Significant person in Christianity: Catherine Booth

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Significant person in Christianity: Catherine Booth

Catherine Booth is the co-founder of the Salvation Army with her husband William. She is referred to as “Army Mother”. She was born in 1829 in Derbyshire, England. Raised in a deeply religious home she had read her Bible several times before the age of 12.

A long period of illness in her mid-teens gave Catherine time for extended reading. She developed a great theological understanding that she later used in her preaching and teaching. She also kept herself busy writing articles for a magazine, encouraging people not to drink and highlighting the problems associated with alcohol.

In 1855 she married William Booth a Methodist Minister. Although he shared her belief in social reform, he disagreed with her belief in female equality especially in the church. She convinced him otherwise with her powerful preaching and teaching and he later wrote “the best men in my Army are the women”.

Catherine raised eight children, two of which later became Generals of the Salvation Army, Bramwell and Evangeline. Catherine Booth died of cancer in 1890.

Contribution to the development and expression of Christianity.

  1. Co-founder of the Salvation Army

  2. Fearless preacher, role model for female ministry

  3. Social Reform campaigner

  1. 1864 William and Catherine started the Christian Mission, which later became known as the Salvation Army. The aim was to work amongst the most desperate and poorest people in England. In particular with alcoholics. By providing basics like food (through the Food-for-the-Million Shops) and preaching in peoples homes and holding cottage meetings for converts, Catherine was able to reach people alienated or ignored by the ordinary churches. A survey taken in 1882 of London discovered that on one weeknight, there were almost 17 000 worshipping with the Salvation Army, compared to 11 000 in ordinary churches. The Salvation Army had had an impact on the people the Church of England had failed to reach. They saw a need for a more accepting church that would reach out to those rejected by middle class congregations.

  2. In Catherine Booth’s time it was unheard of for women to preach at adult meetings of Christian believers. The Church of England was hostile towards the Salvation Army and Catherine and William received much criticism for the elevation of women to a man’s status. Catherine challenge people with her preaching and became a role model for female ministry. It was her preaching to the affluent areas that provided the financial assistance for William’s ministry to the poor and needy. Catherine was convinced that women had an equal right to preach and teach.

  3. While working with the poor and desperate Catherine became aware of particular problems they faced. She gave voice to the inequality of wages between men and women including “sweated labour”, workers in match factories, and raising the age of consent from 13 to 16. Catherine viewed the role of a Salvationist was not to retire to the quiet of a religious community to keep themselves pure but to plunge themselves joyously into a sinful world to bring freedom to those in chains. Although she didn’t see social reform on some of her campaigns come to fruition before she died, she was responsible for drawing the attention of those who could bring about the reform, to the real problems facing the lower class.

Impact of Catherine Booth on Christianity

  1. Developed the theology and structure of the Salvation Army

  2. A voice for Women, gifted writer, “Woman’s Right to Preach the Gospel”

  3. Social reform

  4. Best known and respected faith-based charity organisation- Salvation Army

  1. Catherine developed the theology of the Salvation Army. In particular their use, or more correctly their non-use of the sacraments. She placed an emphasis on Christian holiness. She felt that meaningful symbols such as the sacraments of baptism and communion could easily become meaningless rituals. She also persuaded William to not use alcohol at all, not even for medicinal purposes. The Booths also didn’t distinguish between the deserving and undeserving. Their charity and ministry reached out to the alcoholics, prostitutes and criminals usually rejected by charities and churches at the time. Catherine also designed the flag, bonnets for the ladies and was instrumental in the equality of women within the Army giving them freedom and opportunities in worship and service not usually afforded to them in other denominations. They also introduced singing hymns to popular music and adopted the theatrical revivalist style of preaching and worship. This less rigid form of ministry was appealing and more accessible to the poor and lower class.

  2. In 1859 Catherine Booth wrote the pamphlet “Female Ministry- A Woman’s Right to Preach the Gospel”. She outlined her arguments on why women should be permitted to preach the gospel and that they are not the “weaker sex”. This pamphlet is still considered relevant today. Catherine Booth is a notable first-wave Christian Feminist and respected by feminist theologians today. Not only did she preach when women were meant to remain silent but she and William proclaimed their marriage to be a marriage of equality, further fighting the established idea of female inferiority. Equality in the home and workplace as well as the church is one of the aims of feminist theology. Catherine Booth managed to be an example in all three aspects of life.

  3. Catherine died in 1890 from cancer but William continued her work. Catherine had fought for major match making factory, Bryant and May to stop using the toxic yellow phosphorus to make matches and switch to the safe red phosphorus. Bryant and May claimed that red phosphorus was more expensive and would drive the prices up and people wouldn’t pay the increase. In 1891 William and the Salvation Army opened its own match-factory using only red phosphorus and offering better equal pay and better conditions. The workers were soon producing 6 million boxes a year. William took MPs and journalists on tours of the ‘model’ factory. He also took them to the homes of ‘sweated workers’. He hoped the bad publicity would shame large companies like Bryant and May to change their workplace practices and stop taking advantage of their workers. In 1901 Bryant and May announced it had stopped using yellow phosphorus.

Catherine also worked extensively with Prostitutes and was instrumental in raising the age of consent from 13 to 16. The Salvation Army set up refuges for “fallen women” and she referred to prostitution as “white slavery”. She was appalled by the "white slave trade", a Victorian euphemism for child prostitution. Wicked people would kidnap and force destitute girls into a life of prostitution that was nearly impossible to escape. Catherine and her husband exposed the white slave trade in England. Three hundred and ninety-six thousand signatures later, they saw the practice outlawed. On 20th May 1882, Catherine Booth gave evidence to the House of Lords on juvenile prostitution. Later she told her husband what had happened when she argued that the age of consent should be increased from thirteen to eighteen. “I did not think we were as low as this! One member suggested that it should be reduced to ten, and oh my God, that it was hard for a man having a charge brought against him not to be able to plead the consent of a child like that.” They promoted women’s suffrage (right to vote) so that women had a say in choosing the lawmakers who made the prostitution laws.

  1. The Salvation Army operates in109 countries and helps millions of people every year. It is one of the best-known and most respected charities in the world. Although they have continued to help the needy, the destitute and the groups largely rejected by society the Salvation Army’s goal is still the promotion of the Christian faith. As Catherine and William have always advocated being a Christian means being active in the sinful world to those people find salvation.


The effect of Catherine Booth on Christianity is probably in some ways immeasurable. The legacy that she and William leave is still strong and very active today. The freedoms that people, especially women and the lower class, have today in worship and life are due largely to the work of Catherine and William Booth.

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