Skip to main content
Select Source:

Booth, William

William Booth

Born: April 10, 1829
Nottingham, England
Died: August 20, 1912
London, England

English preacher and humanitarian

The English evangelist (crusading preacher) William Booth founded the Salvation Army, an international Christian organization for charitable and evangelical work (encouraging people to save their souls through religious faith).

Early life

William Booth was born near Nottingham, England, on April 10, 1829, the only son of Samuel and Mary Moss Booth's four children. His father was a building contractor. As a youth, Booth worked as an assistant to a pawnbroker (a moneylender who requires the deposit of an item belonging to the borrower in exchange for the loan). Neither he nor his parents were especially religious. After a conversion (change in beliefs) at age fifteen, however, Booth began preaching in the streets on behalf of a Methodist chapel. The Methodist religion considers preaching more important than ceremony in inspiring devotion.

In 1849 Booth went to London, where he worked for another pawnbroker. Three years later, however, thinking he could do something to help the many poor people he came into contact with, he became a full-time Methodist preacher. His education ended at age thirteen, but through reading and learning from other preachers, he improved his speaking and writing. In 1855 he married Catherine Mumford, an intelligent and determined woman, and went on to have eight children. Encouraged by her in his religious studies, Booth became a minister in 1858.

Booth's beliefs

Booth's belief system was simple and unwavering. He drew both his beliefs and his basic practice from the model set by John Wesley (17031791), the founder of Methodism, a century earlier. It required no official religious education. He believed that without personal acceptance of Christ as his savior (one who saves another from destruction), the sinful man would endure eternal suffering. Although the opportunity for acceptance was freely offered to all, it was certain to be ignored by the people in the new run-down industrial towns, who openly practiced unlawful and immoral behavior. Thus, it was necessary for preachers to reach the ignorant, the drunks, and the criminals and offer them the chance of saving their souls.

Driven by this purpose, in 1861 the Booths left Methodism, and in 1865 they established the Christian Mission in East London, England. During the next twelve years Booth developed the preaching methods later employed by the Salvation Army. Among these were the use of secular (nonreligious) living quarters and the use of reformed sinners as workers. Booth was mainly interested in saving souls. He held no extreme political or social views, and he only gradually came to accept that social improvement might have to come before religious conversion. Thus he slowly built a social program of food kitchens, housing, and group organization. He wrote, however, "The Social is the bait, but it is Salvation that is the hook that lands the fish."

The conversion of the Christian Mission into the Salvation Army occurred somewhat accidentally in 1878. Booth had earlier expressed the seriousness of his mission in military terms, titles, and ideas. This organizational style, not unique to his army, was in tune with the current popularity of and respect for the military. The army's paper, the War Cry, appeared at the end of 1879. Although the army met with considerable opposition through the 1880s, by 1890 Booth had become internationally famous. The day-to-day administrative work of the Salvation Army fell increasingly to Bramwell Booth, General Booth's oldest child and his chief of staff.

Mrs. Booth died in 1890, the year in which Booth wrote, with much assistance from a reforming journalist named W. T. Stead, his famous book, In Darkest England and the Way Out. In it Booth colorfully and sympathetically detailed the problems of the people his army most often tried to reach, and he insisted that the "way out" must involve the changing of men as well as their surroundings.

For More Information

Barnes, Cyril J. William Booth and His Army of Peace. Amersham, England: Hulton Educational, 1975.

Barnes, Cyril J. Words of William Booth. London: Salvationist Publishing, 1975.

Bennett, David. William Booth. Minneapolis, MN.: Bethany House, 1986.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Booth, William." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Booth, William." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/booth-william-0

"Booth, William." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved August 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/booth-william-0

William Booth

William Booth

The English evangelist William Booth (1829-1912) founded the Salvation Army, an international Christian organization for philanthropic and evangelical work.

William Booth was born near Nottingham on April 10, 1829. As a youth, he was apprenticed to a pawnbroker, but after a conversion experience he began street preaching for a Methodist chapel. In 1849 he went to London, where he worked as a pawnbroker. Three years later, however, he became a full-time Methodist lay preacher. In 1855 he married Catherine Mumford, an intelligent and determined woman. Encouraged by her in his theological studies, Booth was ordained a minister in 1858.

Booth's theology was simple and unchanging. He drew both his beliefs and his basic practice from the model set by John Wesley a century earlier. His creed required no systematic theological learning. He held that without personal acceptance of Christ as his Savior, the sinful man would die into eternal damnation. Although the opportunity for acceptance was freely offered to all, it was certain to be ignored by the masses in the sordid and pagan slums of the new industrial towns. Thus it was necessary to reach the ignorant, the drunkard, and the criminal and offer them the chance of repentance.

Driven by this purpose, in 1861 the Booths left Methodism and in 1865 established the Christian Mission in East London. During the next 12 years Booth developed the evangelical techniques later employed in the Salvation Army. Among these were the use of secular quarters and the enlistment of converted sinners as workers. Booth was not a political or social radical; he only gradually came to accept that social uplift might have to precede conversion. Thus he slowly built a social program of food kitchens, housing, and communal organization. He wrote, however, "The Social is the bait, but it is Salvation that is the hook that lands the fish."

The conversion of the Christian Mission into the Salvation Army occurred somewhat accidentally in 1878. Booth had earlier expressed his evangelical zeal in military terms, titles, and concepts. This organizational style, not unique to his army, was in tune with the current popularity of militarism and imperialism. The army's paper, the War Cry, appeared at the end of 1879. Although the army met considerable hostility through the 1880s, by 1890 Booth had become a figure of international renown. The day-today administrative labor of the Salvation Army fell increasingly to Bramwell Booth, General Booth's oldest child and his chief of staff and successor.

Mrs. Booth died in 1890, the year in which Booth wrote, with much assistance from the reforming journalist W. T. Stead, his famous book, In Darkest England and the Way Out. In it Booth colorfully and compassionately detailed the misery of the "Submerged Tenth" and insisted that the "way out" must transform men as well as their surroundings.

Further Reading

Of the biographies of Booth, two stand out: The best is St. John Ervine, God's Soldier: General William Booth (2 vols., 1934). An earlier biography is by a friend, Harold Begbie, The Life of General William Booth: The Founder of the Salvation Army (2 vols., 1920), which is well organized chronologically but lacks clarity of detail.

Additional Sources

Barnes, Cyril J., William Booth and his army of peace, Amersham, Eng.: Hulton Educational, 1975.

Barnes, Cyril J., Words of William Booth, London: Salvationist Publishing, 1975.

Bennett, David, William Booth, Minneapolis, Minn.: Bethany House, 1986.

Coutts, Frederick Lee, Bread for my neighbour: an appreciation of the social action and influence of William Booth, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1978.

Robinson, Virgil E., William Booth and his Army, Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Association, 1976. □

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"William Booth." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"William Booth." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/william-booth

"William Booth." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved August 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/william-booth

Booth, William

Booth, William (1829–1912). Revivalist and founder of the Salvation Army. Of lower middle-class background, Booth joined the methodists in Nottingham and in 1844 was converted. After experience in several different methodist connexions (including a ministry in 1858 in the methodist new connexion) he rejected them all as too staid and middle class to reach the mass of people needing salvation. Strongly supported by his wife Catherine, also an active methodist, he set up a mission in London's East End in 1865, from which developed the Salvation Army. For some time Booth waged his holy war solely on the spiritual front; but experience showed that poverty was a great impediment to salvation, and in his book In Darkest England (1890) he outlined plans for social reform. Booth was extremely authoritarian and the military structure of the Salvation Army reflected his temperament. No theologian, he was at times anti-intellectual: ‘do not argue, but pray,’ he advised his officers.

John F. C. Harrison

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Booth, William." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Booth, William." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/booth-william

"Booth, William." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Retrieved August 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/booth-william

Booth, William

William Booth, 1829–1912, English religious leader, founder and first general of the Salvation Army, b. Nottingham. Originally a local preacher for the Wesleyan Methodists, he went (1849) to London and entered (1852) the ministry of the Methodist New Connexion Church, but in 1861 he began independent evangelistic work. In 1865, with the help of his wife, Catherine Booth, he started the East London Revival Society (soon known as the Christian Mission) in Whitechapel, London. The Christian Mission developed in 1878 into the Salvation Army. General Booth, a remarkable organizer, traveled widely, winning recognition wherever he went. In 1890 he published In Darkest England and the Way Out in collaboration with W. T. Stead. See Booth, family; Booth, Evangeline Cory.

See biographies by G. S. Railton (2d ed. 1912), H. Begbie (1920), St. J. Ervine (2 vol., 1934), H. C. Steele (1954), E. Bishop (1964), and R. Collier (1965); R. Hattersley, Blood and Fire (2000).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Booth, William." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Booth, William." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/booth-william

"Booth, William." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved August 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/booth-william

Booth, William

Booth, William (1829–1912). Founder and first General of the Salvation Army. His White-chapel ‘Christian Mission’ changed its name in 1878 to the ‘Salvation Army’. A strong advocate of rousing music (and of denying to the devil all the best tunes), he also introduced ‘the standard of the London cab-horse’, pointing out that many had to live on less money than was expended on maintaining cab-horses: the standard of the London taxi produces a similar result.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Booth, William." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Booth, William." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/booth-william

"Booth, William." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Retrieved August 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/booth-william

Booth, William

Booth, William (1829–1912) English religious leader, founder and first general of the Salvation Army. A Methodist revivalist, he preached regularly at the Methodist New Connection from 1852 to 1861. He started his own revivalist movement, which undertook evangelistic and social work among the poor. Named the Salvation Army in 1878, the movement gradually spread to many countries. On his death, Booth was succeeded by his son William Bramwell Booth.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Booth, William." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Booth, William." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/booth-william-0

"Booth, William." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved August 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/booth-william-0