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Alma Bridwell White

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Alma Bridwell White
Alma White 01b.jpg
White circa 1900-1910
Born Mollie Alma Bridwell
June 16, 1862(1862-06-16)
Lewis County, Kentucky
Died June 26, 1946 (aged 84)
Zarephath, New Jersey
Nationality American
Occupation Bishop in Pillar of Fire Church
Known for First woman bishop of the United States. Noted supporter of the Ku Klux Klan.
Successor Arthur Kent White
Religion Pillar of Fire Church
Children Ray Bridwell White
Arthur Kent White
Parents Mary Ann Harrison (1832-1921)
William Moncure Bridwell (1825-1907)
Relatives Arlene White Lawrence, grandaughter
Kathleen M. White,

This Tree Must Come Down. Illustration by Reverend Branford Clarke promoting Bishop White's view of the Roman Catholic Church in The Ku Klux Klan In Prophecy 1925.

Alma Bridwell White (June 16, 1862 – June 26, 1946) was the founder, and a bishop, of the Pillar of Fire Church.[1][2] In 1918, she became the first woman bishop in the United States.[2][3] She was noted for her association with the Ku Klux Klan in New Jersey.[4]

Birth and early years

She was born as Mollie Alma Bridwell on June 16, 1862 in Kinniconick, Lewis County, Kentucky to William Moncure Bridwell (1825-1907) of Virginia; and Mary Ann Harrison (1832-1921) of Kentucky.[5][6]

William Baxter Godbey converted her to Wesleyan Methodism in a Kentucky schoolhouse revival meeting in 1878.[7] She wrote that "some were so convicted that they left the room and threw up their suppers, and staggered back into the house as pale as death."[8] By 1880 the family was living in Millersburg, Kentucky.[9]

She studied at the Millersburg Female College in Millersburg, Kentucky. An aunt invited one of the seven Bridwell sisters to visit Montana Territory, Alma was her last choice. Each of the others was afraid to make the journey, but in 1882, nineteen-year-old Alma took the chance and went to Bannack, Montana. She stayed to teach, first in public school, and later in Salt Lake City's Methodist seminary. In 1887 she married Kent White (1860-1940), who at the time was a Methodist seminarian. They had two sons, Ray Bridwell White and Arthur Kent White.[10]

Alma and Kent started the Methodist Pentecostal Union Church in Denver, Colorado in December 1901. She led hymns and prayers and at times preached sermons. In 1907 Caroline Garretson, formerly Carolin Van Neste Field, widow of Peter Workman Garretson, donated a farm for a community at Zarephath, New Jersey. In 1918, White was consecrated as a bishop by William Baxter Godbey, an ordained Methodist evangelist.[7][11][12] She was now the first woman bishop in the United States.[3]

Politics: feminism, intolerance and the KKK

As a feminist, White was a forceful advocate of equality for white Protestant women. However, she was also uncompromising in her persistent and powerful attacks of religious and racial minorities, justifying both equality for white Protestant women and inequality for minorities as biblically mandated. While the vast majority of her most vicious political attacks targeted the Roman Catholic Church, she also promoted antisemitism, white supremacy and intolerance of certain immigrants.[4]

Under White's leadership in the 1920s, the Pillar of Fire Church developed a close and public partnership with the Ku Klux Klan that was unique for a religious denomination.[13] She saw the Klan as a powerful force that could help liberate white Protestant women, while simultaneously keeping minorities in their place.[4] Her support of the Klan was extensive.[13][4][14][15] She allowed and sometimes participated in Klan meetings and cross burnings on some of the numerous Pillar of Fire properties. She published The Good Citizen, a monthly periodical which heavily promoted the Klan and its agenda. Additionally, she published three books, The Ku Klux Klan In Prophecy, Klansmen: Guardians of Liberty, and Heroes of the Fiery Cross, which were compendiums of the essays, speeches and cartoons that had originally been published in The Good Citizen.

While her association with the Klan waned in the early 1930s, she continued to promote her ideology of intolerance for religious and racial minorities. She even republished her three Klan books in 1943, three years before her death and 21 years after her initial association with the Klan. The books were published as a three volume set under the name Guardians of Liberty. Notably, the word Klansmen was removed from the title, suggesting White's distancing from the Klan while continuing to promote the dogma that initially drew her to partner with the Klan. Volumes two and three of Guardians of Liberty have introductions by Arthur Kent White, her son and the Pillar of Fire's second general superintendent.


Time magazine wrote on October 22, 1928:

Aimee Semple McPherson [spoke] ... Worst of all, there came a rival female evangelist from New Jersey, a resolute woman with the mien of an inspired laundress — the Reverend "Bishop" Mrs. Mollie Alma White, founder and primate of the Pillar of Fire Church. Bishop White, who has thousands of disciples ("Holy Jumpers") in the British Isles, clearly regarded Mrs. McPherson as a poacher upon her preserves or worse. Squired by two male Deacons, the Reverend Bishop sat herself down in a box at Albert Hall, with an air of purposing to break up the revival. The dread potency of Bishop White, when aroused against another female, may be judged from her scathing criticisms of the Church of Mary Baker Eddy: "The teachings of the so-called Christian Science Church ... have drawn multitudes from the orthodox faith, and blasted their hopes of heaven! ... A person who is thus in the grip of Satanic power is unable to extricate himself ... [and is] left in utter spiritual desolation." Well might buxom Aimee McPherson have quailed as she faced 2,000 tepid Britons, over 8,000 empty seats, the two Deacons and "Bishop" Mrs. White.[16]


In 1927, a transmitter and radio equipment were installed at Belleview College in Westminster, Colorado to promote the college based in the Westminster Castle. By June 1929, the call letters had been changed to KPOF and the station was broadcasting regular sermons from Alma Temple, the Pillar's Denver Church. In March 1931, WBNY was sold to White and the Pillar of Fire Church for $5,000. The call letters were changed to WAWZ (the letters standing for Alma White, Zarephath. In its initial broadcast, she told listeners, "The station belongs to all regardless of your affiliation."[3] In 1961 Pillar of Fire also started WAKW in Cincinnati. The AKW represents the name of Arthur Kent White, Alma's son.


She died on June 26, 1946 in Zarephath, New Jersey.[2][17]

See also



Further reading


  1. Robert McHenry (1983). Famous American women. ISBN 0486245233. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 "Bishop Alma White, Preacher, Author; Founder Of Pillar Of Fire Dies at 84. Established Several Schools And Colleges.". Associated Press in New York Times. June 27, 1946. Retrieved 2007-07-21. "Bishop Alma White, founder of the Pillar of Fire Church and author of thirty-five religious tracts and some 200 hymns, died here today at the headquarters of the religious group at near-by Zarephath. Her age was 84." 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 "Bishop v. Drink.". Time (magazine). December 18, 1939.,9171,763099,00.html. Retrieved 2007-08-21. "Her church became known as the Pillar of Fire. Widowed, Mrs. White started a pious, shouting, camp-meeting community in New Jersey, named it Zarephath after the place where the 'widow woman' sustained Elijah. Alma White was soon acting like a bishop toward her flock; why should she not be "the first woman bishop in the history of the Christian church?" Pillar of Fire consecrated her as such in 1918. Indomitable Bishop White has built 49 churches, three colleges. She edits six magazines, travels continually between Zarephath and the West. She learned to drive an automobile at 50, to swim at 55, to paint in oils at 70. She has two radio stations, WAWZ at Zarephath, KPOF in Denver, where her Alma Temple is also a thriving concern. Her Prohibition plays, written with broadcasting in mind, had their premiere there. Her audience, recruited from Denver churches, thought them pillar-powerful, fiery-fierce ..." 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Kristin E. Kandt (2000). "Historical Essay: In the Name of God; An American Story of Feminism, Racism, and Religious Intolerance: The Story of Alma Bridwell White.". American University Journal of Gender, Social Policy and the Law. 8: 753. "Alma White and the Pillar of Fire were unique, however, in their public alliance with the Ku Klux Klan. In fact, the Pillar of Fire was the only religious group to publicly associate itself with the Klan.". 
  5. Bridwells in the 1870 US Census in Millersburg, Kentucky
  6. William and Mary married on March 19, 1851. Her siblings include: Martha Gertrude Bridwell (1853-?) who was born on March 18, 1852 and married a Davis; James Robert Bridwell (1853-?) who was born on March 18, 1852; Emery Bascom Bridwell (1856-1928) who was born on Valentines Day, February 14, 1856 and died on March 28, 1928; Amanda Frances Bridwell (1857-?) who was born on May 31, 1857, married a Savage, and died on March 23, 1938; Ann Eliza Bridwell (1859-1953) who was born on December 16, 1859, married a Boardman, and died on September 26, 1953; Venora Ella Bridwell (1861-1942) who was born on January 18, 1861, married David E. Metlen in 1887, and died on May 9, 1942 in Dillon, Montana; Teresa West Bridwell (1865-1944) who was born on August 16, 1862, married a Meade, and died on May 30, 1944; Kate Laura Bridwell (1867-1935) who was born on February 22, 1867, married a Ferrell, and died on November 3, 1935; Rollie Taylor Bridwell (1868-1947) who was born on September 3, 1868 and died on May 23, 1947; and Charles William Bridwell (1872-1952) who was born on July 25, 1872 and died on January 21, 1952.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Barry W. Hamilton. "William Baxter Godbey". Roberts Wesleyan College. Retrieved 2010-01-07. "After 1868, Godbey served several Methodist charges as pastor, was appointed twice as a presiding elder on the Kentucky ..." 
  8. Alma White (1919). The Story of My Life. Pillar of Fire Church. 
  9. Bridwells in the 1880 US Census in Millersburg, Kentucky
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 "Alma Bridwell White". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 2007-08-21. "Née Mollie Alma Bridwell. American religious leader who was a founder and major moving force in the evangelical Methodist Pentecostal Union Church, which split from mainstream Methodism in the early 20th century. Alma Bridwell grew up in a dour family of little means. She studied at the Millersburg (Kentucky) Female College and in 1882 moved ..." 
  11. While Godbey's obituary published by the Kentucky Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, following his death said "He was neither a pastor nor a presiding elder", Godbey was appointed presiding elder of the Barboursville District in 1873, and the London Mission District from 1874 to 1876. See Barry W. Hamilton (2000). William Baxter Godbey: Itinerant Apostle of the Holiness Movement (Edwin Mellen Press):45. ISBN 0773478159.
  12. Barry W. Hamilton (2000). William Baxter Godbey: Itinerant Apostle of the Holiness Movement. Edwin Mellen Press. p. 45. ISBN 0773478159. 
  13. 13.0 13.1 Lynn S. Neal (2009). "Christianizing the Klan: Alma White, Branford Clarke, and the Art of Religious Intolerance". Church History Studies in Christianity and Culture 78 (2): 350. "White’s words and Clarke’s imagery combined in various ways to create a persuasive and powerful message of religious intolerance.". 
  14. Women of the Klan. 1991. "Bishop White’s transformation from minister to Klan propagandist is detailed in voluminous autobiographical and political writing. [Bishop] White’s anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic, and racist message fit well into the Klan’s efforts to convince white Protestant women that their collective interests as women....were best served by joining the Klan." 
  15. White, Alma (1928). Heroes of the Fiery Cross. The Good Citizen. "I believe in white supremacy." 
  16. "Poor Aimee". Time (magazine). October 22, 1928.,9171,732031,00.html?promoid=googlep. Retrieved 2007-08-21. "Worse still, a mere 2,000 slummy people paid admission the second evening. Worst of all, there came a rival female evangelist from New Jersey, a resolute woman with the mien of an inspired laundress—the Reverend "Bishop" Mrs. Mollie Alma White, founder and primate of the Pillar of Fire Church. Bishop White, who has thousands of disciples ("Holy Jumpers") in the British Isles, clearly regarded Mrs. McPherson as a poacher upon her preserves or worse. Squired by two male Deacons, the Reverend Bishop sat herself down in a box at Albert Hall, with an air of purposing to break up the revival." 
  17. "Fundamentalist Pillar.". Time (magazine). July 8, 1946.,9171,778753,00.html. Retrieved 2007-09-25. "'Political parties yell themselves hoarse when the name of a nominee is mentioned. Why not shout in ecstasy when the name of the Lord is called? If you are happy, let the whole world know it. Do not keep your joy bottled up.' Fundamentalist ecstasy and hallelujah-shouting were a vital part of masterful, deep-voiced Alma White's faith. On it she built a sect called Pillar of Fire — with 4,000 followers, 61 churches, seven schools, ten periodicals and two broadcasting stations. Last week, as it must even to 'the only woman bishop in the world,' Death came to the Pillar of Fire's 84-year-old founder." 
  18. Randall Balmer (2004). Encyclopedia of Evangelicalism. ISBN 1-932792-04-X. "Alma White moved to Zarephath, New Jersey, in 1907, where a donation of land made ... She founded Alma White College (since renamed Zarephath Bible College) ..." 


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