Henrietta Cornelia Mears (1889-1963), was a Christian educator and author. Mears was born into a Baptist banker’s family in Fargo, North Dakota. A good student, she graduated from the University of Minnesota with a science degree in 1913 and taught at rural Minnesota high schools before returning to Minneapolis in 1915 to teach at Central High School and live with her sister. A talented and successful Sunday School teacher at William Bell Riley’s First Baptist Church, she was befriended by the fundamentalist powerbroker who encouraged her to think about ways to apply educational standards to Sunday School programs.
After a decade of teaching, Mears took a sabbatical in 1927 that included a trip to the West Coast. There she came to the attention of the leaders of Hollywood Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles, an up-and-coming church with a Sunday School of about 450. Mears and her sister decided to re-locate and she accepted the job as the director of Christian Education at Hollywood Presbyterian. Building a dedicated, enthusiastic staff, Mears trained and mentored her teachers and implemented a graded, age-appropriate curriculum from “cradle roll” to adults. Within two years Sunday School attendance at Hollywood “Pres” was averaging more than 4,200 per week. On the strength of her success Mears received numerous invitations to speak and requests for copies of her Bible lessons. To answer what she saw as a pressing need for good, affordable curriculum in conservative Protestant ranks Mears formed Gospel Light Publications in 1933, the first publisher to offer graded Sunday School lessons.
In the years that followed Mears became perhaps the most influential mentor of young evangelical leaders in the nation through a winning combination of Bible study, hospitality and motherly encouragement. Among her most important protégés were Dawson Troutman (founder of the Navigators), Billy Graham, Bill Bright, and future Senate chaplain Richard Halverson. Besides her personal influence on the field of Christian Education and the impact of Gospel Light, Mears helped shape generations of evangelicals’ understanding of the Bible through multiple editions of her durable 1953 best seller, What the Bible is All About.
For further reading see Marcus Brotherton, Teacher: The Henrietta Mears Story (Regal, 2006), and Earl O. Roe, Dream Big: The Henrietta Mears Story (Regal, 1991).