Biography of Famous Salvation Army Leader Evangeline Booth Part 1

About the Salvation Army leader in the United States Evangeline Booth, history and biography of the religious woman who brought the Army to America.


Even in her 80s, Evangeline Booth still had the spunk and energy of the young English beauty who made her father's London-based Salvation Army an American institution.

Today the Army claims 27,000 officers and cadets in 91 different countries. Its charitable works for the poor, the derelict, and the spiritually lost are world-famous. The Salvation Army is more than street-corner bands and Christmas bell ringers. It is a multimillion-dollar organization operating a far-flung network of hospitals, welfare missions, home for unwed mothers, employment agencies, and family-counseling clinics.

But on Christmas morning, 1865, it was no more than an idea forming in the mind of an unconventional Methodist minister named William Booth. That same morning his wife gave birth to the couple's 8th child, a girl.

Catherine Booth had just read Uncle Tom's Cabin and wanted to name her baby Little Eva. Booth demurred and wrote Evelyne on the birth certificate. Years later, in the U.S., Evelyne would be persuaded by Frances Willard, founder of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, to adopt the name Evangeline as more dignified, befitting the commander of Salvationist forces in America.

Though all the Booth children accepted their father's vision of a paramilitary Christian movement, Evangeline threw herself into the cause at an early age with characteristic gusto. The Booths preferred street corners to indoor churches, and popular musical instruments like banjos, tambourines, and drums to organs, in their drive to reach the lower depths of London society.

The Salvation Army was a controversial late arrival in Victorian England. Violence and abuse dogged the steps of its "soldiers." Like her colleagues, Evangeline weathered harassment from street toughs, bullying saloonkeepers, and unsympathetic civil authorities.

At 15 she was a sergeant selling the Army paper War Cry in the slums of East London. In her early 20s she was a captain and a compelling skid-row evangelist. But she feared she was still not reaching deep enough into the city's underworld. So Evangeline Booth dressed in rags and became a flower girl on the steps in Piccadilly Circus, ministering incognito to alcoholics, beggars, and prostitutes.

She became commander of the London detachment and her father's favorite troubleshooter. Once a splinter group in the U.S., led by her brother Ballington Booth, sought to lure American Salvationists away from their London affiliate and into a rival group called Volunteers of America. When Evangeline arrived in New York, the doors to Army headquarters on 14th Street had been locked against her. Undaunted, she mounted the fire escape and climbed through a rear window. The dissidents hissed and booed until she literally wrapped herself in an available American flag and challenged: "His that, if you dare." In the stunned silence she played her concertina and sang "Over Jordan without Fearing." Ballington's rebellion was quelled.

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