A Match Made in Heaven: From First Date to I Do

August 7, 2023

Billy and Ruth Bell Graham have a true, match-made-in-heaven, love story. From their first date to their wedding day, everything was guided by God’s sovereignty. Billy Graham and Ruth Bell first met while they were students at Wheaton College. Their first date was to see Handel’s Messiah during the Christmas holiday. Billy shared his thoughts on the date in his autobiography, Just As I Am:

The happy couple.

“It took me a month to muster the courage to ask her out for a date. The Christmas holidays were fast approaching, and the combined glee clubs were presenting Handel’s Messiah. One day in the library in Blanchard Hall, I saw Ruth studying at one of the long tables…Undaunted, I sauntered nonchalantly across to Ruth and scribbled my proposal for a date to the concert. To my surprise and delight, she agreed to go.

That Sunday afternoon was cold and snowy. With Ruth Bell sitting beside me in Pierce Chapel, I did not pay much attention to the music. Afterward we walked over to the Lane house for a cup of tea, and we had a chance to talk. I just could not believe that anyone could be so spiritual and so beautiful at one and the same time.”

Shortly after they started dating, Ruth began writing poems and journal entries about their relationship. This is an entry from her college journal about her new-found love from Footprints of a Pilgrim: The Life and Loves of Ruth Bell Graham:

The engaged couple.

“You know—funny how the little things pop up in the memory. His way of going about things, his self-control… the way he put both hands on the wheel and squared his shoulders when we began, the strength and keenness of his profile when the streetlight fell thru the snow sifting on the windshield and lit up his face. I wasn’t watching him directly, but one sees a lot out of the corner of one’s eye. Oh, I shouldn’t be writing all this. You’ll think me a romantic nitwit.”

Billy knew God had brought Ruth into his life to be his wife. He proposed marriage and despite being head over heals in her journal, Ruth wavered in her response, because she wanted to go to the mission field. When she finally answered, it was by letter. Billy recalled the writing in Just As I Am:

“By now I had directly proposed marriage to Ruth, and she was struggling with her decision…She did not say yes to my proposal right then and there, but I knew she was thinking it over…While I was in Florida, preaching in Dr. Minder’s church, I got a thick letter from Ruth postmarked July 6, 1941. One of the first sentences made me ecstatic, and I took off running. “I’ll marry you,” she wrote.”

Just like their courting and engagement, their wedding planning was well thought out and clearly guided by God’s sovereign hand.

Billy and Ruth Bell Graham on their wedding day – August 13, 1943

Billy Graham and Ruth Bell Graham were married 80 years ago on Aug. 13, 1943. Mrs. Graham was meticulous in her attention to details in their wedding, making sure everything was just right. She sewed her wedding dress out of white satin and picked out the flowers that would make her bouquet.

The bride’s bouquet was made from painted daisies and tuberoses, and parts of it hung down almost to her feet. Following her wedding day, Ruth dried and preserved the original bouquet. The archivists at the Billy Graham Archive & Research Center recently recreated the floral arrangement so we can see what it would have looked like 80 years ago.

Original dried and preserved bouquet.
Recreation of the bouquet.

You can clearly see from their first date, until the day they said “I do,” Billy and Ruth were a match made in heaven. They continually stayed strong in their commitment for each other and God.

If you want to learn more about this love story, the Billy Graham Library will have a special exhibit on the Graham’s wedding including information and artifacts from their wedding, including the recreation of Ruth Graham’s bouquet. . “The Two Shall Become One” will be on display from August 1- November 27.

Plan your visit today.

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