June 16, 1880 — The distinctive Salvation Army women’s bonnets were worn for the first time on this day in a procession through London’s East End.
Fifteen years earlier, Methodists William and Catherine Booth had decided that the changes they wanted to make in society could not be achieved simply by delivering sermons from a church pulpit: they needed to get amongst the people on the streets and offer direct help.
Their first meetings were held outside the Blind Beggar pub in East London in June, 1865, which led to the birth of a new organisation, The Christian Mission. It grew rapidly and in 1878 the name was changed to the Salvation Army, the organisation adopting a quasi-military structure with officers and members wearing a military-style uniform.
This came about through the belief that converts became soldiers in an army, fighting against human suffering. They were at war – on the side of the poor and destitute.
Their work included providing shelters for the homeless, running soup kitchens, setting up rescue homes for women escaping domestic abuse and prostitution, and even offering a family tracing service.
The Salvation Army also campaigned for better working conditions and was responsible for the world’s first labour exchange – opened in 1890 to help people find work.
The United States was the start of the Army’s worldwide expansion when in 1879 Salvationist Amos Shirley travelled to Philadelphia with his family. By late 1880 operations had been extended to Australia, the hungry of Adelaide being offered food.
The following year Catherine Booth-Clibborn, daughter of the founders, moved to France and started to hold meetings in Paris. Now expansion really took off and by 1883 Salvationists were working in Switzerland, Sweden, Sri Lanka, South Africa, New Zealand and Canada.
Indeed, as a national charitable organisation that employs more than 10,000 people in over 400 communities across the country, the Salvation Army is today Canada’s largest non-governmental provider of social services.
But back in the 1880s, new types of social work began. In 1883 a prison-gate home was opened in Melbourne, Australia, to support prisoners re-entering the community, and in 1885 the age of consent was raised in the UK after a campaign by the Army.
The first Salvation Army hospital was opened in 1897 at Nagercoil, India. There are now tens of hospitals worldwide, plus thousands of schools, health projects, sanitation work and other social services.
William Booth was born in the “Robin Hood city” of Nottingham in 1829. By the time of his death in 1912, Salvationists were working in 58 countries, while today the figure is more than 130.
The Army has more than 1.5 million members dedicated to bringing salvation to the poor, the destitute, and the hungry “by meeting their physical and spiritual needs.” In addition, thousands of volunteers around the world help the cause.
Apart from their many other activities the volunteers run what is known in the UK as charity shops, and in the US as thrift stores. These retail outlets raise considerable funds for the Army’s charitable activities.
* In March, 1966, the Blind Beggar pub was back in the news over an incident that could not have been further removed from its Salvation Army connection. Gangster Ronnie Kray shot dead a member of a rival gang who was sitting at the bar. The murder was one of the crimes that led to Kray being sentenced to life imprisonment.
Published: June 2, 2021