Though there are many reported cases of people speaking in tongues at various times in revival-like settings during the time of the Holiness movement of the 19th century, two competing times and places still capture the imagination of Pentecostals and vie for title of the source of the Pentecostal movement. As such, when discussing early developments, it is important to mention Charles F. Parham's Bethel Bible College in Topeka, Kansas and William J. Seymour's Azusa Street Mission in Los Angeles. These two locations, and the men that headed these ministries, are emblematic of a movement that often defies description, and whose fluidity makes it impossible to full satisfy everyone's desire for a single place of origin.
In his search for understanding Spirit baptism, Parham spent two years on the road visiting two of the major proto-Pentecostal leaders of the day, Frank Sandford in Maine and Alexander Dowie in Illinois. When Agnes Ozment spoke in tongues on New Year's Day 1901, Charles Parham believed he had received the answer to his question of how to meld Spirit baptism with a defining experience. Spirit baptism was followed by speaking in tongues, as evidenced by Ozment's experience. Linking the experience with the theology became Parham's theological legacy. By 1910, however, Parham's own quest for power and his personal issues lead to the unraveling of his ministry. Parham died in relative obscurity in 1929 never having recovered from allegations of homosexuality, an affinity for racist theology, and an obsession with eschatology.
The Azusa Street Mission's chief contribution to the early development of Pentecostalism was its incredible spread beyond the southern California area and Seymour's attempt to offer an alternative vision to the larger Christian world of a church community where different races, ethnicities, and genders worshiped together. From 1906 to 1909, hundreds of people, including some of the most prominent early leaders of the Pentecostal movement, traveled to Los Angeles in hopes of receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Those who found what they were looking for usually went back to where they came from and began their own Pentecostal churches.
William Durham, innovator of the "Finished-Work" theology (defining the baptism of the Holy Spirit as the finished work after salvation, bypassing the need for a second work of sanctification), received the baptism of the Spirit at Azusa Street, went back to Chicago, and almost immediately began spreading Pentecostalism throughout the Swedish, Norwegian, and Persian communities in Chicago; many of them, in turn, returned to their homelands and began Pentecostal missions.
G.B. Cashwell, a Holiness preacher from the south, went to Los Angeles and returned back to the south in 1907, preaching the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Cashwell's influence would be felt in the formation of his own Pentecostal Holiness denomination as well as his influence on others such as A.J. Tomlinson, who would later lead the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee) to accept Pentecostalism. A number of women also came out of Azusa Street who would take leadership positions.
In keeping with Seymour's desire to place women in church leadership, he gave permission to Florence Crawford to begin a church in Portland, Oregon. In a curious side episode, Seymour's decision to marry Jeannie E. Moore in 1908 allegedly elicited a rather negative reaction from his church secretary, Clara Lum. Lum promptly left Azusa Street and joined Crawford in Portland, taking the mailing list for Seymour's magazine, The Apostolic Faith, with her. Crawford at first did not want anything to do with the purloined list, but eventually relented and began building her ministry from the list. Crawford's church, The Apostolic Faith Church, would not be the last Pentecostal church built on less than stellar circumstances.
Among other notable persons at Azusa Street were Rosa and Abundio Lopez, who began a ministry among the Mexican population in Los Angeles and, subsequently, in their native Mexico. There is also evidence that Armenians and Russians took their newfound faith back to their homelands as missionaries. Aside from the growth of the movement beyond Los Angeles, one more leader of note needs to be included here. Charles H. Mason went as a skeptic to Azusa Street in 1907, and upon receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit, began to organize the Church of God in Christ in Memphis; this denomination is the largest African American Pentecostal denomination in the United States.
One of the most influential Pentecostal leaders of the early 20th century was "Sister" Aimee Semple McPherson (1890-1944), who almost single-handedly spread the Pentecostal message of divine healing throughout the United States and around the world. She founded the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, one of the largest Pentecostal denominations, and its college in Los Angeles, which trained numerous Pentecostal leaders. McPherson was known both within church circles and as a public persona, partly because of her itinerant preaching and partly because of the well-publicized and occasionally scandalous events of her life.
As diffuse as the early Pentecostal movement was, the desire to maintain its spiritual effervescence meant for many an aversion to organizing around denominations, since this was thought to be one sure way to "quench the Spirit." Despite the early Pentecostal desire not to organize, they, like others who are drawn to charismatic leadership, gradually formed organizational structures. Ironically enough, then, Pentecostals founded denominations-as early as 1907-and fellowships intended to add structure to their often disorganized ministry and missions efforts. With this organization, though, came the inevitable divisions over doctrine, practice, and personality.