Emilie Kirsch Travels to Faith Healer in 1903

Perusing old (digitized) newspapers can be really fun. About the cancel my Newspaper.com subscription, I decided to do a quick search for any mention of “Kirsch” in 1900s Winnipeg newspapers. I came across an article in The Winnipeg Tribune, as well as published responses, about my great-grandmother’s sister-in-law, Emilie. As usual, my guide to Kirsch family history research is located here. You can read about Christian and Emilie (Reichert) Kirsch right here. As well, I updated the Direct Ancestors page to correct an error. I accidentally skipped a whole generation in the Kirsch section.

John Alexander Dowie, early 1900s, photo courtesy of State Library of South Australia

In the summer of 1903, Christian Kirsch’s second wife, Emilie, traveled to Zion City, Illinois, to ask the minister and faith healer, John Alexander Dowie, to cure her deafness. Three months after her return, The Winnipeg Tribune printed an interview with Emilie about her visit. In the interview, Emilie doubts Dowie’s purported healing abilities and accuses the minister, who had founded Zion City, an exclusively Christian community, in 1901, of exploiting the disabled and sick for their money.

Excerpt from The Winnipeg Tribune, 24 Oct 1903, accessed 07 Sep 2022 through Newspapers.com

Winnipeg Lady Goes to See Dowie (24 Oct 1903)

Has Not Retained Her Previous Faith in the So-called Restored Healer

He Wants Money Which She Was Not Able to Give –There Are Others

Mrs. Kirsch, of 541 Alexander Avenue, is one of the few Winnipeg women who have paid a visit to John Alexander Dowie, the modern Elijah, and since her trip to Zion City she does not hold the same opinion of him that she did before the journey to the Illinois town.

She is deaf in both ears, and a Mr. Smith, who lives on Bannatyne Avenue, heard of this, and had such faith in the “Restorer” that he kindly offered to pay Mrs. Kirsch’s expenses to Chicago in order that she might be cured. She also had great faith in the healing powers of Mr. Dowie, so she gladly accepted the offer. All this happened some three months ago, but she is not back in Winnipeg paying compliments to the “Restorer” in a way which would hurt the feelings of “Elijah III” if he could but hear them.

The tale as told by her trough an interpreter to a reporter for The Tribune was as follows:

HEARD HIM PREACH.

“I got to Chicago on a Sunday morning, but found that could not see Mr. Dowie until the day following, so that evening I went to hear him preach at the Auditorium Recital Hall. Now, it is a fact that Dowie does preach a lot of truth; he could not command the following that he does unless he did. But Balaam did as much. Balaam the First rode an ass, but the present Balaam is a much heavier weight, and consequently requires many more asses to bear the burden, and they bend their backs under the load with much docility.

“The next morning this man was kind enough to grant me an audience. The first question that he asked me was how much money I had. I told him that I had none at all and explained how it was that I managed to come to Chicago. He told me that he could cure me if I would go and live in Zion City and bring my family there. I decided not to do this as I could not get the money.

QUEER DOINGS.

“However, I went to Zion City just to see the place. It was certainly curious. Every store in the place has Dowie’s name on it. You see such things as: ‘John Alexander Dowie –Shoemaker,’ John Alexander Dowie –Grocer” […] and many other trades all owned by Dowie. They once belonged to the storekeepers who have joined the faith and given all they had to the ‘Restorer’ and then moved to Zion City where they have been permitted to carry on the business under Dowie’s name. None of the money taken in belongs to them, but they receive a salary for the work they do.

“The town is fenced in a guards interrogate all strangers both coming and going. None of Dowie’s followers are allowed to use tobacco or drink any intoxicants.

“While in Chicago I heard that there was a Baptist minister living in a country town on a salary of $600 a year, who had an epileptic son. The wife went to Chicago and explained the matter to Dowie. He promptly asked how much money she had, and she said they would raise all they could.

“The woman returned home, and they sold their cow, finally raised $60 and again went to Chicago.

“Dowie did not ask her for any money, but when she said she had a sister living near Zion, with whom she and her son would stop, he declared that would never do. Oh, no: they must be within the charmed circle of Zion, or else the prayers for healing would never work.

“So they went to Dowie’s hotel and paid at a high rate. They quickly used up the $60, but by great sacrifice the minister raised $40 more. Dowie scooped that in, too, and then they had to get out, with the boy as epileptic as ever, of course.

“Not, that is just one case out of multitudes that I have known. It is by such means that the money is got upon which this Caesar has grown so great.”[1]

Mr. Alexander, the person who had financed Emilie’s trip, submitted a response to the article. He claimed that the newspaper had fabricated the interview and that the true story was that “Mrs. Kirsch made acquaintance with some German people while in Zion City and they advised her to bring her family to Zion City, which was but natural. Mrs. Kirsch stated that she was very much disappointed that she had not been healed, as she saw and knew several who had been healed while she was there.”[2] The newspaper responded by claiming they had sent a reporter to speak to Christian Kirsch to confirm the authenticity of the interview. According to the newspaper, Christian “received the reporter very courteously” and confirmed that the interview was “mostly true,” but “did not wish to have the matter discussed any further as his wife’s trip to Chicago to see Dowie had already caused him considerable annoyance.”[3]

DOES DOWIE HEAL? (29 Oct 1903)

To the Editor of the Tribute

Sir –In your issue of Saturday last there is a long statement with the heading, “Winnipeg lady goes to see Dowie,” purporting to have been made by Mrs. Kirsch, 541 Alexander Avenue of this city. As my name appears in that matter and as I know the circumstances under which Mrs. Kirsch visited Zion City, I would ask you to permit me to reply.

In the first place allow me to say, that the whole of the statements said to have been made by Mrs. Kirsch, with one exception, are untrue. I know Mrs. Kirsch to be a good Christian woman and incapable of making the statements attributed to her in the report referred to. The one statement of fact is where I paid Mrs. Kirsch’s expenses to Zion City. The reasons which induced me to do so do not reflect favorably upon her own people or the minister of the German Baptist Church, which advised them in the matter. When Mrs. Kirsch returned from Zion City she called to see us and spoke in the highest terms of praise as to her reception and treatment there. She stated that her faith in Dr. Dowie’s teaching had not in any respect wavered. It is unfortunate that she is very deaf, she could not hear Dr. Dowie preach, as is stated in your report. It is not true Mr. Dowie asked Mrs. Kirsch how much money she had or advised her to bring her family to Zion City. The correct statement would be that Mrs. Kirsch made acquaintance with some German people while in Zion City and they advised her to bring her family to Zion City, which was but natural. Mrs. Kirsch stated that she was very much disappointed that she had not been healed, as she saw and knew several who had been healed while she was there.

[…] It appears that the churches have banded themselves together to preserve, as it were, their existence, they are afraid of Dowie.

The letter also accuses The Winnipeg Tribune of plagiarizing parts of Emilie’s statement from The New York Daily Tribune. In his final response to the newspaper, Mr. Alexander claims that the original heading of his response had been unjustly altered.[4]

Whether or not Emilie’s statements were true is perhaps irrelevant. Both sides portray Emilie as a pious woman hopeful to hear again despite what appears to be tension between her Baptist church (and perhaps her family) and John Alexander Dowie, allegedly the first to profit significantly from faith healing in the United States.[5] In spite of this, Dowie’s utopia, Zion City (now the secularized Chicago suburb, Zion), was continually in debt and, in 1905, Dowie was accused of fraud and deposed.


[1] The Winnipeg Tribune, 24 Oct 1903, accessed 07 Sep 2022 through Newspapers.com

[2] The Winnipeg Tribune, 29 Oct 1903, accessed 07 Sep 2022 through Newspapers.com

[3] Ibid.

[4] The Winnipeg Tribune, 02 Nov 1903, accessed 07 Sep 2022 through Newspapers.com

[5] Matthew Algeo, “The Sketchy Faith Healer Who Tried to Save New York From Vice,” 18 Apr 2017 [published], Atlas Obscura, accessed 14 Sep 2022 from https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/john-alexander-dowie-zion

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