Born in Lisbon, Ohio in 1844, Maria grew to be one of the best known and most successful preachers in the late 18th century. Maria's ministry contained such dramatic demonstrations of the Holy Spirit that her fame wildly spread from coast to coast. The journalists of her day couldn't begin to record all the miracles in the newspaper pages they allotted for her.
At the age of 13, Maria heard the call of God to her life. She wanted to answer, but the issue of being a woman preacher was holding her back. She decided she would get an education and marry a missionary so she could preach as well. But her father died unexpectedly, and at her young age, Maria was forced to forfeit her education and instead, support her family.
Soon after the Civil War, Maria married P. H. Woodworth. Over the years, she became the mother of six children.
Tragedy struck when five of the children died of disease. With only one daughter left, Maria began to analyze her life. She realized that she had failed to answer the call of God. After reading the bible, she realized that women were indeed called of God to preach. It was then that she had a vision - angels came into her room and showed her that America was in need for Jesus Christ. God spoke to her and said that just as "grain fell from wheat" so would "people fall" as she preached. At age 35, she answered "yes" to God's call.
She immediately began preaching in her local community as many wept and fell to the floor in repentance. Soon she ventured out into the hardest areas, seeing the power of God fall upon the people. This experience was often followed by a spiritual trance or vision, which one would have for hours. Sometimes she would go into a trance herself, standing for hours like a statute with her hand raised while the service continued. By 1885, Maria began holding meetings throughout the Midwest, and multitudes of people would gather from miles and miles to hear her. As many as 20 reporters would attend and file stories. Even the New York Times published stories of the miracles that happened in her meetings. It was not uncommon for her to speak to as many as 25,000 people at a time. Before she would finish preaching, often 500 at a time would fall to the ground under the power of God. Her ministry published 6 books, with many reprinted into several editions and some translated into foreign languages.
In the early 1890s, Maria ventured westward to Oakland, California. It was here that she prophesied the great earthquake that would eventually hit the San Francisco area. Thousands fled to the hills in terror after her prophecy.
In 1902, Maria met Samuel Etter in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Later, the two were married and Maria had found the perfect mate. Three years after the marriage, Maria disappeared from public ministry and remained silent for the next seven years. When she emerged, she was just as powerful as before - and now with the assistance of a loving husband. Sam was a vital part of her ministry until his death.
In 1918, after almost 40 years of ministry, Maria established a church (which she called the Tabernacle) in Indianapolis, feeling this central location would be easy for Americans to get to. At the age of 80, Maria was still preaching in the church, many times being so weak that she had to be carried up to the platform. The church soon presented her with a wooden chair - and when she was too weak to walk, they would take the chair to her house and carry her to the church as she sat upon it. The only heartbreak of her life at this time was the death of her only daughter, Lizzie.
Three weeks before she died, Maria preached sermons from her bed. Her end came in 1924 without a struggle as she sank slowly into a deep sleep. Before Sister Etter went to be with the Lord, she had buried all six of her children and two husbands, preached thousands of sermons from coast to coast, remained the victor over hoodlums and vicious preachers, blazed a new trail for women, and unflinchingly displayed the power of the Holy Spirit through mighty signs and wonders.