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Portrait of W. Booth

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Founder of the world-wide religious and humanitarian organization, the Salvation Army, General William Booth together with his missionary family was a key player in the Revivalist Reform Movement of the 19th century. Believing religion should alleviate the sufferings of the poor and convert sinners into ministers of salvation, Booth organized a new church based on fiery sermons, military-styled ministry, and a grass roots campaign throughout the slums of the world. Portrait of W. Booth

Born in Nottinghamshire, England, in 1829 and baptized in the Church of England, William Booth embraced Methodism at the same time that he supported the Chartists, a radical working class movement urging political, economic, and social equality. Inspired by the religious awakening sweeping England, at sixteen he and a band of friends began to hold cottage meetings where they preached, sang and strove to lead souls to salvation by asking them to recommit themselves to Christ. These meetings, together with works of charity among the local poor and sick, foreshadowed the Salvation Army, which would come into being some twenty years later.

Go Next The Hallelujah

In the intervening period between 1845-1865, Booth served as a Methodist minister; met and married the woman who was to inspire and share his ministry, Catherine Mumford; broke with the Wesleyan tradition; and undertook an evangelical mission in Staffordshire where within seven weeks Booth claimed 1700 souls who professed to have found salvation. The extraordinary success of this ministry prompted William and Catherine Booth to travel throughout England organizing open air revival meetings, whose most original feature was The Hallelujah Band, a motley crew of converted sinners whom the Booths enlisted to help convert others. As one contemporary described them (in words which are echoed in Vachel Lindsay's poem):

"they were a show company of converted reprobates...as motley a crew of reclaimed blackguards as ever mustered on a convict ship...poachers, drunkards, wife-beaters, prize-fighters, and gaol-birds of every degree of infamy...eagerly enlisted in the service of revival."
Leading his Hallelujah Band, Booth made his way to London, where in 1865 he staged a huge and highly successful meeting in a large tent at the Quaker Burial Ground which led Booth to the conclusion that he needed to establish a religious society on permanent lines--a church whose fundamental doctrine was that no one can be saved who does not try to save other people.

First designated the Christian Revival Association in 1865, it was later called the Christian Mission, and finally renamed the Salvation Army in 1878, Booth envisioned his corps of evangelists--male and female holding equal rank-- as an army ever on duty against the dark forces of Satan, crime, poverty, and human suffering.
W. Booth & his wife Catherine conducting a revival meeting.
W. Booth & his wife Catherine conducting a revival meeting.
By 1878 when the first orders and regulations for the new church were set down, there were fifty stations and eighty-eight evangelists; two years later the Booths established their magazine THE WAR CRY and a training center for missionaries in London. By 1890 when Catherine Booth died, the Salvation Army's numbers had risen to almost 13,000 in missions on three continents.

Go Next The Booth Family
in America

William Booth first visited the United States in 1888, and he entrusted the ministry for the New World to several of his children, among them Ballington, Bramwell, and Evangeline Booth. It was Evangeline, born on Christmas day in 1865 (the year William began the Army), founder of hospitals, charismatic preacher, friend of the late Transcendentalists, composer of evangelical songs and hymns, who would serve as American Commander from 1904-1934 before becoming the first woman general of the organization in 1934, twenty-two years after her father's death in 1912.

Listen to "General Booth Enters Into Heaven" in the Songbook

In 1914 Charles Ives, who had recently been Evangeline Booth's Hartsdale, NY, neighbor, recalled the Salvationist tune, ARE YOU WASHED IN THE BLOOD OF THE LAMB? in setting Vachel Lindsay's 1912 poem, GENERAL WILLIAM BOOTH ENTERS INTO HEAVEN, the same poem which inspired Sidney Homer's setting of 1926.

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