William Booth embarked upon his ministerial career in 1852,
desiring to win the lost multitudes of England to Christ. He walked the streets
of London to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to the poor, the homeless, the
hungry, and the destitute.
Booth abandoned the conventional concept of a church and a pulpit,
instead taking his message to the people. His fervor led to disagreement with
church leaders in London, who preferred traditional methods. As a result, he
withdrew from the church and traveled throughout England, conducting evangelistic
meetings. His wife, Catherine, could accurately be called a cofounder of The
In 1865, William Booth was invited to hold a series of
evangelistic meetings in the East End of London. He set up a tent in a Quaker
graveyard, and his services became an instant success. This proved to be the
end of his wanderings as an independent traveling evangelist. His renown as a
religious leader spread throughout London, and he attracted followers who were
dedicated to fight for the souls of men and women.
Thieves, prostitutes, gamblers, and drunkards were among Booth's
first converts to Christianity. To congregations who were desperately poor, he
preached hope and salvation. His aim was to lead people to Christ and link them
to a church for further spiritual guidance.
Many churches, however, did not accept Booth's followers because
of their past. So Booth continued giving his new converts spiritual direction,
challenging them to save others like themselves. Soon, they too were preaching
and singing in the streets as a living testimony to the power of God.
In 1867, Booth had only 10 full-time workers, but by 1874, the
number had grown to 1,000 volunteers and 42 evangelists, all serving under the
name "The Christian Mission." Booth assumed the title of general
superintendent, with his followers calling him "General." Known as
the "Hallelujah Army," the converts spread out of the East End of
London into neighboring areas and then to other cities.
Booth was reading a printer's proof of the 1878 annual report when
he noticed the statement "The Christian Mission is a volunteer army."
Crossing out the words "volunteer army," he penned in "Salvation
Army." From those words came the basis of the foundation deed of The
From that point, converts became soldiers of Christ and were known
then, as now, as Salvationists. They launched an offensive throughout the
British Isles, in some cases facing real battles as organized gangs mocked and
attacked them. In spite of violence and persecution, some 250,000 people were
converted under the ministry of The Salvation Army between 1881 and 1885.
Meanwhile, the Army was gaining a foothold in the United States.
Lieutenant Eliza Shirley had left England to join her parents, who had migrated
to America earlier in search for work. In 1879, she held the first meeting of
The Salvation Army in America, in Philadelphia. The Salvationists were received
enthusiastically. Shirley wrote to General Booth, begging for reinforcements.
None were available at first. Glowing reports of the work in Philadelphia,
however, eventually convinced Booth, in 1880, to send an official group to
pioneer the work in America.
On March 10, 1880, Commissioner George Scott Railton and seven
women officers knelt on the dockside at Battery Park in New York City to give
thanks for their safe arrival. At their first official street meeting, these
pioneers were met with unfriendly actions, as had happened in Great Britain.
They were ridiculed, arrested, and attacked. Several officers and soldiers even
gave their lives.
Three years later, Railton and other Salvationists had expanded
their operation into California, Connecticut, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland,
Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, and
Pennsylvania. President Grover Cleveland received a delegation of Salvation
Army officers in 1886 and gave the organization a warm personal endorsement.
This was the first recognition from the White House and would be followed by
similar receptions from succeeding presidents.
The Salvation Army movement expanded rapidly to Canada, Australia,
France, Switzerland, India, South Africa, Iceland, and local neighborhood
units. The Salvation Army is active in virtually every corner of the world.
General Booth's death in 1912 was a great loss to The Salvation
Army. However, he had laid a firm foundation' even his death could not deter
the ministry's onward march. His eldest son, Bramwell Booth, succeeded him.