts as a museum.
  56. ^ Firstenberger, 26–29. Although preached in colloquialisms, Sunday's theology was fairly sophisticated and "orthodox in its basic ingredients". See Daniel LaRoy Anderson, "The Gospel According to Sunday", Th.D. dissertation, Dallas Theological Seminary, 199.
  57. ^ Dorsett, 80–81; Firstenberger, 30. A short but striking first-person account of Sunday's 1915 Syracuse campaign by a Universalist clergyman is Frederick W. Betts, Billy Sunday: The Man and the Method (Boston: Murray Press, 1916.) Betts was clearly disgusted by Sunday but awestruck by the power of his personality and sermons over even his educated acquaintances.
  58. ^ Weisberger, 253.
  59. ^ Dorsett, 77; Firstenberger, 32, 63. Sunday's library included a copy of Thomas W. Hanford, Ingersollia: Gems of Thought from the Lectures, Speeches and Conversations of the Late Col. Robert G. Ingersoll(1899) with underlined text and marginal notes.
  60. ^ Martin, 138.
  61. ^ Ellis, 146.
  62. ^ Dorsett, 155–157. Martin, 138–140.
  63. ^ Martin, 126–127.
  64. ^ Sinclair Lewis' novel Babbitt includes a character named Mike Monday, "the distinguished evangelist, the best-known Protestant pontiff in America...As a prize-fighter he gained nothing but his crooked nose, his celebrated vocabulary, and his stage-presence. The service of the Lord had been more profitable." In his novel, a visit by Monday is opposed by "certain Episcopalian and Congregationalist ministers", whom Monday calls "a bunch of gospel-pushers with dish-water instead of blood, a gang of squealers that need more dust on the knees of their pants and more hair on their skinny old chests." Lewis's Elmer Gantry is a novel about an evangelist with more than a passing resemblance to Sunday. (Sunday in turn referred to Lewis as a member of "Satan's cohort.") Elmer Gantry study guide Archived 2007-10-15 at the Wayback Machine, bookrags.com.
  65. ^ R. A. Bruns, Preacher: Billy Sunday and Big-Time American Evangelism (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2002), 194–195.
  66. ^ McLoughlin, 223. John Reed, "Back of Sunday", Metropolitan Magazine (May 1915), 10. Carl Sandburg, "To Billy Sunday" Archived August 31, 2006, at the Wayback Machine, 1915. Sandburg wrote, "You come along squirting words at us, shaking your fist and calling us all dam fools so fierce the froth slobbers over your lips...always blabbing we're all going to hell straight off and you know all about it...Go ahead and bust all the chairs you want to. Smash a whole wagon load of furniture at every performance. Turn sixty somersaults and stand on your nutty head. If it wasn't for the way you scare the women and kids I'd feel sorry for you and pass the hat. I like to watch a good four-flusher work, but not when he starts people puking and calling for the doctors." Sunday also appears in some modern fiction, both as an historical touchstone and as a metaphorical figure. For example, John Jakes inserts a mention of Sunday in Homeland Archived 2021-01-31 at the Wayback Machine, his historical novel about Chicago; and Sunday's life is employed metaphorically in Rod Jones' novel Billy Sunday. Jerry Garcia also referred to Billy Sunday in the Grateful Dead song, "Ramble On Rose." Archived 2013-06-04 at the Wayback Machine
  67. ^ "Men who will gladly draw their check for $10,000 and give it a child's hospital see nothing ridiculous in the fact that the $10,000 for the child's hospital came of out of $200,000 made from a system of child labor which crushes more children in one year than the hospital will heal in ten." Quoted in McLoughlin, 145.
  68. ^ Firstenberger, 66–68; McLoughlin, 140–143.
  69. ^ Quoted in McLoughlin, 144–45.
  70. ^ Dorsett, 96–97, 152–154.
  71. ^ Firstenberger, 29–30; McLoughlin, 274–275. According to Larson, Sunday's Memphis campaign of February 1925 featured both a special night for African Americans as well as an "unofficial Klan night." (Larson 1997, p. 55).
  72. ^ "Klan Visitors At Auditorium". The Bangor Daily News. July 1, 1927. p. 15. Archived from the original on January 13, 2021. Retrieved January 12, 2021.
  73. ^ It was official Klan policy to enter religious services late and (after first calling the newspaper) publicly present gifts before disappearing. Kevin Mungons and Douglas Yeo, Homer Rodeheaver and the Rise of the Gospel Music Industry (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2021), 194.
  74. ^ Stephens, Randall J. "The Klan, White Christianity, and the Past and Present | a response to Kelly J. Baker by Randall J. Stephens | Religion & Culture Forum". voices.uchicago.edu.
  75. ^ McLoughlin, 257–259; Firstenberger, 60–62; Dorsett, 113–114. Sunday said, "If you turn hell upside down, you will find 'Made in Germany' stamped on the bottom." Ray H. Abrams, Preachers Present Arms (Scottdale, Pennsylvania: Herald Press, 1933), 79.
  76. ^ Dorsett, 112–113; Firstenberger, 69; McLaughlin, 180–184. Sunday preached that "whiskey and beer are all right in their place, but their place is in hell."(Compare Christianity and alcohol.)
  77. ^ McLoughlin, 232–234; Firstenberger, 72. During Prohibition, Sunday's revival theme song, "Brighten the Corner Where You Are", is said to have become a drinking song in the blind pigs. A line in the popular Frank Sinatra song "Chicago", written by Fred Fisher in the 1920s, refers to Chicago as "the town that Billy Sunday couldn't shut down."
  78. ^ McLoughlin, 146–48.
  79. ^ Although Sunday was a firm creationist, he believed that the seven days of creation were indeterminate periods and not literal 24-hour days. As proof Sunday quoted 2 Peter 3:8 that "one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." "Nuts for Skeptics to Crack", (sermon) May 24, 1917, Papers of William and Helen Sunday, Reel 11. William Jennings Bryan asked Sunday to participate in the Scopes Trial. Although Sunday assured Bryan that "all the believing world is back of you in your defense of Christ and the Bible", Sunday declined to come to Dayton. Sunday to Bryan, July 4, 1925, William Jennings Bryan Papers, Library of Congress, Box 47.
  80. ^ "Sunday said that 'three-fourths of all the fallen women fell as a result of the dance.'" Quoted in McLoughlin, 132. Sunday's views were caricatured in P. G. Wodehouse's short story, "The Aunt and the Sluggard" (My Man Jeeves) in which the fictional revival preacher Jimmy Mundy says that "the tango and the fox-trot were devices of the devil to drag people down into the Bottomless Pit. He said that there was more sin in ten minutes with a negro banjo orchestra than in all the ancient revels of Nineveh and Babylon."
  81. ^ McLoughlin, 132–135; Firstenberger, 65–66.
  82. ^ Knickerbocker, 156–157.
  83. ^ Dorsett, 148."Sabbath church attendance was not greatly affected by the rapid rise of the entertainment industry, but revivals conducted in big tents and tabernacles night after night for several weeks running were definitely undercut when the public found new competitors for their time."
  84. ^ Dorsett, 129. In a 1929 letter to his wife, Sunday wrote that "all we have earned in the last 5 years has gone to Millie", Billy, Jr.'s ex-wife. BS to HTS, Box 4, Folder 32, The Papers of William and Helen Sunday [microfilm] (Wheaton, Illinois: Billy Graham Center, 1978).
  85. ^ Dorsett, 129–130.
  86. ^ All three of Sunday's sons died violently: George from a "fall" from a hotel window; Billy Jr. in an automobile crash after a night of partying; and Paul in an airplane crash. Although Sunday's four children contracted nine marriages, Billy and Nell Sunday had only three grandchildren. The grandchildren, in turn, contracted five marriages that resulted in only one great-grandchild, who apparently died childless. The great-grandchild, Marquis Ashley Sunday, was killed by his lover in San Francisco on March 22, 1982. Therefore, fifty years after his death, Sunday had no known living descendants. Dorsett, 126–130. Firstenberger, 136–137, gives the genealogical details.
  87. ^ Dorsett, 141–143. Sunday was buried at Forest Home Cemetery, in Forest Park, outside Chicago. According to The New York Times "Billy Sunday Dies; Evangelist Was 71; Former Ball Player Induced Thousands To 'hit Sawdust Trail' To Conversion". The New York Times. November 7, 1935. Archived from the original on November 3, 2012. Retrieved July 9, 2010. Actually, after resting in the afternoon, Sunday had helped his wife and brother-in-law repot some plants. Afterward, he again went upstairs to rest. Nell brought him his supper, and when she went downstairs to get her own, Sunday cried, "Nell! Oh, come quick! I've got an awful pain." Sunday had severe chest pain that spread to both arms. A doctor was called, and he prescribed an ice pack for Sunday's chest. Sunday's pain subsided, and his pulse improved. The doctor left to keep evening appointments with other patients, promising to return. As Nell sat by his side answering letters, Sunday said, "I'm getting dizzy, Ma!" Those were his last words. Nell Sunday, 35–38.


External links[edit]