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Salvation Army: The Story of William and Catherine Booth

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
September 16, 2022 3:00 am

Salvation Army: The Story of William and Catherine Booth

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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September 16, 2022 3:00 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, the Salvation Army's Christmas Red Kettle has been an American icon for 125 years. But for many Americans, this is all they know about the Salvation Army… until now. We’d like to thank the folks at Vision Video for giving us access to their wonderful documentary, Our People: The Story of William and Catherine Booth.

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Lee Habeeb
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This is Lee Habib, and this is Our American Stories. And we tell stories about everything here on this show, from the arts to sports, and from business to history, and everything in between, including your stories. Send them to

They're some of our favorites. For many Americans, this is all we know about the Salvation Army. In the empire of the young Queen Victoria, the story of the Salvation Army is conceived within the heart of a young boy named William Booth.

Here's Greg Hengler with this story. William Booth's father, Samuel, built houses in Nottingham, England for the children of the Industrial Revolution. When in 1843 his business collapsed, it was the end of his world.

Within months, Samuel was dead, leaving his family in ruin. Thirteen-year-old William Booth had to drop out of school and commenced what would be an education in poverty. His primary classroom was the pawn shop, where he had taken work as an apprentice.

Here's Professor Roger Green, a longtime member and scholar of the Salvation Army. Pawnbroking business in England in that day was a very, very difficult business because pawnbroking was people brought in their goods from their home and sold their goods to have a little bit of money to put bread on the table. And he knew, too, that many people were coming in and selling a little bit of what they had in their home or pawning off a little bit of what they had in their home, not in order to put bread on the table for the children, but in order to buy more alcohol for that evening. Handkerchiefs were pawned first.

Wedding rings came last. Nottingham's urban district extends into rural Derbyshire, where Catherine Mumford was born. From a young age, she displayed an unusually intense nature. When she was nine years old, she saw a drunk hauled through the streets to the police station, taunted by a mob.

She was unwilling to let him walk alone and be humiliated, so she ran and walked beside him. Here's Professor Pamela Walker, author of Pulling the Devil's Kingdom Down, the Salvation Army in Victorian Britain. She suffered from a number of different illnesses. It's hard to know in modern terms what we would call those things, but she had a curvature of her spine, which she suffered with her whole life, and she was sometimes bedridden for long periods of time. So she read a lot. She read Methodist magazines and other religious works by a number of leading Methodist theologians. She was reading them at a very young age. She read the Bible every day.

By the time she was 12, I think she'd read it cover to cover eight times. And it made for a very quiet childhood, a very studious childhood, and often I think a very lonely one. In the Booth household, William had heard very little about the Bible or God until a neighbor took the 15-year-old boy to church to hear the visiting American minister, James Caughey, preach for six weeks. William was inspired. For the next two years, he would often wander off into the meadow and try preaching to himself.

He was always disappointed with the results, though. The preachers he heard were powerful and spoke with a fiery conviction. It was obvious they believed what they were preaching with all their heart. William, on the other hand, was not sure what he believed. Even though he had now been going to church for two years, William was still a spectator. That was the case until Booth strolled into his Bible class.

The teacher opened with the words, a soul dies every minute. For some reason, these words penetrated right into William's heart. Shortly after, when a friend persuaded William to join him in a mission in Nottingham's poorest district, William stepped right into his natural space. After visiting the poor and the sick, William would go out into the grimy streets, stand on top of a box, and preach. Poor women would bring their own chairs. Some ignored him.

Others cursed him. In 1849, William left Nottingham for London, working more than 12 hours a day, six days a week, as an apprentice at another pawnbroker's shop. It was here where William met Catherine Mumford.

A month later, they were engaged. Here's Salvation Army member and historian, Professor Gordon Moyles. Catherine Booth was the thinker.

She grew up in a home where she was self-educated, or home-educated, and she read a lot of theology books. William was a doer. William was a doer all his life. William was an activist.

At the age of 22, William left pawnbroking for good to pursue what he felt was God's calling as an evangelist. On June 16th of 1855, Catherine and William were married. Three years passed until William became the preacher of a Methodist church, while Catherine became pregnant with her third child. Feeling restless, Catherine began to visit the families of heavy drinkers two nights a week in the slums. It was at this time where she too would have a life-changing encounter with an American preacher.

Here again is Pamela Walker. In 1859, Phoebe Palmer, who was an American Holiness teacher and preacher, came to England, and it was a big event for Catherine. She was already well known to Catherine through her writing. It also occasioned a lot of debate in the English press, because here was this American and a woman, and she's preaching. William had plenty to do inside the church, but it was the people outside, the people who never dreamed of setting a foot inside a church, who really concerned him.

Booth's outreach had become known by the locals as the converting shop. When members of his church attempted to restrict his wider ministry, Catherine urged William to resist and become an independent evangelist. At a critical moment when a motion to limit Booth's ministry was put, Catherine shouted from the balcony, Never. William looked around to see his wife being escorted towards the door. William stood up, waved his hat in the air as a salute to his wife, and walked deliberately out the door. Catherine was standing on the steps.

He hooked her arm in his, and they headed down the street together. And when we come back, we'll continue with the story of William and Catherine Booth, without whom there would not be a Salvation Army. More after these messages. Folks, if you love the stories we tell about this great country, and especially the stories of America's rich past, know that all of our stories about American history, from war to innovation, culture and faith, are brought to us by the great folks at Hillsdale College, a place where students study all the things that are beautiful in life, and all the things that are good in life. And if you can't get to Hillsdale, Hillsdale will come to you with their free and terrific online courses.

Go to to learn more. And we return to our American stories and the story of William and Catherine Booth, and the story of the Salvation Army. Let's pick up where we last left off. William Booth's days of being a pastor were over. He was a 32-year-old man with a wife and now four small children to feed. He returned to the insecure life of a traveling evangelist, preaching in rented warehouses, ragged tents, and in the open air. He got an occasional odd job and spent the money he earned on soup bones and two-day-old bread to feed his family. In July 1865, William was, in a sense, still looking for his life's work. The Booths were living in London and now had six children. On July 2nd, William set out for an eight-mile walk to London's East End to preach at a tent meeting.

As he walked, he was shocked by what he saw. For liquor, parents neglected their children. Girls sold their virtue. Men became criminals.

A man could get drunk for a penny. Five-year-olds were commonly seen passed out in the doorways. It was this area that drew William Booth like a magnet. Booth burst into the house, swept Catherine into a hug, and shouted, Kate, I've found my destiny. Here's the great-grandson of William and Catherine Booth, Colonel Bramwell Booth. When my grandfather was 12 or 13, William took him out one evening to the East End of London, where he was working, and took him into some of the public houses that lined the roads. They came in and found the people there, many of them drunken, women with their little babies, and the situation was really very sad. Of course, these men were out of work, they were poor, they were uneducated, and in desperate need. And as they looked at them, William turned to Bramwell, William Bramwell, his name was, and he said, Willie, these are our people.

These are the people I want you to live for and to bring to Christ. The work was hard and the funds for the operation were near non-existent. Workers were poor, but there were men and women of influence and wealthy philanthropists who came staunchly to the rescue. Checks were written and buildings were loaned free of cost for Booth to preach in or operate soup kitchens.

Once inside, crowds of idle and desolate characters filled the building, but William held their attention. Booth took 80 of the most popular tunes of the time and changed the lyrics to reflect a gospel-centered message. Booth said, why should the devil have all the best tunes? Both William and Catherine would preach, each usually an hour to an hour and a half.

Here again is Roger Green and Gordon Moyles. The preaching styles were a bit different. William Booth tended to roam on the platform, intended to move on the platform and so forth. He was a very dramatic preacher, of course.

You could see the people drowning, you could see the people reaching their hands above the waves. Catherine Booth, on the other hand, had a very different style of preaching. Catherine tended to preach like a lawyer. Catherine tended to argue her point and make her point very clearly. In fact, the story goes that there was a gentleman who heard Catherine Booth preach. And at the end of the sermon, he turned to his son, a future Archbishop of Canterbury.

And he said to his son, if I am ever in trouble with the law, don't get me a lawyer, get me that woman. When the Christian mission began, those involved wanted to adopt committees in order to enact strict government protocol. Here's Dr. Glenn Horage, author of The Salvation Army, Origins and Early Days, and Roger Green. William Booth was getting very, very frustrated by the constant talking and the fact that many people wanted to formulate rules about how things should be done rather than actually doing it. And he felt this had been a problem of many of the other organizations that were trying to do good work. Needless to say, William and Catherine Booth were not people who favored committees.

They were both quite autocratic by nature. As you come to 1877, some very important decisions were made. And the primarily important decision that was made was to have William Booth totally in charge of the Christian mission. When their 1878 report was drafted, it said, the Christian mission under the superintendence of the Reverend William Booth is a volunteer army.

The report was shown to William and his son Bramwell. And Bramwell said, hey, I'm not a volunteer. I'm a regular soldier. And William took the pen in his hand, crossed off the word volunteer, and wrote in instead, the Christian mission is a salvation army. And so the ranks came in and little by little, the military structure of The Salvation Army developed.

Here's Pamela Walker, Glenn Horage, and UCLA professor Diane Winston, author of the engrossing study, Red Hot and Righteous, the Urban Religion of the Salvation Army. In the 1880s, brass bands were very popular in England. A lot of trade unions had a brass band and workplaces had a brass band. So lots of people knew how to play brass instruments. It was quite a common pastime. In Salisbury, the Salvation Army officer decided to use a local Methodist family to play their instruments to drown out the rowdies.

The Fry family were the first people to do this, and they found it very effective. If the rowdies started getting too loud, they'd just bring out their brass band instruments and start playing and just bring up the tune and bring up the sound of the music, and that would just drown out the crowd. And they became very popular, and it became very much a part of The Salvation Army's appeal. And the brass band would stand on the corner, they'd do a testimony, they'd play some music, they'd sing some songs, and that would also just help to draw an audience. William Booth was a man ahead of his time because he really appreciated the value of good publicity.

He could have been a great PR man had he gone in a different direction. His credo was attract attention, and he told his soldiers and officers to do anything possible to get that attention. Booth really had a sense of marketing and of branding, and he made sure that people knew who the Army was, and the uniform was one of the ways to do this. By far, the majority of the Army's officers were very young, and at least half were women. Here again is Gordon Moyles. William Booth always said, you know, my best men are women.

And in the 1880s, for example, almost 50 percent and sometimes more than 50 percent of the officers were women. Here's Salvation Army Major Christine Parkin. William Booth had a rare genius for understanding the needs of young people. He also had this gift for being able to use people in a way that made them feel that they were in charge, they were responsible, they were challenged to do something really good for the kingdom of God.

Here's William Booth's granddaughter, Commissioner Catherine Bramwell Booth. He was very interested in what we did in the little corps, that you might call it a little church, the group to which we belong, you see. So if he was at home, it was important to tell him how it had been on Sunday. Well, how did you get on? And I said that day, yes, yes, Grandpa. I sang a solo. Oh, he said, how did you get on? Well, I said, well, I did my best. And then he suddenly seemed to be angry with me, roared at me, and he could, you know, he could shout.

And he had a splendid voice. Well, he shouted at me that day. You see, and I was all in a shiver. And he said, your best. What's the good of that, Catherine?

You'll never be any good to me in the army if that's all you can do. Well, I felt dreadful. And then he suddenly stopped and changed. He said, you see, dear child, when we believe in God and God helps us, we can do better than our best. And then he opened up all that idea of God being within reach and understanding how we felt.

And my goodness, what words when we believe in God and God helps us, we can do better than our best. We're following the story of William and Catherine Booth. The story of William and Catherine Booth. The story of the Salvation Army continues after these messages. And we continue here with our American stories and the story of William and Catherine Booth and the story of the Salvation Army. And every once in a while, although the show is entitled Our American Stories, you'll sometimes hear some British voices.

And that's because as we look back in time, so many of the important organizations, so many of the important events that happened here in this country were shaped by some of the things that happened across the pond, so to speak. And so we continue with the story of William and Catherine Booth. Among the thousands of recruits, the Army especially prized men and women whose lives had been radically transformed. William Booth told his officers, when you go into a town, search for the worst alcoholic.

Go after the woman at the end of a rope. He would rather his meetings were crowded with such people than churchgoers who were not broken by their sin. One of his mottos was, go for souls and go for the worst. Here's Christine Parkin and a couple testimonies of the time. They were able to see it happen before their eyes, really. They saw the little homes transformed because the father of the household brought a joy to meet home on a Saturday night instead of spending all his money at the pub. And the children started to go to school because there was money.

It used to be starvation before they came. Now he brings his wages home to me instead of taking them to the public house. If you want to know what God has done for me, go and ask my poor wife, whom I've beaten in my mad and fury until I've endangered her life and smashed everything I could lay my hands upon. Hear the words of Catherine Booth, Glenn Horage and Bramwell Booth. We teach that a man cannot be right with God while he is doing wrong to men. In short, decide that holiness means being saved from sin and filled with love to God and man. So important was the message of holiness that in 1870 at the conference of the Christian Mission, William Booth said, holiness is to us a fundamental truth. It stands to the forefront of our doctrines. The first salvation army flag was presented in 1878 and Catherine often explained when she presented flags later on that the red stood for the blood of Jesus Christ, which purifies from sin.

The blue stands for purity of holiness and the fire of the star was the fire of the Holy Spirit, which actively leads his people. The flag and its soldiers were encountering intense opposition. In his play Major Barbara, committed socialist master wordsmith and playwright George Bernard Shaw criticized the Salvation Army for using tainted money to do its work. To this Booth answered, we will wash it in the tears of the widows and the orphans and lay it on the altar of humanity. The media hated the Salvation Army too and continually wrote fictional stories that were successful in inflaming public opinion against them. Booth would tell his very upset son Bramwell, 50 years from now it will matter very little how these people treated us.

It will matter a great deal how we dealt with the work of God. I don't care what they say about me as long as they say something and announce where I'm preaching. Even Queen Victoria objected to the Salvation Army on the grounds that she should have the only army in England and that all generals should belong to the British Empire. The authorities offered little if no protection and in many cases they charged the Salvationists with disturbing the peace. In fact, the British Home Secretary pushed a peace at any price policy. And this meant that the results of any legal Salvation Army activity that hooligans turned into a riot were blamed on the Salvation Army. The Home Secretary's logic went thus, if the Salvation Army had not been there in the first place, the peace would not have been disturbed.

Here again is Gordon Moyles. When they were charged and sent to jail, they had the option of a fine or say ten days in jail and you know what they always chose. They chose the ten days in jail and they would go to jail for the ten days and at the end of the ten days the Salvation Army Corps, the whole battalion would line up, march to the jail, bring out the jailbird and leave that jailbird dressed in the uniform of a jailbird, march them back to the citadel and they would have a great meeting where the person would testify and talk about it and so on.

And of course it got publicized and all the newspapers, all the newspapers loved it. Because they now knew they could get away with it, schools of angry and restless young men organized into a group whose stated aim was to destroy the Salvation Army. They called themselves the Skeleton Army. The Skeleton Army didn't confine the harassment just to the streets, they went to and attacked the homes of anyone who sympathized with the organization, smashing windows and hurling dead cats and rats, bricks, stones, tar, rotten vegetables and sticks into their windows. One army officer named Elijah had his nose broken and face bloodied and while the riot was going on around him, William Booth asked the bloodied Elijah how the officers were.

Elijah replied, the officers will be alright, dead or alive. In the midst of all this, William received the news that one of his first converts, Susanna Beatty, had been killed. She had been pelted with rotten fish and rocks.

One of the rocks knocked her off her feet and as she lay in the street, a thug kicked her heart in the stomach and she died of internal injuries. The Skeleton Army was financially and politically supported by breweries, pub owners and politicians outraged by the army's unorthodox approach. This led to a strange alliance among politicians, hoodlums and brewery owners, all of whom wanted the Salvation Army to march right out of sight.

Here again is Glen Horridge. Anything that seemed to be deviating from the norm has often been ridiculed and attacked. They set themselves up to be different and so what better on a Friday night or a Saturday than to jeer at the Salvation Army. During 1882, 669 Salvation Army soldiers were assaulted.

One third of them were women, including 23 children. 60 Salvation Army buildings were seriously damaged. William wrote many letters to Parliament and the police urging them to set aside the peace at any price policy, but it failed to move them. Eventually, 4,000 angry young men from the Skeleton Army descended on a small band of Salvation Army soldiers, pelting them with rocks and tar. When a few officers arrived on the scene, the leader of the Skeleton Army assaulted one of the officers. The man was immediately arrested and as their leader was dragged away, the Skeleton Army began throwing rocks into the police station and taunting the officers to come out. Finally, the police saw the truth of the matter.

It was impossible to ignore the rights of one group of people and allow thugs to roam the streets without putting everyone's liberty at risk. And what a story we're hearing by the way and I just love the beginning where Booth's admonition was to search for the worst alcoholic and the woman at the end of her rope. Go for souls, he said, souls at the end of their rope. These stories are important stories, again, the story about England and America. This is one that's inextricably intertwined. You can't imagine the Salvation Army without Christmas or Christmas without the Salvation Army.

They become a part of the DNA of this country. And by the way, they serve so many families in need and that's families of every kind, every gender, every religion, non-religion and of course, folks of every sexual orientation too. They don't ask for any of these things when you walk in to the door of the Salvation Army.

So give whenever you get a chance to this great organization. More on the story of William and Catherine Booth, the Salvation Army story, here on Our American Stories. And we continue here with Our American Stories and the story of William and Catherine Booth.

Let's return to our final installment in this great hour-long story. The persecution of the Salvation Army brought about a new protocol. The Army began to station officers at prison gates. As disheveled men came out, Salvationists would offer help with accommodation and legitimate work.

Here's Roger Green. There was a Salvation Army family by the name of the Shirley family who in 1879 went over to the United States. Their daughter was a captain in the Salvation Army. They decided that they were going to begin the work of the Salvation Army, albeit unofficially, in Philadelphia. So at 4th and Knoxford, the Shirley family with Captain Eliza Shirley, just a young woman at the time, began to work as Salvationists and opened the work of the Salvation Army in the United States. However, this was not an official opening and the Shirleys wrote back to William Booth and asked if William Booth would send reinforcements to help to establish the work of the Salvation Army in America. And so William Booth chose George Scott Railton and seven young women for this task. And on March 10th of 1880, George Scott Railton and these seven young women, these seven Hallelujah lassies, walked down the gang plank of their ship to the base of Manhattan and they opened the work of the Salvation Army officially. By the end of 1883, the Salvation Army was operating in 12 countries and everywhere it fought an evangelistic war. We are a Salvation people, said Booth.

That is our specialty. On September 23rd, 1886, 57-year-old William Booth stepped onto New York's Cunard Pier. By now, the Salvation Army boasted 100 corps in America manned by 300 officers and over 5,000 soldiers and cadets.

On this two and a half month visit, over 200,000 Americans flocked to hear him speak. At his corps, William Booth was an evangelist, but he was also intensely practical. The social ministry of the Salvation Army usually did not begin at the instigation of William Booth. Social ministry began as officers and soldiers were working in their own local situations with people and as they had compassion for these people and wanted to aid them and assist them.

And so, for example, in 1886, the Salvation Army opened up a home for alcoholic women. There again, not at the instigation of William Booth, but because there were local officers and soldiers in that situation who saw a need and they wanted to meet that need. What Booth did was support these ventures with personnel and funds. Here again is Diane Winston and Colonel Bramwell Booth. William Booth, unlike many of his contemporaries, was not particularly interested in the big issues of the day.

Booth only cared about saving people. The Army was a religion of action. One evening on a cold winter's night, William Booth was coming home over a bridge and realized that men were sleeping out in the cold underneath the bridge finding what shelter they could. And when he first saw my grandfather, Bramwell, he said to him, William Bramwell, did you know that men were sleeping under the bridges in this weather? And Bramwell answered, well, I thought everyone knew that general.

And William then said, Bramwell, go and do something. Find a warehouse. Put some mattresses on the floor.

Get a Coke stove and look after them a little bit. But mind, no coddling. Here's Roger Green and a quote from William Booth. William Booth was very moved by the compassionate ministry of his officers and soldiers. And in 1889, he wrote one of his most important articles. That article was called Salvation for Both Worlds. William Booth says very clearly that he has to fight not only against the sin of this world, but he has to fight also against the prevailing evils of poverty and idleness and prostitution and alcoholism and so forth in this world.

If these people are to believe in Jesus Christ, become the servants of God, and escape the miseries of the wrath to come, they must be helped out of their present social miseries. In 1888, Catherine had discovered she had terminal breast cancer. She would continue to write and preach, but after two years, she was confined to bed. Finally, on October 4, 1890, at 61 years of age, Catherine Booth, in Salvation Army terminology, was promoted to glory. The following year, in December 1891, Captain Joseph McPhee, an energetic Salvation Army officer in San Francisco, had a goal of providing a free Christmas dinner to anyone who was in need. McPhee borrowed a large crab pot from the Oakland Ferry Landing and hung it from a tripod at the foot of Market Street and posted a sign that said, Fill the pot for the poor, free dinner on Christmas Day. He collected enough to feed 1,000 people and thus began the now iconic Salvation Army Christmas Red Kettle Campaign. The sounds of bells ringing throughout America has become a very important part of the holiday season. Americans contribute some $100 million to the Army's Christmas Kettle Campaign as Christmas cheer to the less fortunate.

Kettle donations remain in local communities, supporting year-round services, and the USA Christmas Kettle tradition was too good to remain exclusive and in recent years has become exported to other nations in which the Army serves. William now handed much of the day-to-day running of the Army to his son Bramwell and returned to his first love. William began to travel the globe preaching the gospel. There's a story of him sitting on a railway carriage with Cecil Rhodes, the great South African colossus, the great imperialist, and he says to Cecil Rhodes, How's your soul?

And Rhodes says, Not very well. William Booth puts his hands on his shoulders, bends them over, gets on the floor of the carriage and the train and prays with them. And he would pray with everybody. He would ask everybody, How's your soul?

Are you saved? When he was in the presence of the king, he was asked to sign a guest book. And on that guest book, he wrote this, Some men's ambition is gold. Some men's ambition is fame. My ambition is the souls of men.

Into his 80s, William Booth would still preach. At one of his last meetings, the old soldier gave his final call to battle. While women weep, as they do now, I'll fight. While children go hungry, as they do now, I'll fight. While men go to prison, in and out, in and out, as they do now, I'll fight. While there is a drunkard left, while there is a poor lost girl upon the streets, while there remains one dark soul without the light of God, I'll fight.

I'll fight to the very end. By the age of 83, on August 20th, 1912, the old general who commanded a worldwide army for 53 years was promoted to glory. The Salvation Army announced, The general has laid down his sword. For weeks after William was buried, the rumors spread that Queen Alexandra had come to the funeral in disguise.

No one could prove whether the rumor was true or not, but in one sense it did not matter. What mattered was that no one thought it strange or unbelievable that a queen might have been standing shoulder to shoulder with the most gaudy and destitute of the attendees. Today, the Salvation Army spans the globe, reaching out to others with the love of God, the courage of their convictions, and the discipline of good soldiers. Raising more than $1 billion annually, the Salvation Army is now established in 80 countries, with 16,000 evangelical centers and operates more than 3,000 social welfare institutions, hospitals, schools, orphanages, homeless shelters, and social service agencies. I'm Greg Hengler, and this is Our American Stories.

And great job as always to Greg Hengler. And what a story, the story of William and Catherine Booth and the story of the Salvation Army. $1 billion a year, 3,000 separate organizations. It's really unbelievable and not a stitch from the government. This is just the generosity of people around the world giving to a great cause. A special thanks, by the way, to the folks at Vision Video for giving us access to their great documentary, Our People, the story of William and Catherine Booth, the Salvation Army story, here on Our American Stories. Music
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-02-17 20:48:25 / 2023-02-17 21:01:18 / 13

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