Catherine Booth

In honor of March being National Women’s History Month I am going to post some bios of heroic Christian women, and Christian women who have been my heros in the faith. I start today with Catherine Mumford Booth:

Catherine Booth, the daughter of a coachbuilder, was born in Ashbourne, Derbyshire, in 1829. When she was a child the family moved to Boston, Lincolnshire and later they lived in Brixton, London. Catherine was a devout Christian and by the age of twelve she had read the Bible eight times. She had a social conscience from an early age. On one occasion she protested to the local policeman that he had been too rough on a drunken man he had arrested and frog-marched to the local lock-up.

Catherine did not enjoy good health. At the age of fourteen she developed spinal curvature and four years later, incipient tuberculosis. It was while she was ill in bed that she began writing articles for magazines warning of the dangers of drinking alcohol. Catherine was a member of the local Band of Hope and a supporter of the national Temperance Society.

In 1852 Catherine met William Booth, a Methodist minister. William had strong views on the role of church ministers believing they should be “loosing the chains of injustice, freeing the captive and oppressed, sharing food and home, clothing the naked, and carrying out family responsibilities.” Catherine shared William’s commitment to social reform but disagreed with his views on women. Catherine was an avowed feminist. On one occasion she objected to William describing women as the “weaker sex”. William was also opposed to the idea of women preachers. When Catherine argued with William about this he added that although he would not stop Catherine from preaching he would “not like it”. Despite their disagreements about the role of women in the church, the couple married on 16th June 1855, at Stockwell New Chapel.

It was not until 1860 that Catherine Booth first started to preach. One day in Gateshead Bethseda Chapel, a strange compulsion seized her and she felt she must rise and speak. Later she recalled how an inner voice taunted her: “You will look like a fool and have nothing to say”. Catherine decided that this was the Devil’s voice: “That’s just the point,” she retorted, “I have never yet been willing to be a fool for Christ. Now I will be one.”

Catherine’s sermon was so impressive that William changed his mind about women’s preachers. Catherine Booth soon developed a reputation as an outstanding speaker but many Christians were outraged by the idea. As Catherine pointed out at that time it was believed that a woman’s place was in the home and “any respectable woman who raised her voice in public risked grave censure.”

In 1864 the couple began in London’s East End the Christian Mission which later developed into the Salvation Army. Catherine Booth took a leading role in these revival services and could often be seen preaching in the dockland parishes of Rotherhithe and Bermondsey. Though often imprisoned for preaching in the open air, members of the Salvation Army fought on, waging war on poverty and injustice.

The Church of England were at first extremely hostile to the Salvation Army. Lord Shaftesbury, a leading politician and evangelist, described William Booth as the “anti-christ”. One of the main complaints against Booth was his “elevation of women to man’s status”. In the Salvation Army a woman officer enjoyed equal rights with a man. Although Booth had initially rejected the idea of women preachers, he had now completely changed his mind and wrote that “the best men in my Army are the women.”

Catherine Booth began to organize what became known as Food-for-the-Million Shops where the poor could buy hot soup and a three-course dinner for sixpence. On special occasions such as Christmas Day, she would cook over 300 dinners to be distributed to the poor of London.

By 1882 a survey of London discovered that on one weeknight, there were almost 17,000 worshipping with the Salvation Army, compared to 11,000 in ordinary churches. Even, Dr. William Thornton, the Archbishop of York, had to accept that the Salvation Army was reaching people that the Church of England had failed to have any impact on.

It was while working with the poor in London that Catherine found out about what was known as “sweated labour”. That is, women and children working long hours for low wages in very poor conditions. In the tenements of London, Catherine discovered red-eyed women hemming and stitching for eleven hours a day. These women were only paid 9d. a day, whereas men doing the same work in a factory were receiving over 3s. 6d. Catherine and fellow members of the Salvation Army attempted to shame employers into paying better wages. They also attempted to improve the working conditions of these women.

Catherine was particularly concerned about women making matches. Not only were these women only earning 1s. 4d. for a sixteen hour day, they were also risking their health when they dipped their match-heads in the yellow phosphorus supplied by manufacturers such as Bryant & May. A large number of these women suffered from ‘Phossy Jaw’ (necrosis of the bone) caused by the toxic fumes of the yellow phosphorus. The whole side of the face turned green and then black, discharging foul-smelling pus and finally death.

Women like Catherine Booth and Annie Beasant led a campaign against the use of yellow phosphorus. They pointed out that most other European countries produced matches tipped with harmless red phosphorus. Bryant & May responded that these matches were more expensive and that people would be unwilling to pay these higher prices.

Catherine Booth died of cancer in October 1890. The campaigns that were started by Catherine were not abandoned. William Booth decided he would force companies to abandon the use of yellow phosphorus. In 1891 the Salvation Army opened its own match-factory in Old Ford, East London. Only using harmless red phosphorus, the workers were soon producing six million boxes a year. Whereas Bryant & May paid their workers just over twopence a gross, the Salvation Army paid their employees twice this amount.

William Booth organised conducted tours of MPs and journalists round this ‘model’ factory. He also took them to the homes of those “sweated workers” who were working eleven and twelve hours a day producing matches for companies like Bryant & May. The bad publicity that the company received forced the company to reconsider its actions. In 1901, Gilbert Bartholomew, managing director of Bryant & May, announced it had stopped used yellow phosphorus.

Catherine Booth and William Booth had eight children, all of whom were active in the Salvation Army. William Bramwell Booth (1856-1929) was chief of staff from 1880 and succeeded his father as general in 1912. Catherine’s second son, Ballington Booth (1857-1940), was commander of the army in Australia (1883-1885) and the USA (1887-1896). One of her daughters, Evangeline Cora Booth (1865-1950) was elected General of the Salvation Army in 1934.




Filed under Catherine Booth, Christian Women

6 responses to “Catherine Booth

  1. smilesback

    Thank you for posting this. I’ve always admired Catherine Booth also. And though I don’t really favor women pastors, I do favor women preachers. I am one. But I was definitely called by the Lord into it, as I used to teach in the public schools. However, to keep others from “stumbling”, I don’t aspire to preach behind pulpits. I preach on the streets. And I absolutely love it! I hold up my Bible as I walk, wearing signs, from corner to corner, handing out my homemade, short tracts, stop and preach (mostly quoting verses that pertain to one another), and then go to the next corner.

    I get a lot of smiles, thumbs up, and people that want prayer or a listening ear. I always stop preaching if someone acts like they want to talk.

    I started in 1/96 –just evangelizing the homeless on their streets, then went to the bus stops and evangelized the business people getting off work.

    It has been an absolute blessing and privilege.


  2. Rachel,
    You are welcome! I have many more female heros to highlight! Many forgotten names….

    I think what you are doing is great! What city are you in? MY husband and I are home missionaries to the Chinese in Brooklyn. We pastored a bi-lingual church for 6 years. It was interesting. I have preached and taught behind the pulpit, but I prefer the written word. There is still a lot of ignorance and prejudice toward women in ministry. But we must fulfill what the Lord has called us to do!

    I would recommend two ministries to you….. lots to read there. You can read the book by the same name by Katherine Bushnell which was written 100 years ago…..

    Also, Dr. Susan Hyatt has a site The International Christian Women’s History Project that you might find interesting:

  3. smilesback

    Thank you so much for giving those site addresses. I have been, for most of the afternoon now, reading the book by Katherine Bushnell. It is very interesting and very good. About Eve… and the word translated “desire” when it should render “turning”, etc. I’m now at the lesson (35 or so) about the veil… in Cor. Kinda complex study there… However, I find all this info very helpful! (Now I can buck the guy! –Just kidding –smile.)

    I will look into Hyatt’s site soon too. Thank you.

    That is so wonderful that you and your husband minister to the Chinese in Brooklyn! So, so cool! Are you bi-lingual in Chinese?

    I was born and raised in the Philippines, eldest daughter to Wycliffe missionaries who translated the New Testament into a tribal language. My sister and husband were missionaries to Tanzania, Africa for some years, and my brother is the International Pastor for a church in the Dallas area with an outreach at the university –UTA. He and his family have for years been part-time missionaries to Japan.

    My husband is a computer guy, but supports my ministry –which is in several cities, but mostly downtown Dallas –which has many subcultures and races, though the majority who seem to want to talk with me are African-American.

    So, you can see that we all are very mission-minded –especially to minorities.

    Thank you for your site. I’ve always liked what I’ve come across here.


  4. You’re very welcome Rachel! I’m glad that those sites blessed you.

    I am not bi-lingual, but I do know some Chinese. My husband is better at learning languages then I am! We use a translator when we preach. Our ministry teaches English as a Second Language. You can see our site at if you want to see what we do here.

    Very cool about your parents and family being missionaries. Paris Redhead said you are either in missions or in need of missions (I’m paraphrasing!).



  5. smilesback

    I just went to the site you mentioned and saw the sweet photo of you and your husband, as well as the one of the group of Chinese people. I am so thrilled about your work! And to think that you’ve been broadcasting Bible studies over the largest Chinese radio station is absolutely tremendous!

    May the Lord bless you both in huge ways for your service to Him ! ! ! ! ! !

    I also just read some of your articles from over the last week. That is terrible about the discipline methods that are promoted by these people, the Pearls!


  6. Thanks Rachel! We aren’t doing the radio broadcasts currently, but it was wonderful that God opened that door.

    The Pearls are very popular among certain homeschool groups, as well as groups like quiverfull. Their methods are abusives and dangerous! Thank God that there are people who are getting the word out about them!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s