Women’s History Month: Henrietta Mears

March 22, 2022

In honor of Women’s History Month, the Billy Graham Library would like to recognize some of the women who supported Billy Graham’s ministry over the years. This week, we’ll take a look at Henrietta Mears.

Henrietta Mears was born on Oct. 23, 1890, the seventh child of a banker and a Baptist laywoman. Henrietta’s father owned more than 20 banks, but the family wealth was significantly impacted during the Panic of 1893. The loss of most of the family’s money led them to resettle in Minnesota. Henrietta loved learning and graduated from college at the University of Minnesota before becoming a chemistry teacher in rural Minnesota.

In 1915, she moved back to Minneapolis to live with her sister, and it was there that her church encouraged her to apply educational principles to Sunday school lessons. In 1927, after teaching Sunday school for over a decade, Henrietta took a sabbatical and visited Hollywood, California, where she met Stuart MacLennan, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, which had a Sunday school of 450 students. While visiting California, Henrietta felt God’s call to enter full-time ministry, and she became the Director of Christian Education at MacLennan’s church.

Henrietta grew the Sunday school attendance to 6,500 students enrolled during her tenure. She taught the college-age students herself. Henrietta not only reignited the influence of Sunday school on the lives of her students but, she also established Gospel Light, a publishing company for her study materials, and Forest Home, a Christian conference center in Forest Falls, California that is still open today. She made a great impact on many evangelists of the day that included not only Mr. Graham but also Bill Bright (founder of Campus Crusade for Christ) and Louis H. Evans, Jr. (pastor of Bel Air Presbyterian Church, where Ronald Reagan attended).

Henrietta introduced Billy Graham to many celebrities of the day and was integral in Mr. Graham’s acceptance of the Bible as the inerrant, inspired Word of God. As Mr. Graham recounts of Ms. Mears in his autobiography, Just as I Am, “Rarely had I witnessed such Christian love and compassion as she had for those students. She had faith in the integrity of the Scriptures, and an understanding of Bible truth as well as modern scholarship. I was desperate for every insight she could give me.” Ms. Mears passed away peacefully in her home on March 20, 1963.

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