Maud Ballington Booth (September 13, 1865 – August 26, 1948) – Co-founder of Volunteers of America, Advocate for Prisoners and Their Families and Inaugurator of the Volunteer Prison League
NOTE: This entry is about the life and contributions of Maud 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: Maud Elizabeth Charlesworth was born on September 13, 1865, in Limpsfield, Surrey, England and grew up in London. She was the youngest daughter of Maria and Samuel Charlesworth, a prominent lawyer who gave up practicing law to become an Anglican priest due to his religious convictions. Her parent’s work with social issues led to Maud’s great interest and concern for social welfare and social service. The Charlesworth family had been in service to the Anglican church since the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Maud grew up in London, in an East Limehouse parish where Reverend Charlesworth ministered to the local middle-class population. Their poorer neighbors never attended this church but 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.
Early Career: Near the Charlesworths’ Anglican church was the Christian Mission, whose focus was to serve the poorest Londoners. The Christian Mission reached out to the poor residents 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 were a threatening presence. Reverend Charlesworth came to the aid of the Christian Mission. He invited them 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.
In 1878, the Christian Mission changed its name to The Salvation Army. Maud’s interest in the Salvation Army became stronger and stronger. She saw young women – not much older than she was – preaching on street corners and urging the roughest of men to give up drink and follow God’s way. They were called “Hallelujah Lassies.” While attending Salvation Army meetings with her mother she met Ballington Booth, the second son of William Booth, the founder of the Christian Mission and the leader of the Salvation Army.
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 she was certain of what she wanted. Her father couldn’t stop her from joining Catherine Booth and two other girls who were sent to Paris to bring the Army’s “Blood and Fire” message to the French. Maud proved to be 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. But 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. So, she joined the Salvation Army and waited until she was of an age to marry, thereby becoming estranged from her father.
Maud as a Salvationist: While her future husband was active in carrying God’s message to Australia, Maud threw herself into her new life. She helped to organize the “slum sisters.” These young women lived in the poorest of London slums where they cared for the sick, the elderly and anyone in need. They wore no uniforms and never identified themselves as Salvationists. In 1886, Maud was sent to Sweden to inspect the Salvation Army work there and hold public services. While in the university town of Uppsala, she observed the rowdy and irreverent students who had no respect for religion. This was a challenge she could not resist. She invited them to meet with her. They came to make fun of her but, instead, were captivated by her enthusiasm and sincerity.
When Maud’s 21st birthday came, she and Ballington were married and Maud changed her name to: Maud Ballington Booth. 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.
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 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 in 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. Everything changed with an historic visit from England. 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 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.
Maud and Ballington Leave The Salvation Army in Order to Stay in the U.S.: Ballington’s 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 decided to stay on in their adopted country. The result was they bid farewell to The Salvation Army which had been their center of existence. Fortunately, Maud’s father, Reverend Charlesworth, had reconciled with his daughter and her family. Thus,when they were without a home and without income he came to their rescue and sent them some funds to tide them over.
But they 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, Ballington Booth was ordained by Episcopal Bishop Samuel Fallows 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 Carnegie Hall before an audience of 5,000 Volunteers. Her old friend Chauncy Depew presided with ministers of all major Protestant denominations in attendance while her husband ordained her as a minister of “the Church of God in general.”
On April 11th, 1896, the Volunteers began publication of The Gazette, the Volunteers of America magazine for friends and supporters. In the very first issue, there was something for everyone: an article on “How Bananas Grow” for child readers, reports on Volunteers of America meetings and projects, and a group of songs including a hymn, “Jesus Is Mighty to Save,” written by Ballington Booth – one of the many hymns he would write over the years for the movement. Maud had two contributions: a column for Women Warriors and a full-page article on the topic of “What Volunteers Can Do for Men in Prison.” This was a glimpse into her future. But little did she know how great a role her efforts in the field of prison reform would play in Volunteers of America.
Maud’s Prison Mission: It was important to Maud to have a meaningful project of her own. The “slum sisters” had been her major concern for many years but that had come to an end since she had no intention of trespassing on this traditional Salvation Army undertaking. Prison work was a minor part of The Salvation Army’s agenda so she would not be poaching on their territory. She remembered her sense of satisfaction when she had spoken with great success to the prisoners of San Quentin. But was this to be her important project? She prayed for God to give her a sign. The answer to her prayer came with a letter that arrived in early May of 1896. It came from a prisoner at Sing Sing who had met her when she worked in the New York City slums. His concern was not for himself but for his wife and her wellbeing while he was in prison. Most interestingly, on the letter’s envelope was a message from Sing Sing’s warden, Omar V. Sage. The warden of San Quentin had told him of Mrs. Booth’s influence and inspiration on prisoners, and he asked if she would speak to his Sing Sing prisoners.
This was the sign she had been waiting for. The need was great. At this point in time, the prison system had no parole system to help men newly released from prison. They had served their time in small, dark, damp cells with no plumbing. Few of them had help or support to ease their way back. Their “prison pallor” and rotting teeth were indications of the lack of care that society had for them. It was a momentous occasion when Maud Booth accepted the warden’s invitation. She stood up in Sing Sing’s gloomy old chapel on Sunday, May 24th, 1896. Eight hundred men crowded into the auditorium, singing hymns while Maud and her little party of Volunteers filed in. In the next issue of The Gazette, Mrs. Booth wrote about this experience. “…I thought how I should feel if I was in their place…..I realized what they needed from my lips was something that would carry their thoughts away beyond the gray walls, and some message of Christ’s dear heart of love.” She offered them that message. When she finished she asked for those who were willing to stand up for God. The few who stood up were laughed at by the others, but gradually more and more joined in. At the end of this day, fifty prisoners had become the first group of inmates who glimpsed a possible future through Maud Booth and the Volunteers of America.
The response to her Sing Sing appearance was rewarding. Letters came across her desk from the men who had been present. She invited them to write and they did. She promised to answer each letter personally and she did. She returned, not only to speak publicly, but to visit those in their cells who had written her. On her second visit, they organized the Volunteer Prison League (VPL). The first sixty members agreed to pray, to read the Day Book (a collection of scripture verses for each day of the year), to refrain from using bad language, to follow the prison rules, and to cheer and encourage other prisoners and when possible to make them members of the league. The prisoners chose “Look Up and Hope” as their name and as their motto. Plans were made for the preparation of a group of residences to house former prisoners. Each residence would be known as “Hope Hall.”
Sing Sing was just the beginning. Other prisoners and other prison officials invited Maud to come to their institutions and organize more VPLs. In the fall of 1896 she visited prisons in Auburn (New York), Charlestown (Massachusetts), and Dannemora (New York). There, three new VPL chapters were begun. Dannemora was a special challenge. This was a prison for the “third-time losers,” the habitual criminals branded as hopeless. Even the warden told her not to bother – that the men were past redemption. But the warden was wrong. After she spoke, 87 hardened criminals stood up to ask God to help them start a new life.
When she left Dannemora she carried with her donations. Prison officers gave a total of $55. Another $100 came from the prisoners themselves. This money came from the few cents a day that prisoners were paid for full-time work. These earnings provided them with the only resource they had to purchase tobacco, writing paper and stamps, or any little thing they needed. That $100 represented a genuine sacrifice. But the hope it gave them was worth it. These donations were intended to help her start the first “Hope Hall,” a refuge for newly released prisoners. After the first Hope Hall, others were established in San Francisco, Chicago, Fort Dodge (Iowa), Columbus (Ohio), New Orleans, Waco (Texas), Walla Walla (Washington), and Hampton (Florida).
The style for a Hope Hall was non- institutional. They were large houses with many bedrooms, living rooms with a welcoming air and nothing about them reminiscent of prison. The men were to help with the housekeeping and the cooking. Maud wanted a Hope Hall to be a recuperative setting to prepare the former prisoners for success in the outside world. For men in prison, holidays were the loneliest and saddest times. Maud recognized this. She often gave up her own holidays to bring some joy to the prisoners. She spent the Christmas of 1896 visiting cell after cell in Sing Sing. The following Easter, when Maud planned a visit to Dannemora, her four- year-old daughter Theodora begged to go with her. One of the highlights of that visit was a hymn sung by the little girl for the men her mother called her “boys.” To Maud, the prisoners had become her boys and to them she was “Little Mother.”
The Little Mother did not forget the families of her boys. Many were destitute. She sent them food and clothing, and arranged temporary shelter. She also dedicated herself to make Christmas for the families. Little ones were given new shoes and clothes for school. Girls who had never had a doll were given one to cuddle. And donated food provided a Christmas feast for lonely and impoverished families. Prisoners rejoiced when their families reported the happy Christmas that the Volunteers made possible. They learned that if they wrote Little Mother about their families’ needs, she would help as much as she could.
In her first year of working with prisoners, she inaugurated VPLs in seven state prisons. Next, she added Folsom (California), Columbus (Ohio), Fort Leavenworth
(Kansas), Carson City (Colorado), Anamosa (Iowa), and Baltimore (Maryland). The VPL was strong in each of these. Initial meetings followed in Lansing (Kansas), Jackson (Michigan), Fort Madison (Iowa), and Wethersfield (Connecticut). In the first seven years of the Volunteer Prison League, 14,000 men joined. By 1912, more than 60,000 men were VPL members in twenty-eight state prisons, and 7,500 had graduated from the four Hope Houses. These prison endeavors expanded as rapidly as possible with only the need for funding holding them back. The success of the VPL was a point of pride. VPL members regarded Volunteers of America as their “first friend.” From sixty to seventy-five percent of the VPL prisoners succeeded
This is in extraordinary contrast to prison data in general. Usually, sixty to seventy-five percent of prisoners were repeat offenders and ended up back behind bars. When the Volunteers instituted programs enabling former prisoners to find jobs and housing, this was the start of a greater and more far-reaching mission. In the future, help and comfort would be offered by the Volunteers, not only to prisoners, but to a wider group of people with needs – homeless, destitute addicts, the disabled, abused women and children, and families devastated by floods and fires.
In 1935, Ballington’s health began failing and Maud took on many of his duties. Then, on October 5, 1940, in his eighty-third year, Ballington died, and Maud became the General of the Volunteers of America. This was a position she had never coveted, but she knew her husband would have wanted her to take on the responsibility. In addition she continued to travel and lecture, and whenever possible, she spent her Sundays visiting a prison. Wherever she went she was approached by former prisoners whose lives had been helped by her.
In August 1948 – three weeks short of her eighty-third birthday, Maud Booth died and was buried beside her husband and partner with whom she had shared a long and meaningful life.
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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