In 1865 William Booth, a Methodist preacher, founded the Christian Mission in London's East End to help feed and house the poor. The mission was reorganized in 1878 along military lines, with the preachers known as officers and Booth as the general. After this the group became known as the Salvation Army.
Booth sought to bring into his worship services an informal atmosphere that would encourage new converts. Joyous singing, instrumental music, clapping of hands and an invitation to repent characterizedSalvation Army meetings.
General Booth was deeply influenced by his wife Catherine Booth, who believed that women were equal to men and it was only inadequate education and social custom that made them men's intellectual inferiors. She was an inspiring speaker and helped to promote the idea of women preachers. The Salvation Army gave women equal responsibility with men for preaching and welfare work and on one occasion William Booth remarked that: "My best men are women!"
The Church of England were at first extremely hostile to Booth's activities. Lord Shaftesbury, a leading politician and evangelist, described William Booth as the "Anti-Christ". One of the main complaints against Booth was his "elevation of women to man's status". Members of the Salvation Army were imprisoned for open-air preaching and their support for the Temperance Society made them the target for gangs of men who became known as the skeleton army.
By 1882 a survey of London discovered that on one weeknight, there were almost 17,000 worshipping with the Salvation Army, compared to 11,000 in ordinary churches. Even, Dr. William Thornton, the Archbishop of York, had to accept that Booth and his followers were reaching people that the Anglican Church had failed to have any impact on.
The Salvation Army worked hard to rescue young women from prostitution. In 1885 the army co-operated with William Stead and his Maiden Tribute campaign. They were also involved in attempting to bring an end to the White Slave Trade.
In 1890 William Booth published his book In Darkest England and the Way Out. Booth argued that the unemployed should be helped to form their own communities in Britain and overseas. Booth's followers attempted to raise money for this scheme but although these communities were not established, the campaign helped to establish the Salvation Army as one of Britain's leading charity organizations.
It was while working with the poor in London that Catherine Booth found out about what was known as "sweated labour". That is, women and children working long hours for low wages in very poor conditions. Catherine and fellow members of the Salvation Army attempted to shame employers into paying better wages. They also attempted to improve the working conditions of these women.
The Salvation Army were particularly concerned about women making matches. Not only were these women only earning 1s. 4d. for a sixteen hour day, they were also risking their health when they dipped their match-heads in the yellow phosphorus supplied by manufacturers such as Bryant & May. A large number of these women suffered from 'Phossy Jaw' (necrosis of the bone) caused by the toxic fumes of the yellow phosphorus. The whole side of the face turned green and then black, discharging foul-smelling pus and finally death.
In 1891 the Salvation Army opened its own match-factory in Old Ford, East London. Only using harmless red phosphorus, the workers were soon producing six million boxes a year. Whereas Bryant & May paid their workers just over twopence a gross, the Salvation Army paid their employees twice this amount. William Booth organised conducted tours of MPs and journalists round this 'model' factory.
Booth's eldest son, William Bramwell Booth, succeeded his father as general in 1912. His second son, Ballington Booth was the commander of the army in Australia (1883-85) and the USA (1887-96). One of his daughters, Evangeline Cora Booth, was elected general in 1934. The Salvation Army is now established in 80 countries and has 16,000 evangelical centres and operates more than 3,000 social welfare institutions, hospitals, schools and agencies.
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Last updated: 7th May, 2002
(1) William Booth, In Darkest England (1890)
The citizens in Darkest England, for whom I appeal, are (1) those who, having no capital or income of their own, would in a month be dead with sheer starvation were they exclusively dependent upon the money earned by their own work; and (2) those who by their utmost exertions are unable to attain the regulation allowance of food which the law prescribes as indispensable even for the worst criminals in our gaols.
According to Lord Brabazon "between two and three millions of our population are always pauperised and degraded." Mr. Chamberlain says there is a "population equal to that of the metropolis" that is between four and five millions "which has remained constantly in a state of abject destitution and misery". Darkest England, then, has a vast despairing multitude in a condition nominally free, but really enslaved - these it is whom we have to say.
(2) William Booth, In Darkest England (1890)
The town-bred child is at a thousand disadvantages compared with his cousin in the county. But every year there are more town-bred children and fewer cousins in the county. To rear healthy children you want first a home; secondly, milk; thirdly, fresh air; and fourthly, exercise under the green trees and blue sky. All these things every country labourer's child possesses, or used to possess. In towns tea and slops and beer take the place of milk, and the bone and sinew of the next generation are sapped from the cradle.
(3) William Booth, In Darkest England (1890)
The home is largely destroyed where the mother follows the father into the factory, and where the hours of labour are so long that they have no time to see their children. The omnibus drivers of London, for instance, what time have they for discharging the daily duties of parentage to their little ones? How can a man who is on his omnibus from fourteen to sixteen hours a day have time to be a father to his children in any sense of the word? He has hardly a chance to see them except when they are asleep. Many of the new industries which have been started or developed since I was a boy ignore man's need to one day's rest in seven. the railway, the post-office, the tramway all compel some of the employees to be content with less than the divinely appointed minimum of leisure.
(4) William Booth, In Darkest England (1890)
Whatever may be thought of the possibility of doing anything with the adults, it is universally admitted that there is hope for the children. "I regard the existing generation as lost," said a leading Liberal statesman. "Nothing can be done with men and women who have grown up under the present demoralising conditions. My only hope is that the children may have a better chance. Education will do much." But unfortunately the demoralising circumstances of the children are not being improved - are, indeed, rather, in many respects, being made worse.
It will be said, the child today has the inestimable advantage of education. No; he has not. Educated the children are not. They are pressed through "standards", which exact a certain acquaintance with A B C and pothooks and figures, but educated they are not in the sense of the development of their latent capacities so as to make them capable for the discharge of their duties in life.
(5) George Lansbury, Looking Backwards and Forwards (1935)
I have heard some remarkable women orators. Some of them stand head and shoulders above all others. There was Catherine Booth, mother of the Salvation Army, who was one of the simplest exponents of the gospel of love I have ever heard. I think her speeches, sermons and appeals on behalf of the weak and the fallen were among the finest pieces of simple arresting oratory I have ever heard.
Her theology was rather hard and narrow, and very dogmatic. Later on she threw her energy into work on behalf of young girls and illegitimate babies. Her whole soul and spirit was poured out in an unceasing effort to make men realize their responsibility. In politics, she demanded legislation to raise the age of consent and provision for the maintenance of these unfortunate victims of our lack of individual and social responsibility.
(6) Philip Gibbs, a journalist for the Daily Mail met General Booth in 1902.
His spirit was like a white flame. He had a burning fire within him. There was nothing of the gentle saint about him, and sometimes he had a terrifying anger, as once I saw, which scorched and blasted those who had betrayed him or had done some dirty work.
On the day I went to see him, on behalf of the Daily Mail, he started by being angry, and then softened. Presently he seized me by the wrist and dragged me down to my knees besides him. "Let us pray for Alfred Harmsworth," he said. He prayed long and earnestly for Harmsworth, and Fleet Street, and the newspaper Press that it might be inspired by the love of truth and charity and the Spirit of the Lord.