Sue Young Histories

Catherine Booth 1829 - 1890 and William Booth 1829 - 1912

December 07, 2007

Catherine Booth 1829 –
1890 Catherine Booth 1829 - 1890 and her husband William Booth 1829 –
1912 William Booth 1829 - 1912, founder of Salvation Army, were firm advocates of homeopathy.

Catherine was greatly influenced by Phoebe Palmer, who was married to homeopath Walter Clarke Palmer 1804 - 1883.

The Booths were friends of William Thomas Stead,

Catherine did not enjoy good health. At the age of fourteen she developed spinal curvature and four years later, incipient tuberculosis.

Catherine wrote:

From Harold Begbie, William Booth: Founder of the Salvation Army. Vol 1, Volume 1, Chapter 17, The happiness of a young married couple 1855-1857, (1920). ‘… I have been reading a very good work on Homoepathy which has removed my last difficulty on the subject, and if I should be ill I should like a homeopathic doctor… William pulls her through with a book on homeopathy and a medicine chest…’

From David Malcolm Bennett, The General: William Booth, Volume 1, (Xulon Press, 1 Jul 2003). Page 376. ‘… Hurrah for homeopathy ’ Catherine began to use homeopathy to heal her son Willie and she encouraged her husband to take the remedies as well.

From “Never!” Catherine cried form the first row of the balcony, before her husband could utter a word. William Booth, a Methodist minister, had been faulted for welcoming the poor, ne’er-do-wells and street toughs to his services. Church leaders wanted him to promise that the welcome mat would be rolled up and put away. Catherine answered for him.

Little wonder that she wrote, “The more I see of fashionable religion, the more I despise it.”

William Booth was born in Nottingham, England, into a home that knew the bitter taste of poverty. His father died when he was fourteen, and William became a pawnbroker’s apprentice. He never forgot the anxiety, the bleakness and, above all, the degradation of penury.

He would eventually startle Britain with his book, In Darkest England and the Way Out. Booth knew the socially wretched intimately, the people who worked themselves into exhaustion and then died from starvation, unable to afford as much food as the British government guaranteed the worst criminals in the nation’s jails. In 1890, the year his book appeared, there were three million such people in England. Their enslavement meant unyielding despair. continue reading:

Catherine was a member of the local Band of Hope and a supporter of the national Temperance Society… She began to be more active in the work of the church at Brighouse. Though she was extremely nervous, she enjoyed working with young people and found the courage to speak in children’s meetings.

It was not until 1860 that Catherine Booth first started to preach. One day in Gateshead Bethseda Chapel, a strange compulsion seized her and she felt she must rise and speak. Later she recalled how an inner voice taunted her: “You will look like a fool and have nothing to say”. Catherine decided that this was the Devil’s voice: “That’s just the point,” she retorted, “I have never yet been willing to be a fool for Christ. Now I will be one.”

Catherine’s sermon was so impressive that William changed his mind about women’s preachers. Catherine Booth soon developed a reputation as an outstanding speaker but many Christians were outraged by the idea. As Catherine pointed out at that time it was believed that a woman’s place was in the home and “any respectable woman who raised her voice in public risked grave censure.”

At that time, it was unheard of for women to speak in adult meetings. She was convinced that women had an equal right to speak, however, and when the opportunity was given for public testimony at Gateshead, she went forward. It was the beginning of a tremendous ministry, as people were greatly challenged by her preaching.

She also spoke to people in their homes, especially to alcoholics, whom she helped to make a new start in life. Often she held cottage meetings for converts

Catherine and William Booth began the work of The Christian Mission in

  1. William preached to the poor and ragged and Catherine spoke to the wealthy, gaining support for their financially demanding ministry. She eventually began to hold her own campaigns.

When the name was changed in 1878 to The Salvation Army and William Booth became known as the General, Catherine became known as the Mother of the Army. She was behind many of the changes in the new organization, designing the flag and bonnets for the ladies, and contributed to the Army’s ideas on many important issues and matters of belief.

From The Church of England were at first extremely hostile to the Salvation Army. Lord Shaftesbury, a leading politician and evangelist, described William Booth as the “anti-christ”. One of the main complaints against Booth was his “elevation of women to man’s status”. In the Salvation Army a woman officer enjoyed equal rights with a man.

Although Booth had initially rejected the idea of women preachers, he had now completely changed his mind and wrote that “the best men in my Army are the women.”

Catherine Booth began to organize what became known as Food-for-the-Million Shops where the poor could buy hot soup and a three-course dinner for sixpence. On special occasions such as Christmas Day, she would cook over 300 dinners to be distributed to the poor of London. By 1882 a survey of London discovered that on one weeknight, there were almost 17,000 worshipping with the Salvation Army, compared to 11,000 in ordinary churches.

It was while working with the poor in London that Catherine found out about what was known as “sweated labour”. That is, women and children working long hours for low wages in very poor conditions. In the tenements of London, Catherine discovered red-eyed women hemming and stitching for eleven hours a day. These women were only paid 9d. a day, whereas men doing the same work in a factory were receiving over 3s. 6d.

Catherine and fellow members of the Salvation Army attempted to shame employers into paying better wages. They also attempted to improve the working conditions of these women. Catherine was particularly concerned about women making matches. Not only were these women only earning 1s. 4d. for a sixteen hour day, they were also risking their health when they dipped their match-heads in the yellow phosphorus supplied by manufacturers such as Bryant & May.

A large number of these women suffered from ‘Phossy Jaw’ (necrosis of the bone) caused by the toxic fumes of the yellow phosphorus. The whole side of the face turned green and then black, discharging foul-smelling pus and finally death.

Women like Catherine Booth and Annie Wood Besant led a campaign against the use of yellow phosphorus. They pointed out that most other European countries produced matches tipped with harmless red phosphorus. Bryant & May responded that these matches were more expensive and that people would be unwilling to pay these higher prices.

Catherine Booth died of cancer in October 1890. The campaigns that were started by Catherine were not abandoned. William Booth decided he would force companies to abandon the use of yellow phosphorus.

In 1891 the Salvation Army opened its own match-factory in Old Ford, East London. Only using harmless red phosphorus, the workers were soon producing six million boxes a year. Whereas Bryant & May paid their workers just over twopence a gross, the Salvation Army paid their employees twice this amount.

William Booth organised conducted tours of MPs and journalists round this ‘model’ factory. He also took them to the homes of those “sweated workers” who were working eleven and twelve hours a day producing matches for companies like Bryant & May. The bad publicity that the company received forced the company to reconsider its actions.

In 1901, Gilbert Bartholomew, managing director of Bryant & May, announced it had stopped used yellow phosphorus. continue reading:

When William Booth died in 1912 The Salvation Army had 9,415 congregations throughout the world. The organization is now found in ninety-four countries, stretching form India, the site of the first major overseas venture, to El Salvador, added in 1989. The most recent additions are Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Latvia and Russia. continue reading:

Despite Catherine’s ill health:

The Booths had eight children: Bramwell Booth, Ballington Booth, Kate Booth, Emma Booth, Herbert Booth, Marie Booth, Evangeline Booth and Lucy Booth, and were dedicated to giving them a firm Christian knowledge. Two of their offspring, Bramwell and Evangeline, later became Generals of The Salvation Army.

William Booth wrote (Ann M. Woodall, What Price the Poor?: William Booth, Karl Marx and the London Residuum, (Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2005). Page 218):

While women weep, as they do now, I’ll fight; While little children go hungry, I’ll fight; While men go to prison, in and out, in and out, I’ll fight; While there is a drunkard left, While there is a poor lost girl on the streets, Where there remains one dark soul without the light of God, I’ll fight! I’ll fight to the very end!

The Booth’s are buried in Abney Park Cemetery in Stoke Newington, just around the corner from my house. I walk past their graves often and remember them.