|Creator:||Stirlen, Edythe (1895-1987)|
|Extent:||4.00 linear feet.|
|Repository:||Iowa Women's Archives|
|Summary:||One of the first ordained female ministers in the Midwest whose sermons were broadcast on radio stations KFNF and KMA for over sixty years in Shenandoah, Iowa.|
The Reverend Edythe Stirlen, affectionately known as the "Little Minister," broadcast her sermons on the radio for over sixty years in Shenandoah, Iowa. One of the first ordained women ministers in the Midwest, Stirlen began her career at KFEQ in St. Joseph, Missouri, although she spent most of her career at KFNF and KMA in Shenandoah. From 1925 to the early 1980s Stirlen preached, sang hymns, and announced birthdays and anniversaries over the radio to her listeners all over the country. Although she was a member of and ordained in the Christian Church, her sermons were non-denominational. Her loyal followers were for the most part "shut-ins" and the elderly, who Stirlen tried to help with her upbeat message and cheerful programs. She also conducted hundreds of wedding ceremonies for couples on the radio and in her home throughout the years. Unlike many ministers at the time, Stirlen even married couples who had been previously divorced, believing that they deserved another chance.
Born near Cimarron, Kansas, to Samuel Hezekiah Elemand Plona Jane Camden Elem in 1895, Stirlen was the youngest of seven children. Her parents were homesteaders who traveled to western Kansas in a covered wagon and started out in a sod house, eventually progressing to a seven-room farmhouse. Stirlen likened her experience in radio to her parents' experience in Kansas: "I was a pioneer in radio like my father was a pioneer on the prairie. I guess pioneering runs in my blood."
Stirlen attended the University of Kansas at Lawrence and taught at a school until she met and married Joseph E. Swartz in 1920. They had three daughters, Josephine, Rosalee, and Wren. The marriage ended in divorce in 1927. To support her daughters, Stirlen played the organ in a church and gave elocution lessons. The girls had been sent to live with three aunts in different states but the family was reunited in 1930 when Stirlen married Carl J. Stirlen and moved to Shenandoah.
Edythe Stirlen was considered a talented singer who also played the guitar. During her career she received thousands of letters from across the country. Fans also visited her at the station and at her home. During the years that she held S.O.S. conventions in Shenandoah, thousands of people attended to meet the Little Minister. She also reached out to her followers through published prayer pamphlets, postcards and calendars.
In 1935 Stirlen started the S.O.S. (Send Out Sunshine)Signal, a monthly (later bimonthly) magazine for her "congregation." S.O.S. Signal, the second-oldest magazine in Shenandoah (next to Kitchen Klatter), offered home remedies, recipes, advice, sermons, answers to letters, and news of various people and their families. It ended in 1981 when Stirlen retired.
In 1972 Stirlen organized a trip to Jerusalem for herself and eleven others. It was an apparent success for she said of the trip: "I still live in the afterglow of that wonderful experience." In 1978, she published two books, The Little Minister's Devotional Selection and From the Land of the Tumbleweed: Tales of my Childhood, a collection of
humorous, autobiographical anecdotes, dedicated to shut-ins and the aged because "they have very little to laugh about."
Besides her radio work and ministerial duties, Stirlen was active in a hospital auxiliary, the Eastern Star, the White Shrine of Jerusalem, the Nautilus Club (a study club), and the Woman's Christian Temperance Union. She also devoted much of her time to her church by visiting sick and aged members, singing in the choir, teaching Sunday school and substituting for the minister on occasion.
She died on September 17, 1987.
Access: The papers are open for research.
Use: Copyright held by the donor has been transferred to The University of Iowa.
Acquisition: The papers (donor no. 206) were donated by Rosalee Hillman in 1994.
Preferred Citation: Edythe Stirlen papers, Iowa Women's Archives, The University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City.
|Repository:||Iowa Women's Archives|
|Address:||100 Main Library |
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City, IA 52242
This collection is indexed under the following subject terms.