The Topeka Outpouring of 1901

There are conflicting narratives on the timeline and exact events that preceded the initial outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Topeka. Parham notes the events occurred on New Year's Eve, while Ozman recounts it happened the night of January 1. James Goff points out that Parham's account mimics his own account of what happened exactly one year earlier in Shiloh, Maine, when Parham witnessed for the first time Stanford's followers speaking in tounges. Pentecostals have taken this story as proof the movement was controlled by the Holy Spirit, with no human foundation. While this characterization inherently appealed to Parham, it would later be used to deemphasize Parham's role in the founding of Pentecostalism and in some cases remove him from the narrative completely. 

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Agnes Ozman was the first of Parham's students to begin speaking in tongues.

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A sample of Ozman's "Chinese" writing.

According to Parham, he returned to the school around 10:00 AM and gathered all of the students together to get their reports on the question of Holy Spirit baptism. Each had come to the same conclusion, that on each occasion the Pentecostal blessing fell, it was marked by speaking in tongues. That evening sister Agnes Ozman (later LaBerge) asked that hands may be laid on her so she might receive the Holy Spirit. Parham was initially reluctant because he had not yet personally had this experience. However, he eventually decided to trust in Jesus and began praying over Ozman.

“I had scarcely repeated three dozen sentences when a glory fell upon her, a halo seemed to surround her head and face, and she began speaking in the Chinese language, and was unable to speak English for three days. When she tried to write in English to tell us of her experience she wrote in the Chinese language” (Parham 51-53).

Over the course of about a week, each of the students at Bethel Bible College began to speak in tongues. Along with the gift of glossolalia, speaking in tongues, some students received the ability to interpret and translate the speech of others into English. Some also experienced the same phenomena as Ozman of being temporarily unable to communicate in English, which included writing in foreign languages. The last to receive this blessing was Parham. He praised God for pouring out his gifts on their school and prayed for the same blessing.

“He distinctly made it clear to me that he raised me up and trained me to declare this mighty truth to the world, and if I was willing to stand for it, with all the persecutions, hardships, trials, slander, scandal that it would entail. He would give me the blessing. And I said ‘Lord I will, if you will just give me this blessing. ’Right then there came a slight twist in my throat, a glory fell over me and I began to worship God in the Swedish tongue, which later changed to other languages and continued so until the morning” (Parham 53-54).

Public Response

Reports of the strange happenings occurring at Bethel soon were picked up by local newspapers. Reporters from Topeka, Kansas City, St. Louis, and other cities converged on Stone’s Folly. These reporters were joined by professors of languages, foreigners, and government employees. Some witnesses noted that the students were speaking in the languages of the world with proper accent and intonation, not stuttering, or jabbering incoherently. Others found the speech unintelligible.

Most newspapers were unconvinced by the reports of tongue-speakers communicating in foreign languages. The majority of reports were critical and described the speech as "gibberish" and "weird babel." Most accounts of written tongues, glossographia, also were met with suspicion. There were also two students from the bible college who never received the gift of speaking in tongues, were skeptical of the whole phenomena, and left the college.

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For a selection of accounts of what occurred when the Holy Spirit allegedly came to Stone's Folly, see The Topeka Outpouring of 1901: Eyewitness Accounts of the Revival That Birthed the 20th Century Pentecostal/Charismatic Movements by Larry E. Martin.

Scholastic Analysis

There were numerous reports of foreigners who reported they heard or thought they heard their native tongue being spoken by one of Parham's followers. However, these are almost impossible to verify. In 1914 Charles Shumway conducted research to identify the "professors of languages" and "government interpreters" who Parham claimed had authenticated experiences of xenoglossy. Shumway failed to find anyone willing to corroborate these claims. 

Non-Pentecostal scholars since Shumway have recognized the possibility that tongues-speaking was a product of cryptomnesia, where "foreign language forms are stored in the memory of an individual without any conscious effort at retention. At a moment of intense stress, the mind then furnishes these words automatically. The effect is a kind of 'simulated xenoglossia' since the speaker knows-but doesn't think he knows-the foreign words" (Goff 77). The linguistic diversity in Kansas due to immigration does mean native English speakers were exposed to foreign languages and it is reasonable they picked up different words without intending to. They were also expecting to have the experience of speaking in tongues. However, there is also no evidence if cryptomnesia actually occurred, and if it did how extensive it was.

Glossolalia and Evangelizing

There were also missionaries sent into the field armed with a belief that the blessing of the Holy Spirit would allow them to communicate with the natives. This proved to be untrue.  Many missionaries came back disheartened. In response, Parham shifted his theology to reflect that speaking in tongues was a divine language, but did not produce recognizable world languages. This did not affect his assertion of tongues as initial evidence for Holy Spirit baptism.

Significance of the Topeka Outpouring

While there had been other cases of speaking in tongues and various manifestations of divine blessing, the Topeka Outpouring justified Parham's belief in glossolalia as evidence for Holy Spirit baptism. The events in Topeka marked the first time a charismatic manifestation survived and expanded and eventually had the framework of a denomination built around it. This initial outpouring shaped both the theology and the public perception of the Apostolic Faith, which would become Pentecostalism.

The Demise of Stone's Folly

Due to negative press over the Topeka outpouring, the American Sunday School Union of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania who owned the building, refused to renew Parham's lease. Upon departing, Parham warned that if the building was used for anything other than a holy purpose there would be dire consequences. The mansion was sold, on July 20, 1901, to notorious bootlegger Harry Croft who converted the residence into a roadhouse. Shortly afterward it burnt to the ground in a mysterious fire.

Parham's Ministry Expands

Parham relocated his ministry to Kansas City, Missouri where his message was met with resistance, but he persevered holding street meetings and opening another Bible college. He found more success in Galena, Kansas. Here Parham held meetings in a grocery store that sat approximately 2,000 people, which was often filled. While in Kansas City, Parham published his book A Voice Crying in the Wilderness. In the first half of this book, Parham outlines his basic beliefs on baptism, the church, etc. The later half of the book is devoted to Parham's views on eschatology, including some of his most outlandish beliefs, including a belief that Americans are the lost ten tribes, and that the Davidic line is preserved in the British royal family.

Click here to read A Voice Crying in the Wilderness 

Parham also had ministry success in Joplin, Missouri and Orchard, Texas, speaking to sizable audiences and establishing churches in both cities.

Goff, James R. Fields White Unto Harvest: Charles F. Parham and the Missionary Origins
of Pentecostalism. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1988.

Martin, Larry E. The Topeka Outpouring of 1901: Eyewitness Accounts of the Revival That Birthed the 20th Century Pentecostal/Charismatic Movements. Joplin, Mo.: Christian Life Books, 1997.

Martin, Larry E. The Topeka Outpouring of 1901: Eyewitness Accounts of the Revival That Birthed the 20th Century Pentecostal/Charismatic Movements. Joplin, Mo.: Christian Life Books, 1997.

Beginning of Pentecostalism
The Topeka Outpouring of 1901