Healing evangelist. Perry was born on May 15, 1868, at Cheohee, Oconee County, the second of eight children. Her father, J. A. Perry, the son of Baptist parents, was a native of Oconee County and became a local Methodist preacher. Her mother, Jane Holden, was a Methodist and the daughter of William and Martha Holden of Rabun County, Georgia.
The family moved to Greenville County when Mattie was nine and later, in 1891, to Spartanburg. At age twelve she was converted at the Bethel camp meeting. In October 1887 she dedicated herself to God. She began her work at the Twelve Mile Campground in Pickens, praying and working with those seeking salvation. She studied at the Williamston Female College, completing her studies in June 1892.
Perry applied to the Methodist Church in 1893 to do city mission work but was told that there were no openings. She became an agent for J. M. Pike’s periodical Way of Faith but was given no territory. She also applied to go as a missionary to China, but the Board of Missions turned her down. So she began to hold revivals with various Holiness evangelists around South Carolina and north Georgia. Her brother Samuel, an Asbury College graduate and Methodist minister, often accompanied her. During one of her meetings at Fitzgerald, Georgia, Fred F. Bosworth was healed. He would go on to become a prominent healing evangelist himself. Perry recorded meetings in Columbia, Dillon, Latta, Brownsville, and McColl, as well as elsewhere across the country.
From about 1898 to 1926 Perry ran the Elhanan orphanage and school for poor children in Marion, North Carolina. She may also have functioned during this period as a pioneer district superintendent for the fledgling Christian and Missionary Alliance. She spoke of her territory as including the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida, and Tennessee. The workload proved taxing, and for years she worked from a wheelchair. However, when fire damaged the school, she was forced to close it. She returned to preaching and regained her health, and she later offered the “Elhanan Bible Correspondence Course.”
Even when Perry was bedridden, people would come to her, asking her to pray for them. In 1928 and 1929 she toured the Middle East. She also made two trips to Cuba. About 1937 she took up residence at God’s Bible School in Cincinnati, Ohio, to teach the Old Testament and write for the Revivalist. In 1939 she published her autobiography, Christ and Answered Prayer. Although Perry lived in Atlanta for the final years of her life, she died in Aynor, South Carolina, on November 14, 1957, while visiting her sister.
Perry, Mattie E. Christ and Answered Prayer: Autobiography of Mattie E. Perry. Cincinnati, Ohio: by the author, 1939.
Stanley, Susie C. Holy Boldness: Women Preachers’ Autobiographies and the Sanctified Self. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2002.