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Booth, Catherine (1829–1890)

Booth, Catherine (1829–1890)

Victorian preacher and campaigner against social injustice who, with her husband William Booth, founded the Salvation Army. Born Catherine (Kate) Mumford on January 17, 1829, in Ashbourne, Derbyshire, England; died on October 4, 1890, in Clacton-on-Sea, Essex; only daughter of John (a coachbuilder) andSarah (Milward) Mumford ; educated at home and at a private girls' school in Boston, Lincolnshire, 1841–43; married William Booth, on June 16, 1855; children: William Bramwell (b. March 8, 1856); Ballington (b. July 28, 1857); Catherine (b. September 18, 1858);Emma Moss Booth-Tucker (b. January 8, 1860); Herbert Henry (August 26, 1862); Marian Billups (May 4, 1864); Evangeline Cory Booth (1865–1950); Lucy Milward (April 28, 1867).

Experienced conversion (June 15, 1846); expelled from Wesleyan Church (c. 1850); became Sunday school teacher in Methodist Reform Church (c. 1850); met William Booth (1851); published first pamphlet, Female Ministry (January 1860); first spoke from pulpit, Whit Sunday (1860); began to conduct meetings independently (June 1864); settled in London (summer, 1865); passing of Criminal Law Amendment Act (1884); cancer diagnosed (1888).

When Catherine Booth died in 1890, her body was placed in a coffin with a glass panel and visited by almost 40,000 mourners; 36,000 attended her funeral in London. Had there been room, the number would have swelled, for many had to be turned away from Olympia where the service took place. Since early in the 1860s, Catherine and William Booth had worked tirelessly for the organization which in 1877 became known as the Salvation Army. Affectionately called the "Mother of the Army," Booth helped form its precepts with many of her beliefs and convictions.

She was born Catherine Mumford on January 17, 1829, the only girl in a family of five children. Her earliest memory was of being taken by her mother to see the body of a brother who had just died; she was probably about two years old. Catherine's three elder brothers all died in infancy, and little seems to be known about the youngest child, John, who was born in 1833. Booth's granddaughter, Catherine Bramwell-Booth , thinks he went to boarding-school. At 16, he immigrated to America and possibly became an atheist, for shortly before her death Catherine ordered her daughter, Evangeline Booth , "Write to Uncle John…. I have tried hard for his soul but he would not yield."

Booth was born into a Christian home. Years earlier, her mother Sarah Milward had been engaged to a man deemed eminently suitable by her family and friends. However, when, on the eve of her wedding, she discovered something about him which she could not condone (in keeping with Victorian reticence we are given no details), Sarah immediately broke off her engagement and steadfastly refused to marry him. Later, she met and married John Mumford. In this, she once again displayed her independence of spirit, since her father strongly opposed the match.

Sarah Mumford carried her strong views and religious principles into her marriage. Contrary to middle-class practice at the time, Catherine was not consigned to the care of a nurse or governess but was brought up by her mother and early imbued with her strict moral standards. Booth tells of how, at only four years of age, she was grief-stricken and unable to sleep because she had told a lie. Her mother dealt with the situation by praying with her for Jesus' forgiveness. By the age of five, Catherine was reading the Bible aloud and by the age of twelve had read it from beginning to end eight times.

For many years, Booth was not allowed to mix with other children for fear their lax moral standards might contaminate her. She was 12 before she attended school. Although denied childish companions, she was encouraged to participate in childish activities. She had a large family of dolls and, at times, was allowed to play by herself in the street in front of her house. One story tells of the time she was out bowling her hoop and saw a drunken man being taken to the police-station by a constable, followed by a jeering mob. Booth walked alongside the drunk because she pitied him in his isolation.

John Mumford was a coachbuilder and something of an innovator. He took an active interest in promoting the spread of tramcars as a form of public transport. He also designed and built perambulators, including, in later years, one for his grandchildren that could fold flat for easy transportation. After working hours, he was a Methodist preacher of some power. A strong advocate of temperance, he was also concerned with the politics of the day.

Booth was fond of her father. His interests were wider ranging than those of her mother, and from an early age Catherine was encouraged to discuss topics on equal terms with him and his friends. In 1833 or '34, the family moved to Mumford's home town of Boston in Lincolnshire. It was here that he became caught up in the new temperance movement; his daughter shared his convictions. By age seven, said Booth, she had "washed her hands of strong drink." She became secretary of the junior section of the local temperance society and secretly contributed anonymous articles on the subject to the various magazines to which her father subscribed. She was also a keen attender of missionary meetings—empathizing particularly with black Africans.

As business stresses mounted, John Mumford turned away from religion and, at least for a time, became a heavy drinker. It seems he also had a hasty temper; when his daughter was 12, he had her pet dog shot. Her deep affection for her father made his action all the harder to bear. Years later, she recalled:

We had a beautiful retriever, named Waterford, which was very much attached to me. It used to lie for hours on the rug outside my door; and if it heard me praying or weeping, it would whine and scratch to be let in, that it might in some way manifest its sympathy and comfort me. Wherever I went the dog would follow me about as my self-constituted protector—in fact, we were inseparable companions. One day, Waterford had accompanied me on a message to my father's house of business. I closed the door, leaving the dog outside, when I happened to strike my foot against something, and cried out with sudden pain. Waterford heard me, and without a moment's hesitation came crashing through the large glass window to my rescue. My father was so vexed at the damage done that he caused the dog to be immediately shot.

Booth-Tucker, Emma Moss (1860–1903)

American missionary. Born Emma Moss Booth in Gateshead, England, on January 8, 1860; died near Dean Lake, Missouri, in 1903; daughter of William andCatherine Booth (1829–1890); married Frederick Booth-Tucker (who also worked for the Salvation Army).

Emma Moss Booth-Tucker, consul for the Salvation Army, worked in India before working in America from 1896–1903.

Mumford's action may be easier to understand if placed within the context of the period. Kindness to animals was an attitude which was

only just developing. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) was started in 1824, the first of its kind in the world, but it had little effect on the country at large. Anna Sewell 's Black Beauty would not be published until 1877, and Frances Power Cobbe would wage a war against vivisection for the last three decades of the 19th century, a battle still far from won.

Catherine Booth was ahead of her time in her extreme sensitivity to the suffering of animals. As a child, she would weep inconsolably at the sight of sheep being goaded as they were driven along the street. In later years, she would remonstrate with donkey-boys at the seaside, leavening her lectures with small gifts of money. She would secretly feed corn to overworked and underfed horses turned out to graze, and on one occasion she almost lost her life by jumping out of a moving carriage in order to prevent a boy from causing further injury to a donkey he was hitting with a heavy-headed hammer.

Perhaps it is not surprising, then, that Booth was never able to feel quite the same about her father after the death of Waterford. For a long time after, she was tortured with mental anguish. Though Catherine did not speak of it, her mother noticed how wan and withdrawn she had become. Biographer Bramwell-Booth speculates that Catherine went through a period of doubting the existence of God. Sarah Mumford decided to send her to a carefully chosen school: the principal was a Chapel friend for whom Sarah had a high regard, and there were reports of some of the girls having had conversion experiences while there.

Though she only attended school for two years, Booth seems to have been an eager student. She particularly enjoyed history and geography but had trouble with arithmetic which, in later years, she said was taught in a "senseless way." She enjoyed mixing with the other girls but found their teasing hard to bear. It seems she had inherited her father's hasty temper. When accused of being "teacher's pet," she would fly into a rage which she afterwards regretted. Perhaps the other pupils' teasing had some justification, for she was incapable of telling a lie and would therefore be called upon by members of staff for the "facts" when any of her classmates were in trouble. By 14, incipient curvature of the spine caused Catherine to leave.

Little was known in Victorian times about the importance of healthy diet, exercise, and fresh air, and many girls embarked upon a life of semi-invalidism for lack of these necessaries. Curvature of the spine was usually treated by strapping a heavy wooden board to the patients back and by many months (even years) of rest—much of it in a recumbent position. Booth spent her period of forced inactivity studying books of theology and church history. She suffered from ill-health throughout her life and came to be a great believer in homeopathic medicine and hydropathy.

In 1844, the Mumfords moved to Brixton, a district of London. Though Booth had always had a fervent awareness of God and attended the Methodist Church with her mother, she had not become a member because she did not consider herself personally converted. So at 16 or 17, she began to consciously strive for a dramatic religious experience. After a period of agonizing and intensive prayer, she felt the assurance of personal salvation that she had been seeking. On the morning of June 15, 1846, she read in her hymn book:

My God, I am Thine,
What a comfort divine,
What a blessing to know that my Jesus is mine.

"The words came to my inmost soul with a force and illumination they had never before possessed," she wrote. "I no longer hoped that I was saved; I was certain of it."

Booth became a member of the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Brixton and joined a Bible class where she was encouraged to pray aloud, something she found initially stressful. By the autumn of 1846, she was ill again—this time with inflammation of the lungs. In May 1847, she paid an extended visit to relations in Brighton in the hope that the sea air would counteract the very real threat of tuberculosis. While there, she kept a diary. In later years, she maintained that it was the only time she was not too enveloped in events to record them.

By the time she returned home, quarrels within the Methodist Church were culminating in a Reform Movement. Members of orthodox Wesleyan Chapels suspected of sympathizing with the Reformers had their tickets of membership withheld, effectively expelling them from the church. One such member was Catherine Booth. Joining Binfield House, a chapel newly opened by the Reformers, she soon became a teacher of the senior girls' class in the Sunday school. Booth was a conscientious leader, preparing her lessons with care and holding lengthy prayer meetings after the rest of the school had dispersed.

It was here that she met the man who was to become her husband and cofounder of the Salvation Army—William Booth. Born in Nottingham, William early became an apprentice pawn-broker on the death of his father. Though brought up in the Church of England, he wandered into a Wesleyan Chapel some time before his 15th birthday, liked what he saw, continued to attend, experienced conversion, and became a member. In 1849, William moved to London, and, in June 1851, joined the Reformers. Catherine, who first met him when he preached at Binfield House, considered his sermon, "One of the best I have heard in this Chapel." They met again at the home of Mr. Rabbits, a wealthy chapel member. After William had been prevailed upon to recite a popular American temperance monologue titled "The Grog-seller's Dream," Catherine championed the cause of total abstinence against some of the less-convinced guests.

It was not unusual at this time for non-Conformist ministers to have their salaries provided by wealthy believers. By April 1852, William had left pawnbroking and was pastor at Binfield House, his salary being paid by Mr. Rabbits. On April 10, William and Catherine separately attended a service in Cowper Street. Catherine was taken ill, and William was asked to escort her home. "Before we reached my home," wrote Catherine, "we both … felt as though we had been made for each other." A month later, they were engaged.

She was GOOD … she was LOVE … she was a WARRIOR.

—William Booth

Between April 1852 and June 1855, many love letters passed between them. Incorporated with her desire that she and William should only act as God directed, Catherine had some decided views about how her fiancé's career should progress. She exhorted him to study and tried to devise ways in which he could fit it into a life already packed with ministering and evangelizing. William became pastor of a Reform Chapel in Spalding, Lincolnshire, but by the beginning of 1854 he had offered himself for ordination with the Methodist New Connexion which Catherine felt combined the best from both the Reformers and the Wesleyans: enthusiasm for salvation linked with a well-structured organization. He merged his duties as assistant pastor in a large London Circuit with highly successful evangelizing trips around the country. On June 16, 1855, the couple were married quietly—with only her father, her aunt, the caretaker, and the presiding minister present.

After a week's honeymoon on the Isle of Wight, the couple moved to the Channel Islands where William was due to lead revival meetings. For the next few years, they traveled about England incessantly though Catherine was frequently ill and frequently pregnant. Their stay in Halifax, Yorkshire, was extended to allow for the birth of William Bramwell on March 8, 1856, and thereafter the baby and his nurse journeyed with them. When the boy was nearly a year old, Sarah offered to look after him, but Catherine preferred to take charge of his upbringing herself. In a letter dated May 15, 1857, Booth wrote: "I know, my darling mother, you could not wage war with his self-will so resolutely as to subdue it. And then my child would be ruined, for he must be taught implicit, uncompromising obedience." Later, however, as both her family and her preaching commitments grew, Catherine relaxed her early scruples, and her children spent time with their grandparents and at home with the servants in her absence.

From 1857 until 1860, the Booths were settled in a Circuit, first at Brighouse where Catherine took an adult Bible class and gave temperance addresses to young people, then at Gateshead. By January 1860, the family had increased to four children and three or four servants, including the nurse. A few weeks before the birth of her fourth child, Booth wrote a pamphlet urging the rights of women to preach. Called Female Ministry, it was written in reply to one published by a Reverend Arthur Rees attacking women preachers. It is still used as the basis for Salvation Army teaching on the subject as, for its period, it shows a highly enlightened attitude towards the abilities of women.

It was not until Whitsunday, 1860, however, that Booth exercised the right she had championed. One morning, at a large outdoor meeting led by her husband, Catherine felt moved to give testimony when members of the congregation were invited to speak about their experiences of God. That evening, she gave her first sermon. Her text was "Be ye filled with the Spirit." From then on, she was a sought after preacher, and when William became ill she substituted for him as Circuit superintendent until he was well again.

By Easter 1861, both of the Booths were conducting services in Hartlepool. William returned home, but Catherine remained without the children. Nevertheless, she labored hard to combine her public and private lives. When the children had whooping cough, she supervised the water bandages on their chests and the soaking of their feet in hot water and mustard. She complained to her mother that she found it impossible to find time for both preparing her addresses and making her children's clothes.

When the Methodist Conference once again refused William's request to be a full-time evangelist, he left the New Connexion, with Catherine's complete approval, though it meant that the family had no obvious means of support. Indeed, from this time on, the Booths received their income entirely from collections, donations from wealthy patrons, and their writings. Though forced to live economically, they never seemed to experience poverty. They briefly stayed with Catherine's parents, until they were invited to hold Revivalist meetings in Cornwall where they remained for 18 months. During this time, Catherine began to hold meetings for women only and her fifth child was born.

In February 1863, the Booths moved to Wales. Here they embarked upon an innovation which was to become a commonplace—they hired a secular building in which to hold their meetings. In his book, The Life of Catherine Booth, Frederick de Lautour Booth-Tucker explained the advantages of this practice:

By this course they secured, in the first place, the largest buildings in the town, and could thus reach a greater number of people. Again they were unembarrassed by denominational differences, and were on common ground where all Christians could unite. Finally, they could secure the attendance of the non-church-going masses, toward whom their hearts were increasingly drawn out.

It was in Wales that Catherine met Mrs. Billups who was to remain her lifelong friend and correspondent. Their letters afford biographers much insight into Catherine's activities over a number of years.

Until June 1864, the Booths conducted their revivalist meetings jointly, but as soon as Catherine resumed public life, five weeks after the birth of her sixth child, she began to work independently. In February 1865, she came to London, and it was quickly decided that the whole family should settle there. Soon William was working with the poor of the East End, while Catherine worked with the rich of the West End. The money collected from one helped to support the other. Catherine journeyed to holiday resorts with the intention of attracting people who, when at home, would not leave their customary place of worship to hear her. It was while she was traveling between London and various holiday places that her mother became incurably ill. The Mumfords moved to a house near the Booth's London home, where Sarah Mumford would die on December 16, 1869.

By the end of April 1867, William and Catherine had eight children who were all dedicated to God at their births and rigorously trained to follow in their parents' footsteps. They were taught almost entirely at home by governesses as Catherine had a mistrust of schools even deeper than her mother's. She had cause: when Bramwell won a place to the City of London School, some of the boys held his arms and legs and bashed him against a tree "to bang Salvation out of him." Otherwise, it seems that the Booth household was a happy, lively place. There was always plenty of conversation, singing, and laughter. William and Catherine's Training of Children, published to give guidance to Salvation Army parents, was based upon their own practices and contains much common sense in an era when many children were treated severely or even cruelly. Nevertheless, Booth could exert what, in a later climate, seems an excessive amount of pressure on her children in order to achieve what she wanted. For example, at the age of seven, Bramwell was urged by his mother to "declare for Christ." When he refused, she made no attempt to hide her bitter disappointment. In later years, Bramwell said, "I can never forget my feelings on seeing the tears fall" through her hands; three months after, he did as she wished. It was the same when he was older. Once, evidently considering becoming a doctor, Bramwell told his mother he found preaching a "burden physical, mental and spiritual." Catherine refused to take any of his misgivings seriously, bombarding him with letters and prayers until eventually he engrossed himself wholeheartedly in the Salvation Army.

It was in 1865 that Booth came in contact with the Midnight Movement, a Christian organization working with prostitutes. In the 1880s, she once again came face to face with prostitution. What horrified her most was the number of children caught up in the trade. Legally the age of consent was only 13, but many girls much younger than this could be found in English brothels and were sold by their parents to be taken to brothels abroad. A small Salvation Army home was set up for girls who wished to leave prostitution, while Bramwell headed a fact-finding mission. The help of Josephine Butler , the well-known campaigner on behalf of exploited women was acquired. When Parliament failed to act, W.T. Stead was persuaded to publish an exposé in his Pall Mall Gazette. Booth inaugurated what came to be known as the Purity Crusade: she held meetings and wrote letters to influential people, including the prime minister and Queen Victoria . In only 17 days, between 343,000 and 393,000 signatures were collected on a Petition to the House of Commons. In August 1885, the Criminal Law Amendment Act was passed, raising the age of consent to 16 and giving greater protection to women generally.

At first, the evangelical work in London was run on democratic lines, but, by 1877, it was becoming more autocratic with William as its commander in chief. A few months into the year, a bill advertised it as the "Hallelujah Army." By Christmas, notepaper was headed "The Christian Mission or The Salvation Army." When "The Salvation Army" was first painted at the back of the platform in the Whitechapel Hall, where much of the East End preaching took place, some of the older members disapproved, but soon militaristic terms were introduced to distinguish the varying ranks of the evangelists. By 1878, Catherine was designing a uniform. Before her death, the Salvation Army would spread throughout America, Australia, Europe, India, Canada, Iceland, Argentina, and parts of South Africa.

Throughout her life, Catherine Booth suffered a series of serious illnesses, and she often worked until she was in a state of nervous and physical exhaustion. During 1866 and 1867, she was continually ill with dysentery. From 1873 on, she was the victim of angina, but her death on October 4, 1890, was caused by breast cancer, first diagnosed in 1888. Advised to have an operation, she had refused, though she underwent painful electrical treatment in May 1889. During her illness, William was occupied in setting up Salvation Army night shelters, and their derivative social work. Much of his book, In Darkest England and the Way Out, was written in consultation with Catherine as she lay ill. The last months of her life were spent at a rest home for staff officers at Clacton-on-Sea, Essex. By then, she was so revered that a short-hand typist was hidden behind a screen to secretly record what she said.

sources and suggested reading:

Booth-Tucker, F., de L. The Life of Catherine Booth. London: The Salvation Army, 1893.

Bramwell-Booth, Catherine. Catherine Booth: The Story of her Loves. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1970.

Chappell, Jennie. "Catherine Booth," in Four Noble Women and their Work. London: S.W. Partridge.

Barbara Evans , Research Associate in Women's Studies at Nene College, Northampton, England

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