Skip to content
print page header

The University of Iowa Libraries

Guide to the Edythe Stirlen papers

Collection Overview

Date Span: 1930-1981
Creator: Stirlen, Edythe (1895-1987)
Extent: 4.00 linear feet.
Collection Number: IWA0139
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.

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
Phone: 319-335-5068
Curator: Kären Mason
Email: lib-women@uiowa.edu
Website: http://www.lib.uiowa.edu/iwa

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.

The Edythe Stirlen papers measure 4 linear feet and date from 1930 to 1981. The papers are arranged in three series: Biographical information, Radiobroadcasts and Printed materials. They document one woman's work as a broadcast minister from the early days of radio to the 1980s. There is very little on her life outside of radio.

Biographical information (1934-1940, 1975-1980 and undated) contains some correspondence to Stirlen including a telegram informing Stirlen of her father's death as well as a memofrom Earl May explaining why her program had been moved from one time slot toanother. Additional newspaper articlesabout Stirlen and five scrapbooks, two of which commemorate her fiftieth year on the radio in 1975 with cards and letters from her fans are included.

The Radio broadcasts (1940-1975 and undated), which form a large part of the collection, are comprised mainly of Stirlen's typewritten sermons spanning over three decades. Each volume of the sermons was originally housed in a binder, some with an index. Some of the earlier sermons are mixed in with later ones, signifying that Stirlen re-used them. However, she kept careful track of when to use each sermon, as evidenced by her Schedule of sermons, 1971-1975. In the second folder of 1940-1942, volume 2, there are instructions and diagrams on how to conduct a wedding. A taped broadcast on audiocassette dates from November 15, 1974 on KFNF and lasts approximately thirty minutes.

Also included in the Radio broadcasts series are the prayers and birthday and anniversary announcements Stirlen read on the air.

S.O.S (Send Out Sunshine) Signal, the magazine that Stirlen began in 1935 to reach out to her listeners, is the main part of Printed materials (1939-1981 and undated). The four Bibles are personal copies of Stirlen's and contain clipped poems, cards, photographs, and bookmarks. In one of the Bibles is a photograph of the group she took to Jerusalem in 1972 as well as the text she used for wedding ceremonies.

The two books that Stirlen wrote, From the Land of the Tumbleweed: Tales of my Childhood (1978) and The Little Minister's Devotional Selection (1978) are also included in Printed materials. The Promotional postcards and calendars show Stirlen and her family in various years, putting a human face to the voice for many of her listeners. Recipes and remedy includes published recipe pamphlets and a homemade folk remedy for rheumatism.

Browse by Series:
Series 1: BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION
Series 2: RADIO BROADCASTS
Series 3: PRINTED MATERIALS

  • Series 1: BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION
  • Sub-Series: Correspondence
  • Box 1:
  • Correspondence - 1934-1935, 1937-1938
  • Correspondence - 1969-1978, and undated
  • Sub-Series: Newspaper articles
  • Box 1:
  • Newspaper articles - 1979, 1980, 1987
  • Sub-Series: Scrapbooks
  • Box 1:
  • Newspaper clippings scrapbook - 1931-1937
  • Duplicates: Items removed from scrapbook, Newspaper clippings - 1937-1938, 1940
  • Items removed from scrapbook, Newspaper clippings - 1937-1938, 1940
  • Items removed from scrapbook, Miscellaneous - 1930-1933, 1938
  • Items removed from scrapbook, Photographs, undated
  • Box 2:
  • Magazine clippings and correspondence scrapbook
  • Volume 1 (May 4), fiftieth anniversary on radio
  • Volume 2 (May 4), fiftieth anniversary on radio
  • Poems, Undated
  • Series 2: RADIO BROADCASTS
  • Sub-Series: Sermons
  • Box 3:
  • Volume 1 - 1940-1941
  • Volume 2 - 1940-1941
  • Volume 3 - 1940-1941
  • Volume 1 - 1940-1942
  • Volume 2 (2 folders) - 1940-1942
  • Box 4:
  • Sermons (2 folders) - 1940-1948
  • Sermons (Christmas-New Year's) - 1940-1956
  • Volume 1 - 1941-1942
  • Volume 2 - 1941-1942
  • Sermons - 1942
  • Sermons - 1945
  • Sermons - 1945-1946
  • Box 5:
  • Sermons: - 1946
  • Volume 2 - 1946
  • Sermons - 1946-1948
  • Sermons - 1947
  • Sermons - 1947-1949
  • Sermons (2 folders) - 1948
  • Box 6:
  • Sermons - 1949
  • Sermons - 1949, 1953
  • Sermons - 1952-1954
  • Sermons (2 folders) - 1954-1958
  • Volume 1 - 1955
  • Volume 2 (2 folders) - 1955
  • Box 7:
  • Sermons (2 folders) - 1956-1958
  • Sermons - 1959-1960
  • Sermons - 1960
  • Sermons (2 folders) - 1961
  • Sermons - 1962
  • Box 8:
  • Sermons (2 folders) - 1962-1963
  • Sermons - 1964-1965
  • Sermons - 1966-1967
  • Sermons - 1968-1969
  • Volume 1 (2 folders) - 1969-1970
  • Box 9:
  • Volume 2 - 1969-1970
  • Sermons (2 folders) - 1969-1970
  • Sermons (2 folders) - 1971-1973
  • Sermons (2 folders) - 1971-1975
  • Schedule of sermons - 1971-1975
  • Audiocassette AC124: Taped broadcast, November 15, KFNF - 1974
  • Sub-Series: Prayers
  • Box 10:
  • General, Volume 1, undated
  • General, Volume 2, undated (3 folders)
  • Thanksgiving, undated
  • Various occasions, undated
  • Sub-Series: Announcements
  • Box 11:
  • General, undated (3 folders)
  • General, Birthdays and anniversaries (in calendar books) - 1971
  • General, Birthdays and anniversaries (in calendar books) - 1972
  • Series 3: PRINTED MATERIALS
  • Box 12:
  • Bibles (4)
  • Books: From the Land of the Tumbleweed: Tales of my Childhood - 1978
  • Books: The Little Minister's Devotional Selection - 1978
  • Box 13:
  • Hymns: Forty Gospel Hymn Stories (George W. Sanville) - 1945
  • Hymns: Sheet music and hymns, Christmas, undated
  • Hymns: Sheet music and hymns oversize, Christmas, undated [shelved in map case]
  • Hymns: "Stories of Famous Hymns" and hymns, undated
  • Prayer pamphlets, undated
  • Promotional postcards and calendars - 1934, 1935, 1947, 1948, 1952
  • Recipes and remedy, undated
  • Religious tracts, undated
  • Box 14:
  • S.O.S Signal: April '35-October '39 - 1935-1939
  • S.O.S Signal: November '39-December '40 - 1939-1940
  • S.O.S Signal: January '41-October '42 - 1941-1942
  • S.O.S Signal: November '42-December '44 - 1942-1944
  • S.O.S Signal: January '45-December '46 - 1945-1946
  • S.O.S Signal: January '47-December '48 - 1947-1948
  • Box 15:
  • S.O.S Signal: January '49-November '50 - 1949-1950
  • S.O.S Signal: January '51-February/March '53 - 1951-1953
  • S.O.S Signal: April/May '53-April/May '56 - 1953-1956
  • S.O.S Signal: June/July '56-February/March '59 - 1956-1959
  • S.O.S Signal: April/May '59-February/March '62 - 1959-1962
  • S.O.S Signal: April/May '62-December '64/January '65 - 1962-1964
  • S.O.S Signal: February/March '65-October/November '67 - 1965-1967
  • Box 16:
  • S.O.S Signal: December '67/January '68-December '70/January '71 - 1967-1971
  • S.O.S Signal: February/March '71-October/November '73 - 1971-1973
  • S.O.S Signal: December '72/January '73-April/May '77 - 1972-1977
  • S.O.S Signal: June/July '77-October/November '81 - 1977-1981