Parham's Birth and Childhood
Charles Fox Parham was born in Muscatine, Iowa on June 4, 1873 to William H. Parham and Ann Maria Eckel. He was the middle of five sons. William Parham was a horse-collar maker, and evident by photos he purchased of his family, and a later large purchase of land, he was well off. Starting early and lasting the entirety of his life, Charles Parham experienced recurring health concerns. The most prevalent was rheumatic fever which weakened his heart, but he also suffered from overwhelming headaches, tapeworm, and medicinal side effects that caused stomach disorders. In 1878 the Parham family moved to Cheney, Kansas in Sedgwick County where Parham’s father bought 160 acres of land.
Due to his health, he was confined to less rigorous work with his mother around the house, at times given the opportunity to herd cattle. Because of the extra care given to him by his mother through his sickness, and the time they spent together, he formed a unique bond with his mother his brothers lacked. She was the only religious guidance he had in his early childhood. When his mother died in December 1885 due to complications in childbirth, Parham made a vow by her side to be with her in heaven, and committed his life to the ministry. Charles was given the task of caring for the home and for his new brother until his father remarried in 1886 to Harriet Miller. Harriet was a Methodist, and introduced the Parham family for the first time to organized religion.
Early Religious Influence
Much of Parham’s early life was away from organized religion until his father remarried. The sparsely populated Kansas landscape was both lacking in preachers and open to new religious voices. When the Parhams moved to Kansas in 1878, they had with them a small library. Parham recalls “It contained, as I remember: The letters from Hell, a natural history, a few antiquated school books, a dictionary, a history of all nations, recorded facts from early historic times until 1878; and last, but not least the Bible. The last two books were most valuable in preparing me for the work which has now developed upon me" (Parham 3). His lack of instruction as a youth was fodder for Parham to claim an unbiased reading of scripture later in life:
"Thus with no preconceived ideas, with no knowledge of what creeds and doctrines meant, not having any traditional spectacles upon the eyes to see through, I scarcely knew anything about church and Sunday School. These facts are stated to show that any early Scriptures were entirely unbiased" (Parham 3).
Renewed Conviction for the Ministry
At the age of thirteen he had his first conversion experience at a schoolhouse meeting held by Brother Lippard of the local Congregational Church. Out of fear that the services would stop if nobody identified themselves as a converted Christian, and with little else to do in the afternoons, Parham stood to count himself among the converted, though he was less convinced of it.
It was on his way home that he was truly convinced of his conversion:
“On the road home that night, the Holy Spirit wrought deep and pungent conviction on my heart; and from knowledge already obtained from Scriptures, I knew it would be utterly impossible to live a Christian life without a real conversion… So on that night when weighed down by mighty convictions, being unable to pray, I tried to sing… so humming that old familiar song, - “I am Coming to the Cross” - had reached the third verse, when with face upturned, and meaning every word of it… there flashed from the heavens a light above the brightness of the sun; like a stroke of lightning it penetrated, thrilling every fiber of my being; making me know by experimental knowledge what Peter knew of old, that he was the Christ, the Son of the Living God" (Parham 4-5).
After his conversion, he started teaching Sunday School for a local Mennonite church. At the age of fifteen he started holding public evangelism meetings. He felt the next necessary step for his ministry lay in a solid college education and formal ministerial training.