Born Aimee Elizabeth Kennedy in 1890 to James and Mildred (Minnie) Kennedy in Salford, Ontario, Canada, her father was a wealthy farmer and her mother was an adherent to the tenets of the Salvation Army. Minnie dedicated her daughter to the service of God and supported her in that service throughout her life.
At one point, after acting in some local theater productions, the young Aimee wanted to be an actress but, being raised in a strict Methodist family, that ambition was quashed though, in a way, she did become an actress with the biblical spectaculars she staged later in life. As a child Aimee was smart and displayed an ability for public speaking and debate winning a medal from the Women's Christian Temperance Union.
By the time she was about 17, Aimee became disillusioned with the Methodists. At the same time, she was introduced to Charles Darwin and the theory of evolution. All of these things came together and induced a crisis of faith. Eventually Aimee declared that she was an atheist. While searching for answers, Aimee discovered the teachings of Robert Semple, a Pentecostal evangelist well-known in Canada and the northern part of the United States.
Aimee followed Semple around the area, listening to Semple, eventually experiencing conversion. After Aimee's conversion to Pentecostalism, she married Robert Semple in 1908 and immediately began a life of service. After a year of marriage the couple felt called to become missionaries to China. While in China, Robert died of malaria, just before the birth of their daughter, Roberta Star Semple. After the birth, Aimee went back to Canada then on to Chicago and New York. Originally, she wanted to minister to the churches she and Robert worked with before leaving for China. Eventually she met up with her mother in New York where they both worked extensively with the Salvation Army.
While working with the Salvation Army, Aimee met accountant Harold McPherson. They fell in love then married in May 1912. In 1913, they had a son, Rolf Potter Kennedy McPherson. In 1913, Aimee began her preaching career by traveling all over the US and Canada. In 1915, she bought a tent and began holding tent revivals up and down the US east coast and eventually moving on to other parts of the US.
Minnie joined Aimee in her "Gospel Car" in 1916 touring the US. Harold tried to join his wife as well but soon became burned out with the traveling and Amiee couldn't or wouldn't settle down. In 1918, Harold file for divorce citing abandonment as a the reason for the divorce which was granted in 1921. At that point, Aimee hit the road with the kids and her mother.
By 1921, Aimee's fame was growing. It grew even larger when she helped a wheelchair-bound woman walk, beginning her faith-healing ministry. Working hard to attract people to her messages, Aimee was not averse to using drama or theatrics to reach people, even parading around a boxing ring with a placard.
After settling in Los Angeles and using the money they earned while on the road, Aimee bought land and built the Angelus Temple, the first church based on her Foursquare Gospel. The building seated 5,300 people and boasted full services every Sunday with several celebrities attending. Along with the temple, Aimee applied for and received a broadcast license, starting KFSG to support her ministry. As a result, her popularity continued to grow.
Beginning with her alleged kidnapping in 1926, Aimee's popularity and credibility took a big hit. Again, in 1931, Aimee's credibility took another hit with her followers when she remarried David Hutton while her last husband was still alive which went against the tenets of the Foursquare Church...the tenets she set forth. The marriage was not without scandal either. Two days after the wedding, Hutton was sued for alienation of affections by Hazel St. Pierre. Though Hutton claimed not to know the woman, he settled the suit for $5000. The couple separated in 1933 and divorced in 1934. Aimee was irked to find that Hutton was billing himself as Aimee's Man in his cabaret act.
There were other scandals such as power struggles within the church with her mother and daughter, rumors of a love nest, and more. Aimee died in 1944 from an accidental overdose of barbiturates. There were rumors that Aimee committed suicide but, based on the evidence and the other pills she was taking for sleep and anxiety, it was possible that she accidentally overdosed.
Amiee Semple McPherson was anything but simple. She was a complicated woman with a complicated life.