“SHE HAS probably been instrumental in saving more fallen women than any other one person.” That was evangelist Wilbur Chapman’s assessment of Emma Whittemore, an unlikely heroine to work among prostitutes. Family wealth had shielded her from seeing the shady side of life, while timidity and sickness kept her from rough haunts. Her place was among personal servants, fancy dinner parties, and glittering dresses in wealthy New York City. 

But her transformation from society maven to social worker began when a friend persuaded Emma to attend an evangelistic meeting. Emma’s husband Sidney was drawn to the same meeting. Neither knew the other would be there, and both fell under conviction for their shallow lives. Soon afterward, the same friend urged the Whittemores to hear Jerry McAuley, an ex-convict who had opened a mission on Water Street. 

“Never can that night be erased from my memory,” wrote Emma Whittemore. “From the time we got off the car at Roosevelt Street, each step opened up some new horror.” Street fights and scenes of prostitution shocked her. Listening to McAuley, she and her husband sat ashamed of their neglect of the things of God. Both knelt at the altar with drunks and prostitutes, rising “with a holy determination, born of God himself, to henceforth live for his glory and praise.” 

One evening while “earnestly inquiring” what God would have her do, the prostitutes came to Whittemore’s mind. She knew God was asking her to work with them. “Oh, anything but that!” she pleaded. Shame filled her mind as she realized what she had just said to her Savior. Repentant, she agreed to undertake the work. 

It was not easy. She was heckled by the very people she came to help. Again and again, she was shocked by new levels of degradation. Often she cried out, “Oh, Lord, I cannot, I cannot see these fearful sights again! It simply breaks my heart.” In Christ she found the strength and love to carry on, and to step onto stages and speak to large audiences about her work. 

Whittemore began to see that the girls needed homes to get them away from street life. Here was a better use for her connections and wealth than balls and sparkling dresses. On this day, 25 October 1890, she opened the first “Door of Hope.” By her death in 1931, there were ninety-seven of these homes in seven countries.

Dan Graves (Christian History Institute)

About the author

Bennie Mostert
By Bennie Mostert