Aimee Semple McPherson’s daughter recalls her mother’s courage

Roberta Semple Salter, the late daughter of Foursquare Founder Aimee Semple McPherson, shares about her mother’s strength and courage to share the gospel and help others, no matter what the cost.

It is both a surprise and a privilege when people recognize me as the daughter of a storied evangelist. Complete strangers feel as though they know me because they knew about Mother. However, my stories about her might be just a bit different than others you have seen and read.

When she answered the call of God to preach the gospel, she knew that it would be a difficult, yet joyous, task. Her first challenge came when she and my father were doing missionary work in China. Father, whom I never had the privilege of knowing, contracted both malaria and dysentery, and died before I was born, leaving his wife behind as a soon-to-be single mother in a foreign land.

Not only did she deliver a healthy baby, but she also recovered from the same illness that had taken Father’s life. When we were both well enough to travel, she made the arduous journey back to the U.S. and a very different life than she had imagined with Robert on the mission field.

The call of God was strong, and she preached, supported by a growing daughter and my grandmother, Minnie Kennedy. Grandmother was the business mind and was savvier in the ways of the world than was my mother. They locked horns at times, which has gotten more press than it deserves considering that most families have their disagreements.

Grandmother held to her convictions and stood by mother’s side through most decisions. However, if Grandmother just could not agree with a decision she thought was wrong, she said so, in no uncertain terms. But she also was a reasonable person.

From the beginning of her ministry, Mother filled meeting halls and revival tents to capacity, and thousands upon thousands of people came to hear her preach. Opposition came most often from preachers whose churches were consistently half-filled. When critics warned people not to attend her meetings, they came all the more.

Perhaps one of Mother’s biggest accomplishments was the way she shared the love of Christ with people in need. In the early years, the Angelus Temple switchboard rang directly to a phone by her bed at night. She never wanted to miss a call for help.


Mother believed that the best part of rabbit stew was the rabbit, and said you have to know how to get the rabbit’s attention if you ever hope to have the stew. I think she applied this concept to her sermons. She found the way to attract people to hear the gospel, and when they came, she made sure to tell them.

Hollywood legends Sid Grauman and Charlie Chaplin were just two icons of the movie industry who compared notes with Mother about drawing crowds. I don’t believe either of them ever professed Christ as Savior, but who knows, maybe somewhere, somehow, the message she preached reached even them. The truth is, during that time, no theater in town drew the crowds that Mother did at Angelus Temple.

Rolf and Roberta

One of the things that most distressed Mother was racial segregation, especially in the Deep South. When she held tent meetings in the South, she was aggravated that the tent was filled to capacity with white people, but black people were kept on the outside. Her heart was touched when she saw clusters of black worshipers singing along outside the tent, and she vowed to do something about it.

Before the next night’s service, she met with the sponsors of the meeting and told them to make room inside the tent for black people. They resisted, and she wore them down. When she learned that their plan included putting them on the sides or in the back, she put her foot down. “They will sit in the center section,” she demanded. “The white people can sit on the side or in the back, if they want to attend.”

One of the things that most distressed Mother was racial segregation, especially in the Deep South. When she held tent meetings in the South, she was aggravated that the tent was filled to capacity with white people, but black people were kept on the outside.


Like my grandmother, Mother held to her convictions like flint. She had a distinctive way about her that some called flamboyance. She dared not go to a restaurant for a hot dog or ham sandwich because just one word out of her mouth gave away who she was.

One Sunday following a water baptismal service, Mother was leaving Angelus Temple through the side door that led to her parsonage. A hullabaloo was stirring outside, and someone explained that a particular woman who had been baptized was missing. She left behind her clothing and other belongings, but her baptismal gown and the woman in it were gone.

The press ate it up, and Grandmother was furious. Some claimed the woman had been translated to heaven after being baptized by Mother. Others just claimed that the Temple was pulling a publicity stunt.

A woman named Tulie knocked on the parsonage door the following day to apologize and explain what really happened. Her cousin dared her to do it, but afterward she couldn’t stand the conviction, so she owned up to what she had done. We became friends with Tulie, and ever after she would drop by the parsonage with sandwiches for Mother or a quart of ice cream that she liked.

People tried to take advantage of Mother’s good nature by trying to sell her everything from a koala bear to a yacht; because in their pitch, she deserved it or needed it for comfortable living. Grandmother especially disliked such characters because she knew their true motives, while often my mother did not. She trusted everyone to a fault.

One detractor tried to discredit her right to vote in U.S. elections because she had been born in Canada. What they did not realize was that she became a U.S. citizen when she married her second husband, Harold McPherson, my brother Rolf’s father. Mother could not locate her marriage certificate to prove her citizenship and called Grandmother, who was always there to help. Grandmother called me because I was living in New York at the time. She knew I could get a copy of the certificate at City Hall, which I did, and that quelled the challenge once and for all.

Perhaps one of Mother’s biggest accomplishments was the way she shared the love of Christ with people in need. In the early years, the Angelus Temple switchboard rang directly to a phone by her bed at night. She never wanted to miss a call for help.

About 3 a.m. one Sunday morning, a police officer called. While patrolling his beat outside the city among orange groves and gardens, he heard a woman screaming. He investigated and found a woman with three young children in severe distress. The woman’s husband was off looking for work, and she had gone into premature labor with their fourth child.

Mother called friends from the Temple who lived in the woman’s area, and they responded immediately to provide food for the children, medical aid for the woman and her newborn baby, and a place for them to live until the husband returned home to help.

That morning during Sunday service, Mother made an appeal to the congregation. “We need City Sisters in each quadrant of the city that will be ready on a moment’s notice to reach out and bless people in need,” she challenged. From that experience, the “City Sisters” organization was formed, a ministry that later became the Angelus Temple Commissary and would serve the needs of millions during the Great Depression.

Yes, it is indeed a privilege to recount stories from Mother’s life and ministry, and to know the amazing things God did through her. Most of all, I am thankful for her being my mother, the one who gave me life, and a lifetime of love and nurture.

Roberta Semple Salter (1910-2007) was the daughter of Foursquare’s founder, Aimee Semple McPherson. This article is adapted from a video interview.

(1910-2007) was the daughter of Foursquare’s founder, Aimee Semple McPherson.
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