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From his column Past to Present

past-to-present-07-14-1Religion was in Fannie McDowell Hunter’s blood. Samuel Patterson, her grandfather, was a Methodist preacher in southwest Missouri before moving in the 1840s to Indian Territory to minister to the Quapah people. After the Civil War, he became a prominent citizen of Fulton, Kentucky, practicing religion, medicine, and business. “The Father of Fulton Methodism,” he also fostered the development of South Fulton, Tennessee.[1]

Patterson’s extended family included James B. McDowell, who professed entire sanctification after evangelist William B. Godbey brought the holiness movement to Fulton in 1885. McDowell’s testimony appeared in Holiness (1886), an anthology published by a local minister.[2]

Fannie McDowell, James’ daughter, was born in Missouri but raised in Fulton, where she professed her faith at age 12 in a Methodist revival. She married Prof. W. W. Hunter when she was 19. He died three years later, leaving her with a daughter and stepson. She plunged into a deep spiritual crisis, but her faith eventually was renewed.[3]

A pianist and singer, she became a music evangelist and songwriter. For a time, she worked on the West Coast with the Salvation Army before returning to the South.[4] After some encouragement, she began violating a societal norm by publicly preaching the gospel.

Eventually, she crossed paths with Robert Lee Harris, a holiness evangelist. They may have met at the revival he conducted in Fulton in 1893 upon J. B. McDowell’s invitation. In July 1894, Harris founded a new church, the New Testament Church of Christ. When he died later that year, his widow, Mary Lee Harris, determined to carry on his work. Fannie Hunter became her mentor until Mary Lee was successfully established in ministry.

The women conducted an evangelistic tour through Arkansas in early summer 1895, assisting in a Little Rock revival, and preaching to inmates in the state penitentiary. Mrs. Harris spoke for several nights at a holiness camp meeting at Beebe, and then the women proceeded to Searcy, where they conducted a revival in a Methodist church there.

By December, Mrs. Harris was ministering in west Texas, while Hunter continued evangelizing in Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, and Missouri, often associating with other preachers of Harris’s fledgling denomination. She united with it in about 1897.

In the summer of 1900, she labored in revivals with Mrs. Harris and Miss Trena Platt in Texas, where the New Testament Church of Christ was expanding. She was present at Mrs. Harris’s wedding to Henry Cagle in August at a West Texas camp meeting.

In 1901, Fannie Hunter accepted President A. M. Hills’s invitation to be matron of women at Texas Holiness University near Greenville, Texas.[5] She remained for two years, counseling young women and preaching in chapel.

She was an ordained elder by 1903, when she became pastor of a church at Rising Star, Texas. She hosted the meeting in 1904 where her denomination merged with the Independent Holiness Church led by C. B. Jernigan and J. B. Chapman. At this meeting in Rising Star, the Holiness Church of Christ was born, with Pilot Point, Texas, as its headquarters.

The women in the Hunter-Cagle circle were bound by a unique sisterhood. They frequently had to defend their ministry against critics. Several women had a standard sermon on the subject, but it fell to Hunter to frame the issue in a unique way when she published the book Women Preachers (1905). She wrote the book’s first half, summarizing standard arguments for the ministry of women that had been developed by Phoebe Palmer, Free Methodist founder B. T. Roberts, Salvation Army co-founder Catherine Booth, and others.

The book’s second half, though, was unique, consisting of call narratives written by nine active women preachers, including Hunter, Cagle, future Nazarene missionary Lillian Poole, and Johnny Jernigan, spouse of C. B. Jernigan. A. M. Hills supplied the book’s introduction. A provocative question appeared on the cover beneath the title: “Who gave thee this authority?” That was the question the book answered. The “calling” narratives affirmed the women’s conviction that their authority to preach was divinely given and stood above all human prejudice to the contrary.

Hunter dedicated the work “To my beloved sisters, who are anointed by the Holy Spirit and commissioned, like Mary of old, to tell the sorrowing of their risen Lord, and who, as they go on their blessed mission for the Master, often meet the opposition and scorn of their opponents.”

Ordained women had a distinct impact on the Holiness Church of Christ. By 1908, when it merged with the Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene, women composed over one-sixth of the Holiness Church of Christ’s ordained elders and one-fifth of its licensed ministers. They had exerted influence on every aspect of its life, including pastoral ministry, evangelism, home missions, foreign missions, and rescue work.

Fannie McDowell Hunter moved to Dallas around 1905, resuming her evangelistic work, often on behalf of the Rest Cottage at Pilot Point and the Berachah Rescue Society at Arlington, Texas. These were Nazarene-supported maternity homes for unwed women.

She married Edgar D. Strang, a businessman and widower. They moved to Pilot Point in 1907, where Fannie became matron at Nazarene Bible Institute.[6] She was present at the great uniting General Assembly held there in 1908, and remained an elder on the Dallas District through 1911. After that, she apparently embraced a more domestic life with her husband. Still, she continued writing music and copyrighted a new song as late as 1921.[7]

E. D. Strang died in Dallas in 1922, and Fannie moved to Memphis to live with her daughter, Anita Bell. She united with Union Avenue Methodist Church, where her daughter was the long-time organist, and died in Memphis on October 24, 1935.

Stan Ingersol is a Church historian and manager of the Nazarene Archives.

[1] M. Finney, Life and Labors of Enoch Mather Marvin, Late Bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South (St. Louis: James H. Chambers, 1880), 119.

[2] “Testimony of J. B. McDowell, (M.) Fulton, Kentucky,” in Thomas Wadlington, Holiness; Revised and Enlarged (Fulton, KY: by the author, 1886), 82-87.

[3] Fannie McDowell Hunter, Women Preachers (Dallas: Berachah Printing Co., 1905), 49-53.

[4] The Memphis Press-Scimitar (Oct. 25, 1935), 6.

[5] Also known as Peniel University, the school was a parent-institution of Southern Nazarene University.

[6] Nazarene Bible Institute later moved to Hamlin, Texas, and became Central Nazarene University. Thus, Fannie McDowell Hunter served at two different schools that were parent institutions of present-day Southern Nazarene University.

[7] Catalog of Copyright Entries, Part 3: Musical Compositions, New Series, Volume 16, Part 2 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1922), 1529.

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