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Our History

History of the Salvation Army

 

Commissioner George Scott Railton and seven Hallelujah Lassiesofficially “opened fire” in the United States on March 10, 1880.

Soon after beginning his ministerial career in England in 1852, William Booth abandoned the concept of the traditional church pulpit in favor of taking the gospel of Jesus Christ directly to the people. Walking the streets of London, he preached to the poor, the homeless, the hungry, and the destitute.

When fellow clergymen disagreed with Booth’s unconventional approach, he and his wife Catherine withdrew from the church to train evangelists throughout England. The couple returned to the East End of London in 1865, where many followers joined their fight for the souls of lost men and women. Within 10 years, their organization, operating under the name “The Christian Mission," had over 1,000 volunteers and evangelists. 

Thieves, prostitutes, gamblers, and drunkards were among their first converts to Christianity. And soon, those converts were also preaching and singing in the streets as living testimonies to the power of God.

When Booth read a printer's proof of the 1878 “Christian Mission” annual report, he noticed the statement "The Christian Mission is a volunteer army." Crossing out the words "volunteer army," he penned in "Salvation Army." From those words came the basis of the foundation deed of The Salvation Army.

From that point onward, converts became soldiers of Christ and were known then, as now, as Salvationists. They launched an offensive throughout the British Isles that, in spite of violence and persecution, converted 250,000 Christians between 1881 and 1885. Their message spread rapidly, gaining a foothold in America and soon after Canada, Australia, France, Switzerland, India, South Africa, Iceland, and Germany.

Today, The Salvation Army is active in virtually every corner of the world and serves in over 100 countries, offering the message of God’s healing and hope to all those in need.

 

Our Founders

William Booth

William Booth began The Salvation Army in 1865 as a means to help the suffering souls throughout London who were not willing to attend – or even welcomed into – a traditional church.

Thieves, prostitutes, gamblers, and drunkards were among his first converts to Christianity, and as his ministry grew, the gospel of Jesus Christ was spread far and wide to the poor, the vulnerable, and the destitute.

Though General Booth died in 1912, he laid a firm foundation for the lifesaving work that The Salvation Army continues to perform today in over 100 countries.

 


Catherine Booth

Catherine Booth was known as the “Army Mother.” In her world, women had few rights,no place in the professional sphere, and a minimal presence in church leadership. 

Yet in her marriage to William Booth, she became an evangelist, preacher, theologian, and co-founder of The Salvation Army.

A truly passionate Christian, Catherine believed that loving God meant loving people through action. Her legacy of love, sacrifice, and service continues to shape The Salvation Army today.

 


Evangeline Booth

The seventh child of William and Catherine Booth, Eva Cory Booth was a gifted speaker, musician, and leader sent by her father to spread The Army’s mission in North America.

During her 30 years as national commander in the United States, Evangeline was responsible for the volunteers who served as chaplains and “Doughnut Girls” during World War I, and also for the division of the country into four territories.

In 1934, Evangeline became The Army's fourth general. She left America on the highest crest of love and popularity she had ever known, and retained her American citizenship until her death in 1950.

 

 

Joe the Turk

Though often considered a rude and even obnoxious rule-breaker, “Joe the Turk” opened many important doors for Salvationists across America.

With an inherent passion for protecting the persecuted, he eventually traded in his drinking and smoking habits for a life as a Christian, where he went on to serve as a spirited captain in The Salvation Army until 1925.

Famous for his colorful ministry and attention-getting antics, Joe was often “jailed for Jesus,” and he became known as a spiritual father to thousands of formerly lost souls.

 

 

Eliza Shirley

Eliza Shirley pioneered the establishment of The Salvation Army in the United States.

After faithfully serving with the Booths in London’s East End as part of “The Christian Mission,” a 17-year-old Eliza followed God’s call to America. 

There she joined her parents (who had recently immigrated to Philadelphia for work), and swiftly began her work for The Army. Her humble mission grew into a nationwide presence of peace and hope for those most in need.

 

 

George Scott Railton

After serving as the Booths’ family secretary in London, George went on to establish The Salvation Army’s presence in New York.

His talent for languages and love of travel also helped him pave the way for Salvationist work in France, Switzerland, Sweden, Germany, China, and Japan.

In addition to creating Army song books in Zulu and Dutch and beginning the Army and Navy League for Salvationist servicemen away from home, Railton founded the Prison Gate work for recently released prisoners.

 

 


Samuel Logan Brengle

Well known as a minister to The Salvation Army's officers and soldiers in the United States, Brengle served for 30 years.

He believed that those who seek God “burst into flame” when they first touch Him and that they can bring those “left out in the cold” to His light.

To Brengle, the Corps was a sacred place from which the love and power of God could be communicated to all; entire cities could be energized and "lit up" by the prayer of soldiers who had “caught the flame.”