Kuhlman, Kathryn (1907–1976)

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Kuhlman, Kathryn (1907–1976)

American evangelist. Born on May 9, 1907, in Concordia, Missouri; died on February 20, 1976, in Tulsa, Oklahoma; daughter of Joseph Kuhlman and Emma (Walkenhorst) Kuhlman; married Burroughs Waltrip, in October 1938 (divorced 1948); no children.

Kathryn Kuhlman, whose ministry across the United States spanned five decades, was a nationally known evangelical preacher. Born on a small farm in Missouri in 1907, Kuhlman and her three siblings received minimal schooling. Their mother tried to raise them in the Methodist Church over the objections of their atheist father. At age 14, Kuhlman underwent a profound religious conversion at a Baptist revival meeting and began attending services regularly. In the summer of 1923, against her parents' wishes, she left Concordia for Oregon to help her evangelist sister and brother-in-law lead revival meetings. Though Kuhlman had planned to spend only the summer with her sister, she continued to help them with their ministry for the next five years.

In 1928, Kuhlman began preaching as her brother-in-law's substitute. Her popularity led to a five-year evangelist tour of the western U.S., arranging and conducting revival meetings and healing sessions with a pianist to assist her. In 1933, Kuhlman settled briefly in Pueblo, Colorado; soon, with the encouragement of the local Baptist community, she moved to Denver. She rented a warehouse, converted it into a center for worship services called the Kuhlman Revival Tabernacle, and hired a small staff. Her simple, direct style of preaching made her a household name in Denver. Her tabernacle came to include Sunday school services and a short radio program as well.

In 1937, Kuhlman met Burroughs Waltrip, an evangelist based in Iowa whom she had invited to preach at her Denver tabernacle. The meeting led to a business partnership and ultimately to their marriage in 1938. It was a turning point in Kuhlman's ministry. Soon after the marriage was made public, her congregation learned that Waltrip had abandoned his wife and children and had been divorced by his wife for desertion. Kuhlman's choice to marry Waltrip cost her most of her popularity in Denver, and several employees of her ministry resigned in protest. Her friends urged her to leave Waltrip but Kuhlman believed she was in love and that God had brought them together to preach.

They left Denver to settle in Mason City, Iowa, but the scandal of Waltrip's past eventually spread there as well and the couple picked up stakes once more to begin a nationwide preaching tour. They remained on the road for several years though they met with little success, again because of Waltrip's divorce. By 1944, the marriage was over, and Kuhlman separated from Waltrip, although they did not finalize their divorce for four years. From that point on, Kuhlman struggled to reestablish herself as a legitimate evangelical preacher. By 1946, the scandal of her marriage had faded, and Kuhlman became the host of a weekly radio prayer program in Franklin, Pennsylvania, which was soon picked up across Pennsylvania. She also initiated a series of prayer meetings and revivals which met with growing success in the late 1940s.

In 1947, Kuhlman changed her previous focus on the gospel of salvation and congregational singing to include a healing service. She was fascinated by the process of religious healing and believed strongly in its possibilities.

However, she did not claim to actually perform healing miracles herself; instead, she saw herself as a vessel through which God acted to cure the ill. Soon the impromptu healing sessions became the standard ending to her worship services. She would ask members to come forward to describe their own healing, or she would lay hands on them and ask God to heal them.

By 1950, she had established a following strong enough to open a temple of her own in Pittsburgh, and also preached and performed healing sessions in cities across the state. Her regular revival meetings in Pittsburgh would continue until 1971. Throughout the 1950s, she steadily built a national following while defending herself against growing criticism from other leading evangelists, some of whom had lost congregation members to Kuhlman, over the veracity of her healing power. She consistently maintained that God had chosen her as an instrument of prayer and healing, and her growing audience in person and via radio testified to others' belief in her power to perform miracles. In 1957, her accountant Walter Adamack established the Kathryn Kuhlman Foundation in Pittsburgh, which administered her meetings and appearances and managed the sizable income she received from her followers' donations. The Foundation also made numerous gifts to aid other ministries worldwide.

Kuhlman brought her revival sessions to Los Angeles, California, where she preached regularly until 1975. Also in that year, Kuhlman made her first television appearances with her own weekly program on CBS. In addition, Kuhlman spread the gospel of salvation by publishing small booklets, many of which are still in print, that explained her message and provided testimonials from those who claimed to have been cured by her. As Kuhlman became an increasingly visible figure, the mass media began profiling her in mainstream magazines and talk shows, although she received both positive and negative treatments by the press for her message and style. Kuhlman's life became increasingly itinerant as she traveled several times a week across the United States, mainly between Pittsburgh and Los Angeles, but also, after 1973, throughout Canada as well. From her early days of arranging her own meetings Kuhlman progressed to a full-time staff of 11 accountants, managers, musicians, and vocalists. Yet it was not until her ordination by the Evangelical Church Alliance in 1968 that Kuhlman finally felt she had been given the legitimacy within her profession which she had long striven for.

By the early 1970s, Kuhlman's heavy schedule of travel and exhausting appearances had taken a toll on her health. Diagnosed with a heart condition, she continued to preach actively until she was hospitalized twice in 1975. She underwent open-heart surgery in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in February 1976 but died several days later, on February 20. After her death a considerable scandal followed the announcement that she had rewritten her will in 1975 and disinherited her family as well as her ministry. Her followers were surprised to learn that she did not intend the Kuhlman ministry to continue after her death. Instead, she left virtually all of her substantial personal wealth to two friends who had been her companions for the last year of her life. Kathryn Kuhlman is buried in Glendale, California.


Buckingham, Jamie. Daughter of Destiny: Kathryn Kuhlman… her story. Plainfield, NJ: Logos International, 1976.

Warner, Wayne. Kathryn Kuhlman: The Woman Behind the Miracles. Ann Arbor, MI: Servant Publications, 1993.

Laura York , Riverside, California

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Kuhlman, Kathryn (1907–1976)

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