Catherine Booth (1829-1890)
(anything in brackets are my thoughts)
Catherine Mumford was born in Ashbourne, in Derbyshire, on January 7, 1829. She was the only daughter in a family of five, but three of her brothers died in infancy. From very young, Catherine became her mother’s companion and confident. Her brother went to America when he was 16 and apart from him she had no play-mates as her mother believed that children were normally badly brought up and did not want any contaminating influence on her daughter.
Her mother could be termed a Puritan. Their time was only taken up with godly things and conversation was never trivial. She seems to have believed, probably correctly, that a mother can “indoctrinate“ her child by spending a lot of time with her. Indeed, this is probably why Catherine turned out to be such a powerful and influential Christian. Throughout her life she spoke out against schooling and educated her own children who all became Kingdom warriors. She would often express fervently her thankfulness that her dead children were in heaven and that she would not have them back for anything.
The result of this upbringing is that Catherine wrote, “I cannot remember the time when I had not intense yearnings after God.” Although her mother was mainly concerned with her spiritual side, she also ensured that education developed her mental side. Reading was her main joy, especially the Bible and by the time she was 12 she had read it from cover to cover eight times. Her great love of the Word of God meant that she passed this on to her children in due course.
Catherine’s father was a passionate lay preacher and should have gone into the ministry, but he was a coachbuilder. When his daughter was only four or five he lost his fire and later lost his faith. Catherine and her mother did much prayer on the subject that bore fruit 30 years later.
1n 1834, the family moved to Boston, Lincolnshire. Catherine’s father became a leading activist in the Temperance Movement and there were many discussions on the subject in his home that Catherine took part in. She devoured all the literature on the subject by the time she was twelve and she was writing to magazines on the subject. She became secretary of the Junior Temperance Society, arranging meetings and raising subscriptions.
Catherine’s love for the marginalised manifested early in her life when she was running down the street with her hoop and stick and saw a poor man being led to prison by a policeman amid the taunts and mockery of the crowd. She immediately went to walk by his side to show that at least one person was there for him. She also could not bear seeing animals being mistreated and would often run out into the street to remonstrate with anyone hurting animals. Catherine’s answer to all ills was ‘Jesus Christ and Him crucified.’
She also had a great compassion for animals and any mistreatment would cause her great pain. She took action as well, feeding animals that looked malnourished and scolding people who were mistreating them.
The future preacher loved to go to religious meetings and she would often give a summary of the sermon to her mother. She also loved to go to meetings concerning foreign missions as she had huge compassion for those in Africa etc. She would give up things like sugar to help the cause and she would raise money from her friends to help these poor people, often getting quite a sizeable sum from her young friends.
In 1843 Catherine, who never had had a strong constitution, had a severe spinal attack that led to her having to lie in a recumbent position all day, so she spent the day reading, sewing and knitting. It was during these years that she became so knowledgeable about Church history and theology. In theology she came to the conclusion that it was more important to prepare people for Christ’s coming rather than work out the date He was going to come. On her couch, God trained Catherine for the important work that she was to do.
Just before moving to London in 1844, some cousins from Derbyshire visited the Mumford’s. One of them was a handsome young man who Catherine had known for many years and who showed a great interest in her. Catherine could not help but have some attraction to him. She pondered as to whether to tell him that she had no interest in him or to embrace the relationship and influence him so that he would become interested in spiritual matters. She did not want to hurt him so she was leaning towards the latter, but the verse in scripture which says one should not be unequally yoked persuaded her to take the former course. She never regretted her decision.
On moving to Brixton Catherine decided it was time to be saved. She writes, “about this time I passed through a great controversy of soul. Although I was conscious of having given myself up fully to God from my earliest years and although I was anxious to serve him and often realised deep enjoyment in prayer, nevertheless I had not the positive assurance that my sins were forgiven and that I had experienced the actual change of heart about which I had read and heard so much. I was determined to leave the question no longer in doubt but to get it definitely settled, cost what it might. For six weeks I prayed and struggled on, but obtained no satisfaction. True, my past life had been outwardly blameless. Both in public and private I made use of the means of grace and up to the very limit of my strength and often beyond the bounds of discretion, my zeal had carried me.
I knew moreover, that “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked”. I was terribly afraid of being self-deceived. I remembered too the occasional outburst of temper when I was at school. Neither could I call to mind any particular place or time when I had definitely stepped out upon the promises and claimed immediate forgiveness of my sins, receiving the witness of the Holy Spirit that I had become a child of God and an heir of heaven.
It seemed to me unreasonable to suppose that I could be saved and yet not know it. At any rate I could not commit myself to remain longer in doubt regarding the matter. If in the past I had acted up to the light I had received, it was evident that I was now getting new light and unless I obeyed it I realised my soul would fall into condemnation.
I can never forget the agony I passed through. I used to pace my room until 2 o’clock in the morning; and when utterly exhausted, I lay down at length to sleep, I placed my Bible and hymn-book under my pillow, praying that I might wake up with the assurance of Salvation. One morning, as I opened my hymnbook, my eyes fell upon the words: – my God I am thine! What a comfort divine! what a blessing to know that my Jesus is mine!
Scores of times I had read and sung those words but now they came home to my inner soul with a force and illumination they had never before possessed. It was as impossible for me to doubt as it had been before for me to exercise faith. Previously, not all the promises in the Bible could induce me to believe; now, not all the devils in hell could persuade me to doubt. I no longer hoped that I was saved; I was certain of it. The assurances of my salvation seemed to flood and fill my soul. I jumped out of bed, and without waiting to dress, ran into my mother’s room and told her what had happened.”
She joined the Wesleyan church in Brixton, but although the sermons were solid there were no signs and wonders following and the people were much colder than those in Boston. Catherine and her mother longed for the people to separate from the world and go out evangelising. She often saw people being awakened in church, but there was no prayer meeting after the service to push the people to make a decision for Christ and this grieved her.
She was part of a Bible class for five years and the leader, recognising Catherine’s gifts, pushed and pushed her to pray out loud, telling her that if she did not use her gifts she would not be used.
She did not have time to write a journal except in 1847-8 which is full of her desire to lead a holy life.
In 1851 Catherine heard a sermon by William Booth that she thought was excellent. Two weeks later a mutual friend invited her and her mother to his house for tea and among the other guests was William Booth. (There is a biography of his life on this website, so I shall not concentrate on him here).
10th April 1852 was William’s birthday and the day he left the occupation of pawnbroker to take up ministry and it was Good Friday. By chance he met his benefactor, Mr Rabbits who persuaded him to go to a meeting of Reformers in Cowper Street, a meeting that Catherine was at as well. William drove her home afterwards and on that journey a mutual love sprang up between them that was to last until Catherine died. Despite their love for one another, there was no engagement until there had been much prayer and discussion as William’s position was tenuous to say the least. Finally, after their doubts and concerns were put behind them and they were sure that it was the will of God, they got engaged on May 15th 1852.
William was going to study for the ministry, but at the last minute could not agree with the theology of the denomination, but he was rescued by an invitation to become the minister of the Reformers in the Spalding circuit. Booth’s experience so far had been evangelising in the big city, but this afforded an opportunity to gain more experience in a country district. His ministry there was very successful with many coming to the Lord and he was very popular, making many friends.
Catherine was worried that William’s success would go to his head and her letters are full of warnings and guidance. She was not happy that he had no time to study because he was preaching in a different place most nights, so she suggested he stay the night where he preached and get up at six to study, instead of travelling home each night. She was always telling him to speak out against drinking and she was not happy at the idea of him taking wine, even for his health sake, as she was a very strong supporter of the temperance movement.
Women of the time were encouraged to look after the home and children, but Catherine had other ideas. She believed it was her privilege to share her future husband’s counsels, her duty to watch over and help his soul and her pleasure to share in his labours. She believed that women’s brains were the same as men’s, quite a radical thought in those days. She was determined not to marry anyone who did not recognise this fact and she spent much of her life championing women’s rights.
It was a while before Catherine was to preach herself, but she regularly sent William notes on different subjects that she had been studying. Being alone so much as she was growing up due to her sickness, meant that Catherine spent time studying the Bible and similar books (she never read novels), which really helped her in adulthood.
Booth was concerned about his ministry in Spalding in that ‘the Reformers’, to which he was attached, had no form of government, so in 1854 he joined the Methodist New Connexion. He was under the wing of the leader, Dr Cooke, who supervised his studies. Booth was not good at studying, preferring prayer and evangelism, but nevertheless Dr Cooke proposed that he put William forward to be Superintendent of the work in London, to which he protested that he was too young for such a responsible position, but agreed to take the position of assistant pastor if it was offered to him. The New Connexion welcomed him enthusiastically into their ranks, especially as his salary was being paid by one of Booth’s friends. They also favoured him by allowing him to marry after a year as opposed to the normal four years.
The news of William’s evangelistic abilities spread around the nation and he was inundated with invitations to speak, but he felt he should refuse them as his job was an assistant pastor in London. However, Catherine saw more potential in her husband than he did himself and she was very excited at the thought of what he might achieve.
In March 1856, whilst with her husband in Halifax Catherine gave birth to her first child Bramwell. She accompanied William on his very successful two-year evangelistic tour until he was appointed to the Brighouse Circuit, a move by the New Connection leaders deliberately intended to stop him from evangelistic tours. Whilst there Catherine decided to try a hand at public speaking at a temperance meeting, with the avowed intention of taking up preaching if her first attempt at public speaking was successful. It was, so she did.
In 1858 William was posted to the Gateshead Circuit, with a promise that he could go back to evangelising after a year. After only a few weeks the numbers on Sunday went from 120 to 2,000 – it became known as the Converting Shop. During that year their third child was born.
The Booths were careful to treat their children equally and they dressed them very plainly as they did not want vanity to creep in. They were very intent on bringing their children up according to biblical principles. Their love for one another grew and after four years of marriage, Catherine was able to write that they were more in love than ever.
Although she received invitations to preach and her husband believed she should speak to large audiences, Catherine could not overcome her timidity.
One day she was on the way to church and looking forward to seeing some people saved when Holy Spirit suggested that her time might be better spent visiting some of the houses on the way to encourage people to go to church. She knew this was from God and immediately began this new work. She stopped to speak to a group of women sitting on a doorstep. Never having done such a thing before it took a lot of effort on her part to overcome her shyness. Some of the women agreed to go, as did some of the next group, which made her understand that this work was of the Lord. A couple in the next house agreed to go to the services and then Holy Spirit prompted her to speak to a woman standing on a doorstep. She allowed her to speak to her drunken husband inside and really feeling the power of God with her, Catherine went in and confronted the drunken man and after a long talk, got him to sign a temperance pledge. She then spent two evenings a week going from house to house and within a few weeks she persuaded 10 drunkards to sign the pledge and attend a weekly Bible class. Catherine clearly had an evangelistic gift, but one has to remember that this was 1859, the beginning of the greatest revival the UK has ever known, so Holy Spirit was hovering over the whole nation and people were much more open to hearing the Gospel message.
At the end of 1859 the Palmers, who were American evangelists, were ministering in nearby Newcastle and a local minister sent out a pamphlet, criticising women preachers, as he was offended by Mrs Palmer’s preaching. Catherine did not like this attack on women and this pamphlet became the nudge for her to begin her preaching ministry. To begin with, she published a 32 page pamphlet in response to that of the minister.
In January 1860 there was a meeting at Bethesda where people were testifying. Catherine felt the urging of Holy Spirit in a powerful way and the Lord say that he would bless her words if she stood up to speak. She wrestled with Him, saying she couldn’t, but He reminded her of her childhood promise that she would always obey Him, at any cost, so she got up and went towards the pulpit, just as William was winding up the service. He saw his wife and said, ‘What is the matter, my dear? She replied, ‘I want to say a word’. And that was the start of a famous career. She spoke about how she had been disobedient for some years over not speaking and the congregation of about 1,000 was much moved and many promised the Lord to be obedient in future. Having tried to get his wife to preach for years, he immediately got her to preach that night. Her servant was so excited she went home and danced around the kitchen table.
That night the chapel was overfull and it happened to be Pentecost Sunday. People were powerfully impacted by what she said and God did a great work there. From that time invitations poured in from everywhere asking Catherine to come and speak. In September, William was recovering from a breakdown for nine weeks, during which time Catherine took over his Sabbath duties, very successfully.
Her success at preaching made her believe that anything was possible.
Early in 1861, Catherine decided to concentrate on Holiness. John Wesley was the first to embrace this subject, but since then the subject had fallen in and out of favour.
She wrote, ‘My soul has been much called out of late on the doctrine of Holiness. I feel that hitherto we have not put it in a sufficiently definite and tangible manner before the people – I mean as a specific and attainable experience. Oh, that I had entered into the fullness of the enjoyment of it myself! I intend to struggle after it. In the meantime we have commenced already to bring it specially before our dear people.’
4 February 1861 ‘I spoke a fortnight since the Bethesda on holiness and a precious time we had. On the Sunday following two beautiful testimonials were given at the love feast as to the attainment of the blessing through that address. One of them, an old grey-headed leader, is perhaps the most spiritual man in the society. He had never before seen it his privilege to be sanctified. Others have claimed it since. William has preached on it twice and there is a glorious quickening amongst the people. I am to speak again next Friday night and on Sunday afternoon.’
From then on Catherine and William preached Salvation and Sanctification.
At Easter William and Catherine went to minister in Hartlepool and the meetings were so successful that Catherine took over when William had to return to Gateshead. Catherine’s meetings were really successful and during the visit 250 gave their lives to Jesus.
This was followed by the Liverpool Conference where a good party of people supported a move to release the Booths into evangelism, which they should have been doing for the last four years. The party that opposed such a move in previous years, remained as opposed as ever, breaking the perceived promises from previous Conferences. It looked as if those supporting the Booths were winning the day when a compromise was put forward that they should continue pastoring but be given leave to evangelise from time to time.
The Booths realised from experience that this compromise would satisfy no one and that it would just give ammunition to those who were against evangelism. Despite William’s strong opposition, the Conference passed the compromise. After one more failed attempt to get released William realised it was hopeless and resigned from the Church.
A friend of the Booth’s who was head of the Circuit in Hayle, Cornwall, invited both of them to do a mission in his circuit, although there were few in the church and they could not be expected to be paid much. Catherine took the fact that they were both invited as a sign that they would no longer be separated as they would be ministering together.
(I doubt if the Booths realised that William Haslam – see this website - had been ministering in the area and had opened the revival well).
William ministered twice on Sunday and on Monday to Thursday evening. Catherine, Sunday afternoon and Friday evening, plus several afternoons during the week and other ancillary meetings.
After the first meeting their hostess said, ‘Before you came my husband and I had a very good opinion of ourselves, but now we see we are nothing – absolutely nothing – and worse than nothing.’
Catherine believed that God commissioned them at those services for their life’s ministry. For the first several meetings, despite God moving powerfully and many calls for penitents to come forward to the communion rail, nobody came forward. Finally, a woman issued some loud cries and forced her way to the rail and that was the beginning of the flood.
After their most successful mission to date, the Booths went to the New connexion church in St Ives. St Ives was a small fishing village of 7,000 people who were wholly employed in the precarious industry of pilchard fishing. Sometimes the fish did not come close enough to shore for the nets to be put out, however, while the Booths were there a large shoal was spotted and 2/3 of the population were involved in bringing in the catch of some 30-40 million fish, packing them and sending them off to the continent.
The meetings were again very successful with every church in the place used except the Church of England, but virtually every adult in the town attended the meetings. In 31/2 months 1,028 gave their lives to the Lord in addition to many children.
Next was nearby St Just. This was a mining town of around 10,000 people of whom about 17% were already members of different churches. The glory fell on the fifth day and the whole area got involved in the revival. Catherine’s Sunday afternoon meetings were full of power and it was here that she had her first all-women services. One of these meetings had 2,500 women attending. The wife of a prominent Wesleyan said to her husband, ‘Oh Alfred, we have had a time! There never was such a sight seen in St Just before. Mrs Booth spoke with such Divine power that it seemed to me that every person in the chapel who was not right with God must at once consecrate themselves to His service. I never witnessed such a scene in my life. Oh! that you had been there!’
40, 50 and 60 people a day sought the Saviour. One village left one person to guard the houses as every other person went to the meetings. The village of Truthwell had 52 out of 58 adults saved. St Just was another really successful mission.
Next was Penzance, but at this time was the Wesleyan Conference where one of the worse denominational decisions of all time occurred. Despite the massive success of the Booths’ missions and the massive additions to the Wesleyan churches, the Wesleyan ministers asked the conference to ban the Booths from their buildings and the Conference agreed. (Remember that John Wesley himself led many similar revivals in the same areas, they were the foundation of what became the Methodist church and now they were banning such meetings from their churches – extraordinary!) At the same time the Primitive Methodists also asked their ministers not to employ revivalists. (Fifty years earlier they were founded through such meetings. During the biggest revival in our history all three Methodist denominations banned revival – unbelievable!)
The mission in Penzance was not very successful as they only had use of a small chapel.
Next was Redruth and finally Camborne. Both venues had very successful services and in total an estimated 7,000 joined the churches during the 18 months of missions in western Cornwall.
1863 found them in Cardiff. The problems of accessing Methodist buildings made the Booths think that perhaps it would be better to have their meetings in public buildings as different denominations are happy to meet together on neutral ground and the totally unchurched happy to be in a non-church building. So, they rented the Circus.
Catherine made a surprising comment criticising missions to China etc as she considered the huge amounts of money they cost would be better spent evangelising people at home.
Although she was not physically robust, she spent her energy unceasingly. Apart from preaching several times a week and ministering to the anxious, she had a constant stream of visitors, counselled some and of course, looked after her five children. Of course, as everybody did in those days, she also wrote letters copiously.
The Cardiff mission was a success with 500 salvations. During this time William had a good time in a small chapel in Pontypridd.
Two of the people who invited them to Cardiff were John and Richard Cory who owned ships and collieries. From that time these men were amazing supporters of the Booths, faithful in their support for over 30 years.
Another Cardiff contact was Mr and Mrs Billups who again became great supporters and Mrs Billups came to be a close friend of Catherine’s.
Next was Walsall where they tried a new strategy. Some of the meetings were held in the open-air in the centre of town, before holding a meeting in the chapel. On one occasion they handed out bills for a meeting in a field and on the day they processed through the town, singing and speaking about the meeting. They got a large crowd following them and an estimated 5,000 people attended the day's services. Many of the speakers were working men like 75% of the congregation.
A highlight of the campaign was the salvation of their son Bramwell at one of the children’s meetings held by his mother.
In 1864, a few weeks after the birth of their sixth child, it was decided that Catherine conduct her own campaigns so that double the work could be done even though this meant separation from each other. She ministered in Batley, Pudsey and Woodhouse Carr with great success; 500 adults and many children professed salvation.
The idea was coming to the Booths that the best way of reaching the masses was by an outside agency, independent of the Church. They were also drawn towards London as it was a big enough mission field for them both and so would not require much separation. William however hesitated as he thought that he was not up to the enormous task. He decided to try it, recognising that if he failed he could still minister in the provinces. It was agreed that he would join Catherine after she had completed a series of meetings in Rotherhithe and they would decide where to go from there.
The meetings were successful and the Booths took a house in Shaftesbury Road, Hammersmith, from where they could start their London mission. There was a little opposition to Catherine’s ministry, voiced by ‘The Revival’, that said they supported female preachers but questioned whether those with children should do so and they said that theologically it was questionable. However, the fruit of her ministry destroyed opposition and ‘the Revival’ became big supporters.
This was followed by successful meetings in Bermondsey and at this time Catherine was drawn by the Midnight Meetings where prostitutes were ministered to. She was appalled at society’s lack of concern for these women.
William had always had a heart for the poor and he found that his direct way of ministering was appreciated by them. All his life he tried to minister to the rich on one side (so they could help the poor) and the poor on the other, but he never felt he had done it successfully. Catherine also had a tremendous heart for the poor, but surprisingly the rich loved her as well. She made a point when ministering to the rich to make them aware of their responsibilities. Her denunciation of society’s sins was often scathing in the extreme, and yet the rich came back to hear more.
Catherine had ten successful weeks in Deptford, but the travelling told on her health, so she closed the meetings and accepted opportunities to speak to the upper classes in Kensington and Islington. Much later she wrote, ‘I strove to convict them of sin and to persuade them to abandon it and to cast themselves on the mercy of God.’ People were seldom put off by this direct approach, numbers always grew and grew until the capacity of the building, however large, was strained.
In October they moved to Hackney so William could be closer to the East End which was absorbing more and more of his time. One day he returned home and said, ‘Oh Kate, as I passed by the doors of the flaming gin-palaces tonight, I seemed to hear a voice sounding in my ears, “where can you go and find such heathen as these and where is there so great a need for your labours?” And I felt as though I ought at every cost to stop and preach to these East End multitudes.’
The question of money came up because the wealthy donations were keeping them going, but if Catherine preached to the poor, where would their support come from? She hesitated, but replied, ‘Well, if you feel you need to stay, stay. We have trusted the Lord once for our support and we can trust him again!’
Soon after this the Lord gave them a major sign by sending them the Christian philanthropist Samuel Morley. He asked to see William and interrogated him about the work he was doing. He seemed to be really interested in the novel ways he worked; the open-air meetings on the Mile End Waste, surrounded by blaspheming infidels and boisterous drunkards; the procession down the Whitechapel Road, pelted with garbage, the placards carried with striking texts; the penitent form and the testifying of the new converts, enlisted his unbounded support. Morley asked William how much he would need to support his family and gave him a large share of that amount and he remained a faithful supporter.
In September William started meetings in a dancing school that held 600 people. There were some wonderful meetings held there.
After a mission in Peckham, Catherine became dangerously ill and went to Tonbridge Wells to recuperate. On recovering they visited the home of philanthropist Henry Reed where William Haslam was speaking. That Sunday Catherine preached for him in his Mission Hall. The glory of God came down and Reed was very touched and they became firm friends.
Catherine had a recurrence of her sickness and suffered a lot, her weak constitution meant that virtually her whole life she suffered from some pain or sickness. It is remarkable that she was able to sustain such an exhausting ministry.
The beginning of 1867 started with three months of meetings in St John’s Wood. At the end of this mission, some men offered to build her a church bigger than Spurgeon’s Tabernacle, but she wisely declined. Who knows what would have happened to the Salvation Army had she accepted.
A lady suggested to Catherine that she hold meeting in a seaside resort as she believed that the upper classes would be far more likely to attend services away from their home church whilst on holiday. Catherine took up the idea, first having meetings in Ramsgate and then moving to larger premises in Margate. The Assembly Rooms were full every Sunday and there were many salvations and Catherine made some important contacts.
Catherine was never slow to take up doctrinal issues she disagreed with, in particular the doctrine of the Plymouth Brethren.
In 1868 ‘The East London Evangelist’, the Mission’s magazine was begun. William and Catherine edited it. Catherine’s first article was on ‘Prevailing Prayer’ (a subject we need to teach a great deal more of). The following year it was renamed ‘The Christian Mission Magazine’, then in 1879, ‘The Salvationist’ and then ‘The War Cry’.
Interestingly, Catherine was against the new idea of Polio vaccination, saying that children were dying because of the way they were being treated and that a hospital she knew had nursed a number of bad cases and had not lost one.
Catherine continued to have bad health and struggled a great deal with depression. Despite seeing amazing successes she had to fight depression hard and was embarrassed to admit that she suffered considering, as a Christian minister, people would have expected her to overcome it.
The Booths were invited to take over a ministry to the poor in Edinburgh. They went up worried about the reputation of the Scots who were wedded to Presbyterianism and Calvinism. However, they need not have worried as the Scots loved Catherine’s direct approach and the glory of God fell, touching most of the 500 in the loft venue. She wanted to do lots of meeting there but had to return to London as she was to minister for several weeks in Brighton. Brighton was the holiday home of high society and Catherine ministered with unvarying power and success.
At this time Catherine’s beloved mother died after a long painful illness. Catherine spent as much time with her as possible and even injected her mother with morphine towards the end.
1n 1870 the name of the East London Mission changed to the Christian Mission as the work had extended to other cities. For three months William was very sick and there was nobody to take over the work, so Catherine stepped in, doing everything that was needed, on top of her own ministry and family duties. In 1872 William was very sick again, this time for six months.
Another trial was the mission in Brighton which was birthed by Catherine and was growing well, suddenly informed them that they were cutting off from London and going independent. Catherine felt particularly saddened by this and prophesied that it would fall apart and shortly afterwards it did.
Something that comes across so clearly from all their letters is that their love for one another remained as strong as it was at the beginning. They sustained each other through many trials of sickness and trials relating to ministry. Quite remarkable. They worked so well together, their amazing gifts complementing one another. William was so full of ideas and such a wonderful organiser, whereas Catherine had great reasoning abilities, was resolute, analytical and discerning.
Next for Catherine was a terrific 17 week mission in Southsea. 600 gave in their names and no doubt hundreds sought salvation elsewhere. This was followed by Chatham, where things were going really well until Catherine was struck down by illness once again.
A danger that the family had to face all the time was sickness caught from the masses. Being amongst the poor all the time, they were always in danger of catching whooping cough, smallpox, scarlet fever, rheumatic fever, measles etc, but they never held back from fear of catching a possibly fatal disease.
In 1874 the whole family went to Hastings to recuperate from whooping cough, and whilst there Catherine held a meeting in the Circus. The Hastings Independent gives an interesting account.
‘Was it curiosity, was it a higher motive or was it a blending of both which filled the circus here on Sunday evening? No church in this borough ever had or could hold so large a congregation as was there assembled, and certainly no performance at the circus ever yet managed to draw so vast a concourse of people. Boxes, gallery, pit, promenade – even the very ring itself, where clowns tumbled in jest and fair ladies perform feats of horsemanship – were crowded. Men, women and children from the fisher-boy and flower-girl up to the members of the school board and Town Council; publicans and Good Templars; young sparks, whose God is a cigar and a fresh-looking cravat; Milliner-girls and servants, radiant in ribbons and cheap finery; shop boys, tradesmen, Saints and sinners, all were gathered in response to an announcement proclaimed from dead walls and hoardings a few days previously that Mrs Booth was going to preach.
Who is this Mrs Booth, who possesses such power to attract to a single meeting at least 1/10 of the whole population of our borough? Was it to hear a woman preach, because some of us believe that ladies have no right to be our theological teachers, that we went? Was it to laugh and jeer that others of us were present? Was it because many of us had already heard Mrs Booth’s friends say such marvellous things of her eloquence that we were determined to receive oral and ocular demonstration for ourselves, or were we attracted by the singularity of the transforming, for the nonce, a theatre into the house of God? At any rate, whatever may have been the motive of the many incoming, there were some 2,500 in all. Looking round on the large number of people, and contemplating in one’s mind the comparatively empty churches and chapels outside, one could not but think that the lesson might be learned by some ministers from even Mrs Booth and the committee who bring her to Hastings to lead the people in a sensational way to Heaven.’
At this time their children were growing up and both parents showed their pride in all their offspring in their letters. They were all living close to God and some of them had started ministering.
The annual conference took place where William set out the state of the Mission. They now had 32 Mission stations, 32 paid evangelists, 325 public speakers, an average weekly attendance of 19,540, and 3,141 sinners seeking salvation. Sometime earlier he was asked where he would get his public speakers from and William replied, from the public-houses and the gin-palaces! Holy Spirit was amongst them and the Mission was growing.
In 1875 Catherine went around visiting various stations of the Mission. In June she had a more serious attack of ‘Angina’ than in Chatham and William was warned that she might die. For several weeks she was in pain and in danger and it was several months before she was able to resume her ministry. While recuperating there was an accident which put William out of action as well, so for five months both of them were unable to minister, but the Mission work went on successfully without them as their lieutenants were very capable.
The children were well trained by Catherine. Even in the nursery, they used to perform meetings where there was a pulpit and pews and when someone began children’s services, all the Booth children took part and then led the services. They started preaching very young. A Christian principal of a girls’ college offered to educate one of the girls free. It was tempting, but when Catherine saw the students dressed fashionably, she realised she must keep her children away from the world. She said about a boys' school, ‘where deception and lying and infidelity are the order of the day’.
(this is an interesting comparison to what many Christian parents think today. Many seem to think it a good idea to immerse their children in the world, yet Catherine took the opposite view and one cannot argue that she brought up eight children who loved the Lord and did amazing things for Him.)
Catherine was clearly not well disposed toward formal learning. She says, ‘It is well known in Methodism that hundreds of young men have gone into their colleges like flames of fire, soul-winners! But they have gone to be taught Latin etc and in numberless cases they come out the Devil’s charred sticks!’ (this still happens today). She thought soul winning should take priority over learning. She believed learning should be done in the right way and for the right purpose. ‘Learn to put your thoughts together forcibly and well, to think logically and clearly, to speak powerfully and to write legibly and well.’ Someone offered to put her eldest son through University, but she opposed the idea for the reasons stated above.
The end of 1876 was a worrying time for the Booths. To begin with Bramwell had heart and throat problems and was sent to Scotland to recuperate. Then William was severely attacked by gastric fever and his life was under threat. Then Catherine’s health broke down from looking after William. She always believed in an alternative medicine called ‘hydropathic treatment’, which included the use of water for pain relief. Both Booths used this when badly sick. They went off to Tunbridge Wells to recuperate and on arrival heard that their daughter Lucy and a servant had smallpox. The servant died in hospital and whilst visiting her a great supporter of the Mission, Mr Railton, caught smallpox badly. Both Lucy and Mr Railton recovered, Catherine believed, through hydropathic treatment.
January 1877 brought about the final transition of the Mission from a democratic organisation to one with a military constitution – in other words the Salvation Army. It was already, in effect, organised like an army - this formalised what already existed. The Booths had found that the system of Conferences and Committees too unwieldy and they delayed action, so William took the decision that he would take back control of everything and this was passed unanimously by the January Council and the June Annual Conference. He wanted to do something different from the normal church organisation, so chose a military one.
After the change the Army grew fast. Volunteers were given military ranks and after a while William was persuaded to accept being called ‘General’. The following year William designed the flag with the motto of ‘Blood and Fire’ (‘Blood’ being Salvation, ‘Fire’ being Sanctification) and the uniforms were designed. Catherine was very involved in the design of the women’s uniforms.
As a novelty the Salvation Army was attacked from all sides, from the press to children in the streets. People knew that there would be no response if they physically attacked the Salvationists on the streets. It was Catherine’s job to answer the critics. She did not mind the criticism so long as those doing it were willing to judge themselves on the same basis. She believed that selfishness, that ran through society, was the main reason for the opposition. The publican worried about losing his income, the politician about losing his votes, the minister about losing his congregation etc.
During Catherine’s long recuperation she was still active behind the scenes in many aspects of the Army’s work. She was concerned, from time to time, with the lack of money for the family and this became intense sometimes. Some of their financial supporters left them at the transition to the Army, causing a considerable problem. The strange thing is that the family need never have been in want because a lot of money was made from books and other literary ventures, but they always handed the profits over to the Army. (I guess they were showing the rest of the Army how to live, but I am not sure God would have minded their keeping enough so that they would not have been a burden on others.)
1879 was a year when Catherine went around the country visiting 59 towns. She took many meetings; presenting Colours to the Corps, explaining and defending the work of the Army, speaking to volunteers and supporters etc. It was the year of building a relationship with T A Denny and W T Stead, both of whom became strong supporters of the army. The former gave huge financial support, but never unquestioningly. He looked into many aspects of the Army before giving. The latter was the great journalist who was a radical in his field. Neither of the two men agreed wholeheartedly with the General’s way of doing things, preferring a more moderate way, but they both recognised the fruit!
The following year was when the Army spread internationally. Some Army people who emigrated to America and Australia started a small Corp and then asked HQ for help which was duly given. Catherine regretted for the rest of her life that owing to her weak health and her workload in the United Kingdom, she was unable to visit abroad.
Denny believed that Catherine would do very well speaking to the rich in the West End, so he organised meetings for the Booths that were a great success. She was in huge demand, speaking at large meetings and small, with Lords and Ladies present at many of them. She was flooded with invitations to stay in people’s homes, but she did not like to do that because she liked to spend a deal of time in intercession before the meetings as she found that the fruit of the meetings was related to the time she spent in prayer.
People came to Jesus at all her meetings as well as those receiving ‘holiness’. She was swamped with letters from all over the country, inviting her to speak amongst other things. She had favour with many influential people which would benefit the Army down the line.
The General was going all over the country. In one eight-day period, he travelled 800 miles and spoke to an estimated 40,000 people, excluding outdoor meetings. People were locked out of most of his meetings, however big the venue. Catherine wrote that the stories he related of grace and salvation were indescribable! In Bristol, there were 2,000 at a 7:00 am prayer meeting!
Catherine wrote at this time that despite the power and the wonderful results, she still went through times of depression. However, she realised she had to fight through these bouts and did so.
As well as the West End she ministered powerfully in different parts of the country. At Glasgow her body let her down again, having to endure suffering while she ministered. This time it was a very painful knee that meant she could not have bedclothes touch it and she was unable to sleep. She was in such pain she telegraphed William, who was in Dundee, to come and take the meeting where 4,000 were expected. William encouraged her to show her face at the meeting to encourage all the people who wanted to see her. She was half carried to the platform, with her whole leg in pain, but as soon as she started to speak the pain went away and she spoke for 75 minutes, but the pain returned before she got hone. Interestingly, Catherine could not decide if all these illnesses were her ‘thorn in the flesh’ or attacks from the enemy. That night she had another angina attack and indeed fainted. William and others were very distressed, but they prayed and she recovered.
A highlight for both of them that year was William’s invitation to speak at the Wesleyan Conference. Quite a turnaround from them banning him from using their churches in Cornwall.
(It seems that this year, 1880, was one of revival all over the country for the Booths.)
(Although not directly relating to Catherine, her biographer inserts a chapter on the persecution of those in the Army. This has great similarities to the persecution that John Wesley and his followers had to endure 150 years earlier.)
As mentioned, one of the main groups of people who were disadvantaged by the work of the Salvation Army were the publicans, who lost money when their customers accepted Jesus and gave up drinking. Unfortunately, publicans often held a lot of influence in their local societies. Sometimes they were mayors or magistrates or often they had the ear of such people. In these situations they often tried to make life very difficult for the Salvationists, trying to get their bands banned because of the noise, their marches banned for obstruction and their outdoor preaching banned for the same reason.
In 1881 Catherine‘s daughter Kate went to set up the Salvation Army in France. It was very hard for Catherine to lose her daughter. She always realised that her daughter would be serving God through the Salvation Army, but she never thought about her moving to another country. Then she remembered years earlier God had said to her “I will make thee a mother of nations” and this comforted her. She had complete faith that the Lord would look after her daughter.
In the same year the Booths decided to try something new, wanting to make a holiday a Holy day as the Jews used to do. They therefore hired the Exeter Hall at a cost of £50 for Easter Day to hold an all-day holiness conference. The hall was very big, holding 4000 people and many thought that it would be impossible to fill it, but four days before the event all the tickets had been sold. The meeting was an outstanding success with hundreds consecrating themselves to God. Even the Telegraph and the Times were beginning to show some support for what they were doing. From then on the Exeter Hall was used multiple times and Catherine gave many powerful messages from there.
During this time she continued to give lectures in the West End in various Halls. For one she was too ill to speak, so she sent her daughter Emma to deputise and afterwards Emma received invitations to speak all over. William meanwhile was in Ireland where the work exceeded most other places, he spoke to 12,000 in the open-air.
A clergyman travelled 350 miles to a Whitechapel meeting to receive Sanctification, which he did.
During the year Catherine spoke in many towns around the nation. She wrote from Hull, ‘The work here surpasses Bristol. The morning procession has just gone by; 600 at least in the ranks. Oh! it cheers one to hear the wonderful stories everywhere! Wonderful! Wonderful! …Oh! the glorious opportunity! It almost overwhelms me!’ She later wrote that her meetings there were ‘indescribable!’ Fourteen public houses were for let as a result of the work of the Salvation Army and one landlord told her he was losing £80 per week. A town councillor said that they had influenced the entire population and stirred up every church in it! She wrote, ‘Oh it is glory!’ At Grimsby and Bridlington Quay there were similar results, and it was reported that a wonderful move of God had broken out in Swansea after her visit.
By 1882 the public perception of the Salvation Army was improving, but there was still antagonism against them in some quarters. In January there was a big meeting in Sheffield and as the army processed to the hall where the meeting was to take place, it was attacked by an angry mob. These salvationists were attacked with mud, bricks, stones etc, men women and children. In view of the situation the procession was split into two with William and Catherine going one way and another group, led by an ex-wrestler on a horse, went another. This second group was attacked by an estimated 4,000 people and the ex-wrestler was badly injured almost falling off his horse. Some of the Army were blinded and almost choked with all the mud that was thrown on them And their faces were cut and bruised through having stones thrown at them. The four standard-bearers were dragged around by their hair while people attempted to take their banners from them. This was called the Sheffield riot.
William stood in his carriage the whole time and although missiles were thrown at her and Catherine, they were not hit. “The site upon the platform is unique. Bruised and bandaged heads, faces gashed with stones, clothes daubed with blood and mud, fronted the crowded building. The joy that beamed from every countenance contrasted with the scars and stains.“
The riot was condemned by nearly everyone and William received letters of support from high places. Lord Chief Justice Coleridge said that “every Englishman had an absolute and unqualified right to go about his business and perform legal acts with protection of the law; and he apprehended that walking through the streets in order and procession, even if accompanied by music and the singing of hymns, was absolutely lawful, in the doing of which every subject had the right to be protected.“
Locally though, authorities were less generous. Magistrates would often put salvationists in prison even though they had not broken any law. There were disturbances at, Guildford, Arbroath, Forfar and other places. “During the year no less than 669 Salvationists were, knocked down, kicked or otherwise brutally assaulted. Of these 251 women and 23 children under 15 years of age! No fewer than 56 of the buildings used by the Salvation Army were attacked, the windows broken and in some cases serious injury inflicted.” 86 members of the Army were imprisoned, including 15 women.
Despite the setbacks the Salvation Army prospered. “At Shipley 148 souls professed conversion during the first week, at Tamworth 120 names were taken the first night and 322 by the weekend. The notorious Grecian theatre witnessed 1,800 seekers for salvation within the first three months.”
Such problems we’re not just in England as Catherine found when she made her first trip to France. A large meeting she held was half-filled with opponents, some of whom did not want any religion at all. Some were demonically inspired and it was one of the most difficult meetings she had ever led. At the end of the meeting some of the Salvationists were badly attacked.
The anniversary meeting that year was held at the Alexandra Palace where between 20,000 and 30,000 people attended the day of celebration.
Catherine continued to conduct a series of lectures on different subjects which were often published in books; one of her most impassioned was concerning the apathy of Christians.
Back in the 1859 to 1864 revival, some people held strong sympathies for the plight of prostitutes and they started what was called Midnight Meetings where only prostitutes could attend. These were very successful and it was clear that there was a great need to help these women.
There were probably several people who immersed themselves in this ministry to these prostitutes, but one in particular was a Mrs Josephine Butler who from 1869 to 1874, with her husband, travelled to every major city in the kingdom to try and bring the plight of those women to public notice. She found however that whereas, the poor people flooded the meetings in support, the middle-class and the upper-class were usually absent and it was those classes that we needed to bring influence, raise money et cetera. So, Mrs Butler’s work to change society and the law largely went unfulfilled. The problem with the law was that the age of consent was 13 years of age, so it was very difficult to bring these traffickers in young girls to justice.
A Baker’s wife also had compassion for these prostitutes and held a meeting for them in her home which was filled beyond capacity. The Salvation Army then recognised the need and purchased a house to help these women, which became known as a Rescue Home. These Homes would later be part of the movement that spread across the world.
It was decided to put Mrs Bramwell Booth in charge of this mission and as she met some of the women who passed through the home and heard their stories of how they had been treated she was so upset with what she had heard that for some weeks she cried herself to sleep. Her husband tried to placate her by saying that these stories were obviously exaggerated, but this did not help. As a way of helping his wife Bramwell decided to look into some of the stories himself, to show that they had been exaggerated, but he in fact found that the stories were true. In fact he discovered even more dreadful stories during his investigation.
Bramwell wrote the following letter describing his feelings. “Four months past I have been overwhelmed with the burden of shame and sorrow which the diabolical crimes against the children of the poor, recently brought to light, have laid upon me. For many weeks I was as one living in a dream of hell; the cries of outraged children and the smothered sobs of those imprisoned in living tombs were continually in my ears. I could not sleep. I could not take my food. At times I could not praise; and it was during the agonies of that time that I resolved that, no matter what the consequences might be, I would do all I could to stop these abominations.“
Meanwhile, Catherine was fully aware of what hit her son and daughter-in-law were doing and decided to make her own investigations. She knew Mrs Josephine Butler and wrote to her concerning the situation. Mrs Butler responded giving her a lot of information regarding the ‘bigger picture.’ From the days of the Midnight Meetings, Catherine had been in sympathy with what these women were enduring. She now took it upon herself to try to get the government to change the law and raise the minimum age of consent to 16.
Catherine asked her son to further his investigations to get as much evidence as possible in order to persuade the government. Going to the people with this problem was one strategy, but she wanted to leave this as a last resort, however she did approach a journalistic friend, W T Stead, who was now editor of ‘the Pall Mall Gazette’. Stead could only be persuaded when he heard testimonies from several women who had suffered as slaves of vicious men. He was horrified and proceeded to do his own investigations, gathering more evidence.
The only answer was to get the law changed. Three times the House of Lords had put up bills to do this, but three times the House of Commons rejected them. Catherine set about getting them to change their minds. She wrote to the Queen, she wrote to the prime minister and then to the succeeding prime minister, but the government was too busy dealing with property and taxes to concentrate on passing a new bill to raise the age of consent.
There was only one card left to be played, that of publicity. So William and Catherine set about informing the public, together with Stead. They set out to rouse the public conscience. Stead published his “Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon, which stirred up public sentiment. William organised mass meetings in London and throughout the provinces, where Catherine poured out her pent-up indignation on immense and enthusiastic audiences. This passion took them away from the normal work of The Salvation Army, but it was necessary. Catherine wrote, “what all this has cost me I will not attempt to write. I had four bad nights in succession, with the dreadful subject burning into my heart and brain. I felt as though I must go and walk the streets and besiege the dens where these hellish iniquities are going on. To keep quiet seems like being a traitor to humanity. Oh, it has been a fearful time.”
Stirring up the people was the answer. William organised a petition to the House of Commons which in only 17 days got 343,000 signatures. This was driven to the House of Commons and laid in front of the members of parliament. An angry nation demanded a change in the law and MPs, ever fearful of being voted out, passed the legislation raising the age of consent to 16.
(I feel there is a very close parallel here with what happened in the abolition of slavery. Although the slavery issue took many years to come to a conclusion, the nail in the coffin, so to speak, was the huge petition that was presented to Parliament. In fact that was the first time that a petition had been used in this way.)
As mentioned in her letter above, the work on this subject took its toll on Catherine’s weak frame and she had to stay at home for several months. However, she was still able to write articles for the ‘War Cry’ magazine and write many letters to encourage and advise.
From Midsummer 1886 to Christmas 1887 Catherine was able to resume and continue her public work, almost without interruption. She travelled around the country speaking in many towns to large audiences. This was the time when she was at her greatest popularity. “The prophetic severity of her denunciations of evil in no way diminish the crowd who everywhere flocked to her meetings. Realising increasingly, as life advanced, the necessity of speaking plainly in regard to sin and the conditions of salvation, she allowed no false sentiment to induce her to do the work of the Lord deceitfully or to earn the curse of keeping back her sword from blood.”
The Salvation Army continued to grow, with 148,905 seeking Salvation in England alone during 1887.
In 1888 it was clear that there was something seriously wrong with Catherine’s health. Her health declined rapidly and she was able to speak four times more before she had to give up her public ministry. She visited the doctor and found out that she had a tumour that was cancerous. She was given the option of an operation, but she refused it. On asking the doctor, he told her that she had eighteen months to two years left to live.
On her way back home in a cab, she looked at the various scenes through the window and it seemed that the sentence of death had been passed upon everything. She knelt on the floor of the car and wrestled in prayer with God.
On arriving home she told William the sad news and he was devastated, the more so because he had to rush off to the Netherlands for important meetings. He came back early and there was a meeting of the family and very close friends and they were in agreement with Catherine that she should not have the operation, mainly because there was considerable concern that her weak heart would not be able to withstand the anaesthetics. Instead, they decided to use Mattai remedies, which can still be found on the Internet today. These seemed to help with the pain because she was largely free of pain up till May 1889.
In August she went to Clacton for a few weeks to stay at the Salvation Army retreat there but as it happened she never returned to London. For a short time she was able to go for a ride in the carriage and then for short walks in the garden until she became housebound. The pain she endured was excruciating (she refused to take morphine). William and her daughters looked after her needs as best they could. It can only be imagined the concern, love and prayers that came from all around the globe on her behalf.
During these two years, eight months of sickness Catherine had much time to reflect on her years of ministry and the growth of the Salvation Army.
During December 1889, there was an expectation that she was going to die. On December 15th William wrote, “my darling had a night of agony. When I went into her room at 2 am, she had not closed her eyes. The breast was in awful condition. They were endeavouring to staunch a fresh haemorrhage. Everything is saturated with blood.
To stand by the side of those you love and watch the ebbing tide of life, unable to stem it or to raise the anguish, while the stabs of pain make the eyes flash fire and every limb and nerve quiver, forcing cries of suffering from the courageous soul – is an experience of sorrow which words can but poorly describe.”
Several times she and her family thought she was going to die and they gathered around her bedside to receive her final words, but she rallied each time. In these last days she said, “I might have lived longer, had I been more careful of my health, but I do not regret that I am dying a bit earlier, for I feel that I have not lived in vain and if I had been more considerate of my body I might have been so at the expense of the work which God has enabled me to accomplish for Him.”
On October 1st, 1890, the family returned to her bedside, this time to see her die. For three days they remained, saying their final goodbyes and then she finally was released from her pain and went to be with Jesus.
(There are many pages describing Catherine’s last illness, so if you would like to read more I recommend going to this biography.)
William wrote of her after her death, “she was in a wonderful sense a lover of mankind; no difference of circumstance, or of race, or sex, or of age, made any effect upon her. To be a human being, in any sort of need commanded her sympathy. If she had preferences it was where the need was greatest. The greater the weakness or the more dire the disease or the more utter the friendless, there her heart’s pitying love ran out the strongest.”
At the same time he wrote, “ever since our first meeting, now nearly 40 years ago, we have been inseparable in spirit – that is, in all the main thoughts, feelings and purposes of our lives. On no single question of any importance have we ever acted independently of each other’s views.“
So many asked to say goodbye that she was placed in an oak coffin with glass on the front. She held her favourite photo of William and the Army flag was draped over the coffin.
The news of her death brought a spontaneous outburst of popular sympathy. From the pulpit and the press, her life was celebrated with sincere words and the funeral celebrations were attended by unprecedented crowds. 36,000 entered the Olympia Skating Rink with many more thousands not able to get in.
For the funeral there was a four-mile procession through the City of London to Abney Park where the burial took place. The procession was limited to 3,000 people but there were many thousands lining the route all the way. At the cemetery, there was a crowd of 10,000 people who had been waiting many hours for the procession to arrive. William gave a noble tribute to his beloved wife and this amazing woman was laid to rest. Later her loving husband would be laid beside her.
Catherine Booth was an inspiration to hundreds of thousands if not millions, she was an equal partner in building the amazing Salvation Army that changed the life of many hundreds of thousands and continued to do so for many years to come.
This is taken from, ‘Catherine Booth, Mother of the Salvation Army’, by Booth-Tucker.