Booth Establishes the Salvation Army Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Evangelists William and Catherine Booth, who were part of a revivalist crusade at the Whitechapel Mission in London’s East End, founded the evangelical Salvation Army to work for social reform and charity. The group’s distinctive methods and uniforms, and its publicity, aroused considerable opposition from some corners and praise from others.

Summary of Event

The future cofounder of the Salvation Army, William Booth, experienced a religious conversion at the age of fifteen in 1844 and became a Methodist Methodists;and Salvation Army[Salvation Army] preacher and street evangelist in London and other cities. He was licensed as a preacher in the Methodist New Connexion, functioning as a traveling evangelist, until he resigned from that organization in 1861 because of disagreement about evangelistic approaches. Cofounder Catherine Mumford Booth was from a Methodist background and, as a child, read the entire Bible several times; later she became involved in the temperance movement. Salvation Army Booth, William [kw]Booth Establishes the Salvation Army (July, 1865) [kw]Establishes the Salvation Army, Booth (July, 1865) [kw]Salvation Army, Booth Establishes the (July, 1865) [kw]Army, Booth Establishes the Salvation (July, 1865) Salvation Army Booth, William [g]Great Britain;July, 1865: Booth Establishes the Salvation Army[3850] [c]Organizations and institutions;July, 1865: Booth Establishes the Salvation Army[3850] [c]Religion and theology;July, 1865: Booth Establishes the Salvation Army[3850] [c]Social issues and reform;July, 1865: Booth Establishes the Salvation Army[3850] [c]Women’s issues;July, 1865: Booth Establishes the Salvation Army[3850] Booth, Catherine Mumford Booth, William Bramwell

Booth and Mumford first met in 1852 and married in 1855, forming an extraordinary partnership as preachers, evangelists, and social reformers. The Booths were greatly influenced by American revivalists Charles Grandison Finney Finney, Charles Grandison , James Caughey Caughey, James , and Phoebe Palmer Palmer, Phoebe , who had conducted successful evangelistic tours of the British Isles in the 1850’s and 1860’s, which featured a nondenominational approach based on advanced publicity and an emotional appeal to be converted. Booth had little theological training and adopted the “holiness” emphasis of Finney and Palmer, which called for “entire sanctification” after one’s initial conversion. Mumford held advanced views about the role of women preachers; she overcame Booth’s opposition and began preaching on her own in 1860 after defending Palmer’s right to preach and evangelize. In many ways Mumford was a more effective preacher than her husband.

From 1861 to 1865, the Booths were traveling evangelists with four children, an uncertain income, an uncertain future, and uncertain of “God’s call.” During this period they developed some tactics that later became staples for the Salvation Army. By 1863 they had begun using converts to help evangelize. In February, 1865, Mumford accepted an invitation for speaking engagements in London, a move that would bring the Booths closer to Catherine’s mother, who would be able to help care for the children. In July, William accepted an invitation from a group of men who published a magazine called Revival to begin preaching in the East End of London, London;East End London;Salvation Army an area notorious for its squalor and poverty. Out of his six-week speaking engagement he developed the Whitechapel Mission, which changed names several times before it decided on Salvation Army in 1878. Thus began Booth’s permanent focus on evangelism and later social reform centered in London.

William Booth around 1907.

(Library of Congress)

Booth’s mission from 1865 to 1879 can be divided into three phases: 1865-1866, when Booth operated under London groups; 1867-1870, when Booth created a committee to help with financial matters; and 1870-1879, when Booth developed more structure as the army’s general superintendent and membership increased and stabilized. By 1868 the organization had its own magazine, East London Evangelist, which was renamed the Christian Mission in 1870, and between seven thousand and fourteen thousand people attended services at the mission’s main location and other sites in London. In 1869, Booth purchased the mission’s soup kitchen and set up the Food for Millions shops, which served inexpensive soup and other meals.

Much of the Booths’ success has been attributed to adapting to the structure of the working-class neighborhoods, street preaching, open-air meetings and meetings in music halls, door-to-door visitation, tract distribution, and using religious words set to the music of popular tunes. The Booths also employed many women. Furthermore, the Salvation Army was shunned by traditional denominations, which tended to frown on their work with the extremely poor. The Church of England Church of England;and Salvation Army[Salvation Army] was especially harsh in its criticism because it believed the Salvation Army was sending a simplistic message and because the Booths did not encourage converts to join denominational churches.

A major turning point came in 1878, when the organization adopted the Salvation Army as its name. Booth chose the name because he believed the organization was fighting a “war.” Booth was selected general superintendent and had the power to appoint his successor, spend organizational funds, and publish an annual financial statement. Within the first year, Booth had an eleven-point doctrinal statement in place, which all Salvation Army workers had to sign. Workers had to agree to a literal understanding of the Bible and believe a number of points: the trinity and the humanity and divinity of Jesus Christ, the fall of Adam and Eve, Jesus’ atonement for the entire world, salvation through repentance and regeneration, justification by faith, complete sanctification, personal and general resurrection, and heaven and hell. Theologically, these points did not differ much from American and English revivalists.

The Salvation Army published a new magazine, The War Cry, and developed its Hallelujah Band, ranks, and the distinctive uniforms. In 1880, it began to branch out, expanding from London to other English cities, continental Europe, the United States, Australia, and India, becoming a global organization with more than nine thousand corps members and almost sixteen thousand officers worldwide at the time of Booth’s death.

All eight of the Booths’ children were involved in the Salvation Army and all except a mentally challenged daughter held leadership positions. During the 1880’s many army workers were harassed by the so-called Skeleton Army of local toughs, a group opposed to the Salvation Army’s position against alcohol consumption and hired by owners of liquor shops and public houses. Also, Salvation Army workers suffered arrest at the hands of local authorities for violations of ordinances against public parades. Important milestones in the Salvation Army’s social welfare programs include working to rehabilitate prostitutes (1881), working with drunks and criminals (1883), and campaigning against teenage prostitution (1885). The army appealed to the English government for funds for its activities in 1889.

Mumford died of cancer in October, 1890. Her influence on her husband and the Salvation Army was significant, especially in the area of equality for women. Shortly after Mumford’s death, Booth published In Darkest England and the Way Out (1890), his call for major social reform. Influenced by previous studies of poverty in England and written with the help of other members of the Salvation Army and a crusading journalist, the book proposed an ambitious plan to end unemployment in England by transferring the unemployed to the country and teaching them to farm. Also, the plan was to settle some workers in England’s colonies.

In a section on “city colonies,” the book set out an ambitious social welfare assistance plan of homeless shelters, day-care centers, and missing persons bureaus. Booth also campaigned against the dangers of the matchmaking industry, which caused workers using yellow phosphorus to suffer from phossy jaw. In 1891 the Salvation Army opened its own matchmaking facility, using red phosphorus, which does not cause the disease; its workers were paid twice as much as the largest matchmaker in London.

In his later years, Booth traveled extensively in England and abroad and garnered many honors. Upon his death in 1912, he was succeeded by his oldest child, William Bramwell Booth, William Bramwell Booth, who served as general superintendent until 1929.


Modern scholarship has questioned whether or not the Salvation Army was successful in its goal of reaching the residents of urban slums (or “heathens,” as William Booth referred to them) with the Christian message. Scholars have reached different conclusions on this point, but they have acknowledged the army’s prominent role in social reform and women’s empowerment.

The Salvation Army survived defections from some of Booth’s children in 1896 and 1902, but despite internal squabbles within the Booth family, the Salvation Army became a well-known worldwide organization in the twentieth century. In fact, a poll conducted in 2005 placed it within the top ten “enduring institutions.” The red donations kettle, a familiar sight to many American Christmas shoppers, was introduced in San Francisco during the early 1890’s as part of an effort to collect funds for Christmas dinners for the poor; a century later the Salvation Army was the top fundraising charitable organization in the United States. According to Salvation Army statistics for 2002, it serves in 109 countries and uses 175 languages in the course of its work. In the wake of the deadly Asian tsunami of December 26, 2004, the Salvation Army was one of the charities at the forefront of relief efforts. The recipients of its charitable efforts would regard it as a success.

Further Reading
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    Christian History 9, issue 26, no. 2 (1990). The entire issue is devoted to articles on the Booths and the Salvation Army. Readable and geared toward the general reader.
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    xlink:type="simple">Hattersley, Roy. Blood and Fire: William and Catherine Booth and Their Salvation Army. New York: Doubleday, 2000. A dual biography that emphasizes Catherine Booth’s contributions to the formation and work of the Salvation Army.
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    xlink:type="simple">Murdoch, Norman. Origins of the Salvation Army. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1994. A scholarly treatment that is especially strong on how American revivalists influenced the Booths.
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    xlink:type="simple">Walker, Pamela J. Pulling the Devil’s Kingdom Down: The Salvation Army in Victorian Britain. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001. An analytical work with a strong emphasis on women’s roles in the establishment and work of the Salvation Army.
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    xlink:type="simple">Winston, Diane. Red-Hot and Righteous: The Urban Religion of the Salvation Army. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1999. Although focusing on the Salvation Army in America, this work discusses the English background and presents the transatlantic context of the organization.

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Categories: History