Evangelist Billy Sunday (1862––1935) is well-known for an aggressively masculine platform style that was clearly aimed at attracting a male audience to his urban revival campaigns. Less recognized but equally important are Sunday's meetings for ““women only,”” in which the handsome, athletic evangelist preached passionate, explicit sermons on sexual vice to an audience that had been purged of all male interlopers. Though Sunday's ostensible purpose was to reinforce traditional Victorian morality——the sermons were originally meant to rail against birth control——the social context for his message subtly undermined its conservative aim. As is illustrated by his campaign in Boston during the winter of 1916––1917, Sunday was perceived by many of his contemporaries, both men and women, as scandalously frank to the point of sexual crudeness. Critics and supporters alike described him in the same terms they used for vaudeville and theater idols, a notion that ex-baseball player Sunday did little to dispel. Yet, evangelical Protestant women came to hear his muscular Christian message anyway. The ability of his female audiences to adapt to——and obviously enjoy——Sunday's physical stage presence suggests that often-used terms like ““feminization”” and ““masculinization”” are too stark to describe the transition from Victorian to modern forms of religious behavior. Women's response to Sunday, situated at the intersection of evangelical religion and popular entertainment culture, demonstrates the durability of feminine religious tastes and suggests ways in which the blurring and confusion of formal gender categories factored into the transition from Victorian piety into the more individualized, popularized forms of religious faith in the twentieth century. Women were not passive observers in the transformation of American religion but central to the nature and direction of its survival.
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