Kathryn Johanna Kuhlman was born on May 9, 1907, in Concordia, Missouri. Her parents were German and she was one of four children. Her mother was a harsh disciplinarian, who showed little love or affection. On the other hand, she had an extremely close and loving relationship with her father. She would describe, as a small child how, her father would come home from work and she would hang on his leg and cling to him. She often said that her relationship with God the Father was extremely real because of her relationship with her own father.
Kuhlman was converted, when she was 14, at an evangelistic meeting held in a small Methodist church. When she was 16 she graduated from high school, which only went to tenth grade in their town. He older sister Myrtle had married an itinerant evangelist, Everett B. Parrott. They spent their time traveling and asked that Kathryn could join them for the summer. Her parents agreed and she went to Oregon to help out. She worked with them, and often gave her testimony. When the summer was over she wanted to stay, and the couple agreed. She ended up working with them for five years.
The evangelistic team was made up of four people, Everette, Myrtle, Kathryn, and pianists named Helen Gulliford. In 1928 Everette missed a meeting in Boise, Idaho. Myrtle and Kathryn preached to cover for Everette. The pastor of the church encouraged Kathryn to step out on her own. Helen agreed to join her. Her first sermon was in a run-down pool hall in Boise, Idaho. The team covered Idaho, Utah, and Colorado for the following five years. In 1933 they moved into Pueblo, Colorado. They set up in an abandoned Montgomery Ward warehouse. They stayed there for six months.
Denver, being a much bigger city, was the next stop. They moved several times but ended up in a paper company’s warehouse, which they named the Kuhlman Revival Tabernacle. Then in 1935 they moved once more to an abandoned truck garage they named the Denver Revival Tabernacle. Kathryn was seeing a lot of success in Denver. The church grew to about 2000 members. She began a radio show called “Smiling Through” and invited speakers from all over the country. One of them was Phil Kerr who taught on divine healing. In 1935 another invited evangelist was Burroughs Waltrip.
Waltrip was bad news for Kuhlman. He was a charismatic, handsome man several years older than she was. There was an immediate attraction, and one family claims to have seen the couple embracing in 1935, but he was married and had two children. Waltrip left Denver and went home to Austin, Texas, but the relationship simmered between Kuhlman and Waltrip. In 1937 he was invited back to Denver to take the pulpit for two months. Shortly after he divorced his wife and abandoned his two sons. He then spread the story that his wife had left him. He moved to Mason City, Iowa, where he told everyone he was single, and started a new ministry. Waltrip raised pledges of $70,000 to build a ministry building called Radio Chapel. It was state of the art with a disappearing pulpit and an art deco style. He appeared to be a successful and dynamic preacher.
There was an ongoing relationship between Kuhlman and Waltrip, and they married in September 1938. Kuhlman was naive about the consequences of her choices and the marriage was a disaster. She announced to her church that she and Waltrip were married and they would go between Denver and Mason City preaching at their two churches. Most of the people in her congregation left due to her relationship with Waltrip. She gave up her church in Denver, lost some of her closest associates, and moved to Mason City. Waltrip’s success turned out to be a pipe dream as well. The Radio Chapel was completed in June of 1938. By October 1938 Waltrip could not meet his debts. In December Waltrip was demanding a higher salary, even with the shortfall in income. His Board of Directors quit and left him to deal with the finances. His solution was not to pay the mortgage or debts on the Chapel. Radio Chapel went into bankruptcy. Waltrip’s last sermon was in May 1939. The Waltrips were on their own. Kathryn’s happy vision of she and her husband flying back and forth between Denver and Mason City with a successful preaching careers was utterly demolished.
The next few years were very hard for the couple. They embarked on the road as traveling evangelists, primarily staying in the Midwest. They were not accepted in many places due to their marriage history. Initial advertisements listed Waltrip as the primary evangelist. Then occasionally Mrs. Waltrip was also mentioned. By the early 1940s Kathryn Kuhlman Waltrip was given equal billing. Finally by the mid-1940s Kathryn was using only Kathryn Kuhlman in meetings where she was the primary speaker. In 1944 Kuhlman went on an evangelistic tour on the east coast without Waltrip. It may have been a conscious decision to leave him, or she may also have taken the opportunity to reassess her life. It appears to have been more gradual as Waltrip wrote about them as a couple as late as 1946. Kuhlman never returned to Waltrip and they eventually divorced in 1947. She left her marriage behind and from then on acted as if it never existed in the first place.
In 1946 Kuhlman was asked to speak in Franklin, Pennsylvania. She was well received and decided to stay in the area. Kuhlman began preaching on radio broadcasts in Oil City, Pennsylvania. These became so popular they were picked up in Pittsburgh, and she was preaching throughout the area. She began to preach about the healing power of God. In 1947 a woman was healed of a tumor while listening to Kuhlman preach. Several Sundays later a man was also healed while she was teaching on the Holy Spirit. She was now convinced of God’s healing work. One important thing to note is the context and timing of this breakout period in Kuhlman’s life. 1947 was the beginning of the Healing Revival (sometimes referred to as the Latter Rain Revival) that would last for the next 10 years. What was happening in Kuhlman’s meetings was breaking out across the United States. It was in this time frame that the Voice of Healing Ministry was established and men like William Branham, Oral Roberts, A.A. Allen and many others were propelled onto the public stage. Kuhlman was not associated with those groups, but stepped into the flow of what God’s Spirit was doing across the nation and the world.
In 1948 Kuhlman held a series of meetings at Carnegie Hall in Pittsburgh. She eventually moved to Pittsburgh in 1950, and continued to hold meetings at Carnegie Hall until 1971. She was used by God to bring the charismatic message to many denominational churches, including the Catholic Church. (She received a lot of criticism over this and was accused of being a closet Catholic.) These were her best known years. Her style was flamboyant. She would hold her famous miracle services and the auditorium was filled to capacity every time. She was on radio and television shows. She was ordained in 1968 by the Evangelical Church Alliance. Hundreds of people were healed in her meetings, and even while listening to her on the radio or television. People she prayed for would often be hit with the power of God and be “slain in the Spirit.” Kuhlman never claimed that she was the healer. She always pointed people to Jesus as their healer.
Kuhlman had been diagnosed with a heart problem in 1955. She kept a very busy schedule and overworked herself, especially in the 1970’s. She traveled back and forth from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles frequently, as well as taking trips around the world. Her heart was enlarged and Kuhlman died on February 20, 1976, in Tulsa, following open-heart surgery. Videos of some of her services are still available and continue to be popular today