An Odd Cross to Bear

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by: Anne Blue Wills

The fascinating life story, told critically but sympathetically, of a paragon of twentieth-century white Christian womanhood--and the wife of evangelist Billy Graham.


Ruth Bell Graham's legacy is closely associated with that of her husband, whose career placed her in the public eye throughout her life. But, while it's true that her identity was significantly shaped by her role in supporting Billy Graham's ministry, Ruth carried a strong sense of her own agency and was widely influential in her own right, especially in the image she projected of conservative evangelical womanhood--defined by a faith that was deep, private, and nonpolitical.


Beginning prior to Ruth and Billy's meeting at Wheaton College, Anne Blue Wills chronicles the many formative experiences of Ruth's life--especially the first decade of her childhood living in a community of American medical missionaries in China. Throughout the biography, Wills focuses not on Ruth's role in Billy's life, but on her own interests, ambitions, and fears--as a devoted mother of five, as the fastidious manager of a household, as a devout and well-read Christian, and as a beloved writer and poet.


Dealing honestly with a life of contradictory responsibilities that Ruth Bell Graham herself called "an odd kind of cross to bear," Wills draws from nearly a decade of original research and presents a nuanced portrait of Graham apart from the reverential awe of her admirers and the oversimplified caricatures put forth by her detractors. In telling Graham's story, Wills indirectly tells the story of millions of women who emulated Graham as a role model--women who spurned second-wave feminism and willingly submitted to patriarchy while maintaining an undeniable sense of independence and strength of conviction.