Ballington Booth (July 28, 1857 – October 5, 1940) – Evangelist, Social Welfare Advocate and
Co-Founder of Volunteers of America
NOTE: This entry is about the life and contributions of Ballington Booth, a co-founder of Volunteers of America. It was excerpted from the booklet “Maud and Ballington Booth: The Founding of Volunteers of America – The Seeds of Change 1890 – 1935” authored by Anne Nixon and produced by The Human Spirit Initiative, an organization with a mission to inspire people to desire to make a difference and then act on it.
The leaders of The Human Spirit Initiative believe that today’s established organizations were new ideas 75-100 years ago and we owe those ideas to their founders. By studying, researching and communicating the details of the lives of these founding leaders within the context of their times, it is possible to create greater understanding of and commitment to strengthening civil society through individual initiative and collective endeavors in building community. For more information on The Human Spirit Initiative and a list of their publications visit: www.human-spirit-initiative.org
Introduction: Ballington Booth was born in Brighouse, England, the second of eight children in the family of Methodist minister William Booth and his wife, Catherine Mumford Booth. The Booths founded the Christian Mission in 1865 whose focus was on serving the poor living in the East Limehouse area of London. Their services were street meetings with spirited sermons, prayers and songs. So from birth, Ballington was exposed to and became devoted to a life of religious work and service to his fellow man. His entire upbringing was aimed at preparing him for a life of religious work and serving in the ranks of this new form of Christianity.
In 1878, when Ballington was eight years old the Christian Mission was renamed The Salvation Army and William Booth became the General. William Booth determined very early that his young son would grow to serve and lead in their evangelical mission and he trained Ballington in the ways of this “new religion.” After secondary school, the young Ballington Booth studied at the Nottingham Theological Seminary. However his mother, believing that higher education caused young people to rebel against the church, forced him to return home. During his teens Booth began preaching to awestruck crowds on street corners for his father’s Salvation Army open-air meetings. His imposing 6 foot 4 inch frame, compelling voice and musical abilities appealed to all audiences. Frequently, after preaching on the corner, he would end the session by bringing out his concertina and playing for the crowd. At 23 he attained the rank of Colonel and was placed in charge of the Salvation Army officer training programs.
Ballington Meets Maud Charlesworth: The future Maud Ballington Booth grew up in London, in an East Limehouse Anglican parish where her father, Reverend Charlesworth, ministered to the local middle-class population. Their poorer neighbors never attended his church but his wife, Maria Charlesworth, took pity on the slum children – most of whom were too shabby to be seen in a regular school. She organized a “ragged school” so that these poorest children could receive some education and she offered the poor women of the parish religious teachings while serving them tea and snacks.
Near the Charlesworths’ Anglican church was the Christian Mission, whose focus was to reach out to the poor by holding lively street meetings with spirited sermons, prayers, and songs. These outdoor services were often a target for local toughs who not only made fun of them but could be a threatening presence. Reverend Charlesworth invited the Christian Mission to use his church’s courtyard to conduct their meetings in peace and safety. Maud and her mother often attended the Christian Mission services and Maud was especially drawn to the Mission’s enthusiastic way of reaching out directly and personally to God. While attending Salvation Army meetings with her mother, she met Ballington Booth, the second son of William Booth, the founder of the Christian Mission. Years later, Maud wrote, “I think I fell in love with Ballington Booth the first time I saw him.” He soon felt the same way about her.
In 1882, Maud joined the Salvation Army. Maud’s first active involvement as a Salvationist was not with Ballington Booth but with his sister Catherine. Maud’s parents were displeased by her active involvement with the Salvation Army but her father couldn’t stop her from joining Catherine Booth and two other girls who were sent to Paris. Maud was a valuable addition to this evangelical project. While Catherine and the two “Hallelujah Lassies” were limited by their lack of skill in the French language, Maud, who had been cared for by a French nursemaid since she was a baby, was fluent in French. Nevertheless, the police in Paris and their next assignment Geneva, Switzerland were not friendly to the Salvationists. The young women ended up being arrested and then expelled from the country.
When their adventures were written up in the newspapers, Maud’s father wanted her to leave the Salvation Army and abandon all plans to marry Ballington. Maud was 18. She could not marry without her father’s permission until she was 21, but she knew her own mind. She joined the Salvation Army and decided to wait until she was of an age to marry. As a result of these decisions, Maud became estranged from her father.
When Maud’s 21st birthday came, she and Ballington were married. The bride and groom were dressed in their Salvation Army uniforms. Maud’s only bridal garb was a white scarf draped across her shoulders and a spray of white roses and myrtle. General William Booth didn’t waste time in utilizing the services of his son and new daughter-in-law. When the New York office of the Salvation Army was in need of fresh organizational and fund-raising skills, William Booth assigned this important post to the newlyweds. On April 18th, 1887, they arrived in New York.
Managing the Salvation Army’s New York Office: Ballington and Maud Booth wasted no time in beginning their new assignment. Even on their cross-Atlantic voyage, they made the acquaintance of people with influence in New York society. Though they traveled second class, the first class passengers were fascinated by the young evangelists and invited them to make a presentation. Among the first class passengers was Chauncey Depew, a New York socialite, lawyer and political activist. His enthusiastic approval of Ballington and Maud assured their social recognition in New York. Most importantly, his support gave them access to well-to-do New Yorkers who would help pull the struggling New York Salvation Army post out of debt.
As soon as they arrived in New York, the Booths acted to unify two competing factions of the American Salvation Army and to combat the anti-English feelings of the American population. After examining their new territory by a four-week journey of 4,540 miles to visit the various “posts,” they planned for the work ahead. One way to make the Salvation Army acceptable was for Ballington and Maud to become citizens, so they applied for naturalization. The American flag was also on display at all their public meetings. And their new American friends helped put them on a sound financial basis. Ballington was an able organizer with a gift for making the best use of every penny. His charm and kind nature made him popular with both outsiders and his subordinates. Maud once again worked with the “slum sisters” to offer help and consolation to the poorest and most need, especially women and children. And Ballington’s Food and Shelter Depot brought aid and comfort to homeless and destitute men. Always at the core was the spreading of the word of God.
When a $37,000 debt was paid off, and a new building constructed to house the offices and services of the Salvation Army, the New York headquarters was on a solid footing. In 1894, during Maud and Ballington’s eighth year in the United States, General Booth arrived to inspect the American Salvation Army. The welcoming ceremonies and the enthusiastic crowds impressed him as he visited posts from New York to Chicago. However, he was displeased in many other ways. He felt that Ballington and Maud had become too American. The display of the American flag and the American eagle offended him. There was also conflict over the money collected in America. General Booth wanted to make use of these funds outside the United States, but Ballington explained that to do this would be a breach of trust against the promises made when these funds had been collected. His protests to his father were in vain. In a final disagreement, General Booth ordered Ballington and Maud to leave America immediately and return to England. They did not go and instead decided to stay on in their adopted country. Thus they bid farewell to The Salvation Army.
Volunteers of America Is Founded: Their decision to refuse General Booth’s request meant that Maud and Ballington were no longer associated with The Salvation Army and its resources, which had been their center of existence. Fortunately, Maud’s father, Reverend Charlesworth, had reconciled with his daughter. So, when they were without a home and income he came to the rescue and sent them some funds to tide them over. Though bereft of funding and resources the young couple had not lost their purpose and dedication to an evangelistic and philanthropic way of life.
On March 8, 1896, they drew up a constitution for a new organization, the Volunteers of America. Their mission was to “reach and uplift all people and bring them to the immediate knowledge and active service of God.” Thanks to a suggestion by Maud, the constitution included an article recognizing the equality of men and women in the Volunteers of America. The headquarters of this new organization was three rooms at the American Bible House. It was furnished with a kitchen table, a few wooden chairs, some packing cases for desks, and cardboard cartons for files.
Although many American Salvationists resigned from the Salvation Army and joined the new organization, it was a point of pride with the Ballington’s that they would never set themselves up in direct competition with The Salvation Army or any other social service organization. Instead they would go into fields where a wide-range of needs were not being met. They would act to meet sudden disasters. But they would give equal attention to long-lasting patterns of poverty, abuse, and destructive behavior. Whatever the problem, Volunteers of America was determined to be flexible in their awareness of problems or emergencies, and quick to act toward solving them.
Maud and Ballington knew that the success of this new movement depended on their personal willingness to work night and day. For months they never had dinner together. They were both on the move to establish posts in Newark, Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Chicago. They spoke in fashionable churches or in poor neighborhoods, each one making speeches at two or three different meetings every day, he in one city, she in another. This hard work paid off. In six months the Volunteers established 140 posts with 400 commanding officers, 50 staff officers, 3 regiments, and 10 battalions. Soon they had their own small three-floor building on Union Square in New York City. They were now ready to fulfill their mission.
Both Ballington and Maud felt that their effectiveness would increase if they were ordained ministers of the gospel. On September 14, 1896, Episcopal Bishop Samuel Fallows ordained Ballington Booth at St. Paul’s Church in Chicago. It was an interdenominational event with Methodist, Presbyterian, and Congregational ministers assisting. Maud’s ordination took place the next year in New York’s Carnegie Hall before an audience of 5,000 Volunteers.
Ballington became known as one of the outstanding preachers of the day. Also, under his leadership, a wide range of social services were offered for working class men and women. These services included day nurseries, food pantries, and affordable housing. When the earthquake and fire struck San Francisco in 1906 and destroyed the Volunteers’ orphanage, Maud and Ballington raised money for a special train to take 33 children to safety at the Los Angeles Volunteers of America office.
During World War I, the Volunteers of America operated canteens and provided food and lodging for servicemen on leave. Under the auspices of the Y.M.C.A., Maud went to France to visit the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) in the final days of the war, and she spoke to 100,000 soldiers. Carrying a large notebook known as the Mother’s Book, she had soldiers write messages to their mothers. This was her response to the uncertain mail service in the war zone. She cabled these letters to Ballington. He forwarded them, accompanied by a letter from Maud, to mothers who were anxiously waiting. No effort was too much. She even took pictures of a son’s gravesite for his mother and enclosed in her letter a few little white flowers that were growing there. These actions gave Maud a new nickname: “The Little Mother of the AEF.”
During the Great Depression, many Volunteers of America relief efforts were offered to millions of unemployed. These included employment bureaus, soup kitchens, and “penny pantries” where every item of food cost one penny. The need was so great that extra efforts had to be made in these sad times. The Booths constantly worked to raise money from their many friends in the circles of the well-to-do. These were people who not only admired the Booths but were eager to support worthy causes. Prominent families such as the Wanamakers, the Roosevelts, President Cleveland, and former President Harrison were friends and donors. But over the years, more income was needed for the ever-widening Volunteers of America activities.
One fund-raising project that is still active today is the Industrial Salvage Program, which began in Bridgeport, Connecticut, in 1899. Clothing, electrical appliances, and furniture were donated to be sold in the Volunteers of America thrift shops. This project benefited everyone. Homeless and destitute people, often from shelters, could repair and restore the donated items, learning skills that would help them find work. These shops offered them a place of employment and sometimes a place to sleep. The poor and needy were able to acquire clothing and housewares for their needs for very little money. At the same time, the Volunteers had a source of income by selling to the public
In 1930, Maud was sixty-five and Ballington, seventy-three. The Great Depression affected them as it did so many other Americans. In 1935, Ballington went to Washington to discuss the burden that the economic crisis was placing on private agencies. He met with President Roosevelt and visited the House of Representatives where Representative Clarence McLeod rose and paid public tribute to him. But his health was failing. Maud took on many of his duties and when, on October 5, 1940, in his eighty-third year, he died, she became the General of the Volunteers of America.
Maud and Ballington Booth have been memorialized with a plaque in the The Extra Mile — Points of Light Volunteer Pathway located on the sidewalks of downtown Washington, D.C. The Extra Mile is a program of Points of Light Institute, dedicated to inspire, mobilize and equip individuals to volunteer and serve. The Extra Mile was approved by Congress and the District of Columbia. It is funded entirely by private sources.
Source: The Human Spirit Initiative – Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things – For more information about Maud and Ballington Booth and the Volunteer of America, visit: human-spirit-initiative.org
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How to Cite this Article (APA Format): Nixon, A. (2008). Ballington Booth (July 28, 1857 – October 5, 1940) – Evangelist, social welfare advocate, and co-founder of Volunteers of America. Social Welfare History Project. Retrieved [date accessed] from http://socialwelfare.library.vcu.edu/people/booth-ballington/