The Great Mansfield Revival of 1915

Let me give you a glimpse into a different world.

It was Mansfield—so there are familiar aspects to this other world—but the people in that Mansfield lived a very different life from what we know of our city in the current century.

This was 1915.  There was no television, no radio.  There was certainly nothing like wifi, and for the folks back then ‘social media’ took the form of post cards, newspapers, and long handwritten letters.

Some folks had a phone in their house, but all the phone numbers in Mansfield had only 3 digits.  If you really needed to get ahold of someone you sent a telegram.

Those Mansfielders had a very different sense of community than what we experience today.

The population in the city was 22,417, roughly half of what it is now.  There were 36 churches here made of 18 major denominations, including ‘Misc.’

In the autumn of 1915 however, there was only one church.

All the many denominations were still in business—they had their customary Sunday morning observations as usual—but come Sunday afternoon, and then Sunday evening, and then every other day of the week, believers from every denomination made their way to the corner of First and Blymyer where there was a makeshift wooden tabernacle constructed.

Sunday to Sunday, every weekday; twice a day—and often 3 times a day—thousands of Mansfielders went to the tabernacle in droves.

This went on for 6 weeks that fall…for 45 days in a row.  It was a truly remarkable social phenomenon that took place in Mansfield. 

It was an honest-to-God city-wide tent Revival, only it was held in a wooden pavilion that got swelteringly hot during the afternoons.  They called it the ‘wooden tent.”

At the head of the crusade was an evangelist who was among the foremost spokesman for Bible based ethics in his day: the Reverend Bob Jones.

His organization staged dozens of Revivals in towns and cities all over America every year, so they were well organized.  On the day they agreed to come to Mansfield they were already well practiced at all the most effective advertising, stagecraft, and networking skills necessary to achieve the most effective yield of souls.

And Mansfield was one of their most spectacular and conspicuous successes.

Bob Jones in 1915. (Bob Jones University Archives)

The Order of Service

There is a timeworn and traditional method to conducting a Revival meeting: it requires a perfect sense of theater and timing to build momentum and emotion through words and songs and prayers.  It involves a perfect mix of surprising moments contrasting with sweet old familiar traditions; and a spark of live testimony balanced with steadfast ancient scripture.  It is an art form.

And Bob Jones was one of the most consummate artists of his day.

The way we know this today—100 years later—is by the numbers.

When he opened his first service in Mansfield on Sunday, September 14, 1915 there were 4,700 people jammed into the tabernacle.

The next day there were 10,000.

On Thursday, the date when the paper promised he would speak on ‘The Sins of Mansfield,’ there were 17,000 people in that building.

The newspaper documented the proceedings every day and night.  Reporters made notes on the sermons, kept track of the guest appearances, and counted the converts.

Every day they published a running tally from the collection plate.  The biggest single take was on October 22 when 225 converts walked to the rail after Jones’ appeal.  That night they took in $4,808.33.

When it was all over, on October 24, the Revival had harvested 2,682 new souls.

The Auxiliaries

That wasn’t all though.  Every morning there were women’s discussion groups and prayer meetings.  Every noon there were businessmen’s Bible studies and evangelism calls.

There was a ‘Farmer’s Night.’  There was a ‘Shelby Night.’

There was a choir loft that held 300, and on ‘The Sins of Mansfield’ night it had 400 voices.

On Friday night before the Revival closed, Mansfield put on full blown parade of the converted.  With two marching bands bookending the crowd, a thousand newly saved souls strode around downtown and out to the Tabernacle.  Accounts said there were 364 men and 460 women.

The Tabernacle was located on the southeast corner of First and Blymyer Streets.  It was built in 12 days by local volunteers who numbered from 20 to 80 on different days.

The site of the 1915 Tabernacle is residential today, and the only apparent correlation to 100 years ago is the fire plug at the corner.

The Tabernacle was built to hold 5,000 believers.  Folks in the neighborhood said it looked like a zeppelin hangar.  During the 6 weeks of services there was not a day when fewer than 10,000 people attended in the AM and PM.

Many nights there were 1,000 people standing around the walls when the seating was filled, and on the final day at least 5,000 folks were turned away because the place was already too crowded to breathe.

Before Rev. Bob Jones boarded the train to leave town when it was all over, he spoke to reporters and said that Mansfield was his greatest victory.

He also said that Mansfield was his greatest victory because it had put up the hardest fight, but looking at the numbers it doesn’t look like the city was putting up that much of a struggle.

The Sense of Community

There isn’t much awareness today of the great Mansfield Revival of 1915 because there really is no frame of reference in our 21st century paradigm where such a communal experience can be placed in a context that is recognizable.

That kind of community interaction, networking, involvement simply doesn’t exist anymore in our current experience of American civilization, at least not in the comprehensive, all-inclusive way it could 100 years ago.

Try to imagine ¾ of Mansfield showing up for something…anything, and you’ll get a sense of what a different world it was here in 1915.

A crush of men gathered for an afternoon rally advertised as ‘A Man’s Route to Heaven.’

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