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