Women’s History Month: Celebrating the Impact of Ruth Bell Graham

March 1, 2022

On June 10, 1920, Ruth was born to medical missionaries L. Nelson and Virginia Leftwich Bell in Qingjiang, Kiangsu, China. She met Billy Graham while attending Wheaton College, and their 63-year marriage—and partnership in ministry—began after their wedding on Aug. 13, 1943, in Montreat, North Carolina.

In honor of Women’s History Month, the Billy Graham Library would like to recognize some of the women who supported and impacted Billy Graham’s ministry over the years. This week, we begin with Ruth Bell Graham.

Ruth Bell Graham

Wife, mother, prankster, and poet – Ruth Bell Graham was a well-rounded, good-humored woman. Billy Graham once shared, “Ruth was my life partner, and we were called by God as a team. No one else could have borne the load that she carried. She was a vital and integral part of our ministry, and my work through the years would have been impossible without her encouragement and support.”

Billy and Ruth Graham were married August 13, 1943.

Billy and Ruth Graham married on August 13, 1943. From the early stages of Billy Graham’s ministry, Ruth was by his side. “When it comes to spiritual things, my wife has had the greatest influence on my ministry,” Billy Graham proudly proclaimed.

Ruth Bell Graham’s contribution to the ministry is far beyond what can be explained on paper. She selflessly supported her husband and family, and paved the way for the Gospel to go forth. Mr. Graham often spoke of his admiration and gratitude of his wife and the impact she made during the early years of his ministry. He once said to a reporter of CBS, “Well, I have to give the credit to my wife and to the Lord because my wife stayed home while I traveled all over the world and she reared them and she taught them and she spanked them and she loved them and they all love her.  And we all know that she is the spiritual leader of our family.”


Billy and Ruth Graham traveled through war-torn Europe with Cliff and Billie Barrows in 1947.

Ruth traveled with Billy as much as possible, especially in his early days of ministry. In 1947, four years into Billy and Ruth’s marriage, the young couple traveled to Europe for their first evangelism trip overseas. Ruth traveled along for two months and left to tend to their infant daughter back in Montreat, N.C. while her husband continued on for another couple of months. After Ruth left, Billy came down with the flu. He shares the story in his autobiography that speaks volumes to the woman that Ruth was. Read the excerpt from Just As I Am below.

Ruth with first-born daughter Gigi.

“By airmail Ruth sent some vitamin and mineral pills her father had had specially prepared for me. ’Now, darling,’ she admonished me, ‘Please – for a change – do what the doctor says.’

Ruth was bothered also by something not completely unrelated to the illness I was battling when she left. She thought I was unwise to push myself so hard in the Lord’s service. ‘I think sometimes it is easier to drive ourselves to actual death than it is to take ourselves firmly in hand and make ourselves do the wise thing,’ she wrote from home. ‘Without sounding funny, it is better to rest awhile above the earth than to rest forever beneath it.’ Then her theology came to her rescue. ‘While we do not expect to rest forever beneath it, so far as your present usefulness would be concerned, you may as well be.’

I wrote to her of course, but before she received my answering letter, she wrote me another. That one really caught me off-guard. It was about our marriage. Her intuition told her that I was feeling guilty and that I was worried there might be an estrangement between us, caused by my obsession with the ministry and my repeated absences.

‘In your thinking we have grown apart due to the wide separation of our ways and interests,’ she wrote. ‘But I feel closer to you than ever before… Where you are, I go with you in mind and heart – praying for you continually. You, with your broader sphere of service, your worldwide circle of friends, your unlimited interests and responsibilities, would find it more difficult to be with me in mind and heart and prayers… Don’t judge my heart-following of all your goings and comings by your interest in and understanding of my two-by-four world. And since my body was able to follow my heart for two months, the world you travel will seem much more personal and real to me. Your problems, thrills, heartaches, and glorious victories – much more my very own… take good care of your precious self. There is so much yet to be done for God, and so much love yet unexplored and unexperienced for us.’ She was right – and more than that, I marveled at her sensitivity and insight. “

Billy Graham addressing a crowd of football (soccer) supporters in London during half-time at the match between Chelsea and Newcastle United in 1954.

At the 1954 London Crusade, Billy said of Ruth, “Her encouragement, her counsel, and her prayers supported me more than anything else.”

Ruth also helped Billy in other ways with his global ministry. She was the main proofreader on his books and helped him with research for his sermons. It was Ruth who often helped Billy find relevant current events for him to use in his sermons. She sometimes shared from the Crusade platform, always testifying of God’s great love and encouraging those in the stadiums to accept Christ as their Savior.

Ruth Graham speaks during a Crusade in Cleveland, Ohio in 1972.

Each time Billy Graham spoke internationally, Ruth would call the children over to the globe and point out where their father was preaching.

Ruth submitted to God’s calling and lived a full life before passing away on June 14, 2007. Her role as a mother, wife and mentor has set an unforgettable example for many.

Billy Graham once lovingly described his wife’s nature and partnership in his ministry: “Her disposition is the same all the time—very sweet and very gracious and charming. When it comes to spiritual things, my wife has had the greatest influence on my ministry.”

Ruth Bell Graham passed away on June 14, 2007. Her role as a mother, wife and mentor has set an unforgettable example for many.

You can have the same peace that Ruth had through her Lord and Savior. Start here.

Learn more about Ruth Bell Graham from her writings.

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