BOOTH, WILLIAM (1829–1912), English evangelist, founder of the Salvation Army. William Booth was born on April 10, 1829, in Nottingham, England, the only son of the four surviving children of Samuel and Mary Moss Booth. The elder Booth, an unsuccessful building contractor, and his wife were no more than conventionally religious, but William, intelligent, ambitious, zealous, and introspective, was earnest about Christianity from an early age. He was converted at the age of fifteen and two years later gave himself entirely to the service of God as the result of the preaching of James Caughey, a visiting American Methodist revivalist. From the age of thirteen until he was twenty-two Booth worked as a pawnbroker's assistant, first in Nottingham and after 1849 in London. His zeal for souls and compassion for the poor drove him to preach in the streets. In 1852 he became a licensed Methodist minister. Although Booth had been forced by his father's financial ruin to withdraw from a good grammar school at age thirteen, he read avidly, sought instruction from older ministers, and developed an effective style in speech and writing. In 1855 he married Catherine Mumford, a woman of original and independent intelligence and great moral courage, who had a strong influence on him. They had eight children.
In 1861 Booth began to travel as an independent evangelist, sometimes appearing with Catherine, who publicly advocated an equal role for women in the pulpit. In 1865 the couple established a permanent preaching mission among the poor in the East End of London, in a place where Booth had conducted an especially effective series of meetings. This new endeavor, which soon included small-scale charitable activities for the poor, was known for several years as the Christian Mission. In 1878 the mission was renamed the Salvation Army.
The military structure suggested by the new name appealed to the Booths and to the co-workers they attracted to their work. Booth remained an orthodox Methodist in doctrine, preaching the necessity of repentance and the promise of holiness—a voluntary submission to God that opened to the believer a life of love for God and for humankind. A premillennialist as well, he was convinced that the fastest way to complete the work of soul winning that would herald the return of Christ was to establish flying squads of enthusiasts who would spread out over the country at his command. The General, as Booth was called, saw evangelism as warfare against Satan for the souls of individuals; the militant tone of scripture and hymns was not figurative to Booth and his officers, but literal reality. The autocracy of military command was well suited to Booth's decisive and uncompromising personality; and it appealed both to his close associates, who were devoted to him and who sought his counsel on every matter, and to his more distant followers, the "soldiers" recently saved from sin, most of them uneducated, new to religion, and eager to fit themselves into the great scheme.
William and Catherine were convinced from the beginning of their work in London that it was their destiny to carry the gospel to those untouched by existing religious efforts. To them this meant the urban poor. Their sympathy led them to supplement their evangelism by immediate and practical relief. They launched campaigns to awaken the public to the worst aspects of the life of the poor, such as child prostitution and dangerous and ill-paid piecework in neighborhood match factories. Soup kitchens, men's hostels, and "rescue homes" for converted prostitutes and unwed mothers became essential parts of the Army's program.
In 1890 William Booth published In Darkest England and the Way Out, which contained a full-fledged program to uplift and regenerate the "submerged tenth" of urban society. The heart of the scheme was a sequence of "city colonies" (urban missions for the unemployed), "land colonies" (retraining in agricultural skills), and "overseas colonies" (assisted emigration to one of Britain's colonies). The book also explained the existing programs and promised many new schemes in addition to the colonies: the "poor man's lawyer," the "poor man's bank," clinics, industrial schools for poor children, missing-persons inquiries, a "matrimonial bureau," and a poor-man's seaside resort, "Whitechapel-by-the-Sea." The Darkest England scheme, which was widely endorsed, represents an important turning point in public support for the Army.
Booth would not have claimed to be a saint in any conventional sense, and there are certainly controversial aspects to his life and work. Always overworked and chronically unwell, he often had strained relationships with his close associates, especially after the death of Catherine in 1890. Many of his statements about the Army overlooked the fact that much of its program was not original. He offered no criticism of the basic social and political structure that surrounded him, and his confidence in the desirability of transferring the urban unemployed to the more healthful and "natural" environment of the country was romantic and impractical. Yet the fact remains that Booth combined old and new techniques of evangelism and social relief in an immensely effective and appealing program. He displayed great flexibility in adapting measures to the needs of the moment, altering or eliminating any program, however dear to him, if its effectiveness diminished. He abandoned anything in the way of theology (such as sacraments) or social theory that might confuse his followers or dampen their zeal for soul winning and good works.
Guileless and unsentimental, Booth showed a rare and genuine single-mindedness in the cause of evangelism. His last public message, delivered three months before his death on August 20, 1912, is still cherished by the Army that is his most fitting memorial. The concluding words of the message were these: "While there yet remains one dark soul without the light of God, I'll fight—I'll fight to the very end!"
William Booth and the early Salvation Army are gradually receiving attention from serious scholarship. Roy Hattersley, Blood and Fire: William and Catherine Booth and Their Salvation Army (New York, 1999) is excellent on economic and social issues and is a good introduction. St. John Ervine, God's Soldier: General William Booth, 2 vols. (New York, 1935) and Harold Begbie, The Life of General William Booth, the Founder of the Salvation Army, 2 vols. (New York, 1920) held the field of serious biography until recently, and are still almost indispensable. William Booth's In Darkest England and the Way Out (1890; reprint, London, 1970) is important for an understanding of Booth and his work. The best biography of Catherine Booth is Roger A. Green, Catherine Booth: A Biography of the Cofounder of The Salvation Army (Grand Rapids, 1996). Commissioner Frederick de Latour Booth-Tucker, The Life of Catherine Booth, the Mother of the Salvation Army, 2 vols. (London, 1892), by Booth's son-in-law, remains an Army classic.
Edward H. McKinley (1987 and 2005)
Born: April 10, 1829
Died: August 20, 1912
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).
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 belief system was simple and unwavering. He drew both his beliefs and his basic practice from the model set by John Wesley (1703–1791), 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.
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.
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.
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. □
Founder of the salvation army; b. Nottingham, England, April 10, 1829; d. near London, Aug. 20, 1912. Booth was from a working-class family, partly Jewish in origin, and had an unhappy youth. As a pawnbroker's apprentice (1842), he learned urban misery. He abandoned nominal Anglicanism for Methodism at age 15 when he was stirred by Feargus O'Connor and experienced "conversion." When he was 17 years old, influenced by an American evangelist, Booth preached in the Nottingham slums. He went to London (1849), worked as a pawnbroker's assistant to support his mother, and acted as a lay preacher.
Booth thought about joining the Wesleyans and the Congregationalists, but he disliked the Wesleyans' individualism and the Congregationalists' doctrine of predestination, so instead he entered the Methodist New Connexion (1854). After briefly attending a London seminary, he became an outstanding evangelist and was ordained in 1858.
In 1855 he married Catherine Mumford (1829–90), who shared his outlook. Their preaching success intensified Booth's view that God intended them to be roving revivalists. When ordered to a pastorate (1861), he left his denomination, became an independent evangelist, and gained some financial support.
In 1865, while preaching in a tent in London, Booth began the movement that became the Salvation Army in 1878. For the remainder of his life he was its general. Horrified by the plight of the homeless, he collaborated with W. T. Stead and wrote In Darkest England and the Way Out (1890). Booth sought the material rehabilitation of the poor to effect their spiritual regeneration. In this, as in his evangelizing, Booth met opposition, but by his persistence he triumphed. He died a national hero. Booth was a Biblicist, and stressed the sacrifice of Christ, instantaneous conversion, and Christian perfection.
Bibliography: st. john g. ervine, God's Soldier: General William Booth, 2 v. (New York 1935). h. c. steele, I Was a Stranger: The Faith of William Booth (New York 1954). r. hattersley, Blood and Fire: William and Catherine Booth and Their Salvation Army (New York 2000).
[e. e. beauregard]
Archbishop of York; b. Lancashire; d. Sept. 12, 1464. Booth was one of the few English prelates of his age not to receive a university education, but had as a young man practiced law at Gray's Inn, London. He became a prebendary of Southwell (York diocese) in 1416, chancellor of St. Paul's, London (1421–23), and archdeacon of Middlesex (1429–41). He first became prominent in 1445 as chancellor to Henry VI's queen, Margaret of Anjou; court influence procured his provision to the See of Coventry and Lichfield on April 26, 1447, and his subsequent succession to Cardinal John kemp at york, by papal bull of July 21, 1452. His half-brother, Lawrence booth, succeeded William as chancellor.
Although less active in politics thereafter and holding no high office under the crown, William still did not turn his energies to pastoral work. In January 1450, Pope callistus iii had dispensed him for life from personally making the episcopal visitation of his diocese, and the diocesan administration of York remained in the hands of competent subordinates. His contemporary Thomas Gascoigne unfairly criticized the avarice, lack of learning, and nepotism of this indignus episcopus Cestriae. Booth undoubtedly promoted the advancement of his kinsmen, three of whom became bishops, but they seem to have been men of ability. At York he was remembered as a benefactor of the lesser clergy.
Bibliography: a. h. thompson, Dictionnaire d'histoire et de géographie ecclésiastiques 9:1166-67. MS Register in Borthwick Institute, St. Anthony's Hall, York.
[c. d. ross]
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).
John F. C. Harrison