Catherine Mumford Booth

Susie C. Stanley

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CATHERINE MUMFORD BOOTH TIMELINE 

1829 (January 17):  Catherine Mumford was born to Sarah (Milward) and John Mumford at Ashbourne, in Derbyshire, England.

1845:  Catherine Mumford became a Christian through faith after being forgiven of her sins and experiencing new birth in Christ.

1851:  Catherine Mumford attended a congregation sponsored by the Methodist Reformers.

1854:  Catherine Mumford joined New Connexion Methodism.

1855 (June 16):  Catherine Mumford married William Booth.

1857:  Catherine Booth gave lectures on temperance.

1859:  Catherine Booth published Female Ministry.

1860 (May 27):  Catherine Booth preached her first sermon at the Methodist New Connexion Bethesda Chapel in Gateshead with 1,000 people in the congregation.

1861:  Catherine Booth was fully sanctified after seeking the experience of holiness since 1847.

1861:  Catherine and William Booth left the Methodist New Connexion and initiated an independent ministry.

1865:  The Booths moved to London and began their ministry in the slums of the East End of London.

1870:  Catherine and William Booth held the first conference of their group, known at that time as the Christian Mission.

1878:  Catherine and William Booth co-founded and received legal status for their group which adopted The Salvation Army as its name.

1880:  The Salvation Army opened two training homes.

1888 (June 21):  Catherine Booth preached her last sermon at City Temple in London.

1890 (October 4):  Catherine Booth died of cancer.

BIOGRAPHY

Catherine Mumford [Image at right] was born to Sarah (Milward) and John Mumford on January 17, 1829 at Ashbourne in Derbyshire, England. Before the age of twelve, she had read through the entire Bible eight times. She became a Christian at the age of sixteen, following the Wesleyan understanding of conversion, which was to be convicted of her sins by the Holy Spirit, personally repenting, and then being justified by faith (Read 2013:41-51). Initially active in mainstream Methodism, she began attending a split-off group, the Methodist Reformers, as a young adult. She met William Booth (1829–1912) in 1851 shortly after he was a guest preacher at a Methodist Reformers congregation she attended.

By April 10, 1852, William declared his love for Catherine and she reciprocated (Green 1996:44). They married in 1855. Their correspondence throughout their marriage reveals the romantic relationship they shared. For instance, he called her “my dearest, my darling” in a letter in 1872 (Booth-Tucker 1910 2:14), and she often responded in kind. Catherine spoke at the wedding of their son, Bramwell: “The highest happiness I can wish to my beloved children is that they may realize as thorough a union in heart and mind, and as much blessing in their married life, as the Lord has vouchsafed to us in ours” (Booth-Tucker 1910 2:223–24). At her funeral, William acknowledged: “There has been taken away from me the delight of my eyes, the inspiration of my soul. . . . My heart has also been full of gratitude because God lent me for so long a season such a treasure” (Booth-Tucker 1910 2:415–16).

William [Image at right]  confessed to a single disagreement that constituted “the only serious lovers’ quarrel we ever had.” This resulted from a letter during their courtship when Catherine quizzed William about his views of female equality. William wrote that equality “is contradicted by experience in the world and my honest convictions” (Green 1996:123). Catherine’s arguments for equality won the day and William conceded.

Phoebe Palmer (1807–1874), the prominent American Methodist evangelist who stressed the doctrine of holiness, served as an important role model for Booth. Palmer spent from 1859 to 1863 preaching in the British Isles. While Booth did not hear her, Palmer’s popularity ensured that she was aware of the woman preacher. Incensed by a pastor who opposed Palmer, Booth authored Female Ministry in 1859, a defense not only of Palmer but of any woman called to preach. Perhaps inspired by her own arguments, Booth initiated her preaching ministry several months after publishing the pamphlet. William often had encouraged her to preach prior to this time but she had demurred. On the occasion of her first sermon her biblical text was “be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18), an appropriate verse since she preached on Pentecost Sunday, which commemorated the day when Jesus’ followers began preaching after experiencing the Holy Spirit’s power (Acts 1-2). Palmer equated holiness and power. This power was available to both men and women as a result of achieving holiness. Like Palmer, Booth believed that the Holy Spirit empowered her and other women to engage in pulpit ministry. Catherine Booth maintained her emphasis on holiness and the Holy Spirit throughout her preaching career, often incorporating language used to describe the Pentecost event.

In 1854, Catherine convinced William to abandon the Methodist Reformers and affiliate with the New Connexion Methodists, another break-off group of Methodism. They left this group in 1861 because it limited his itinerant revival preaching by assigning him a circuit of churches. The family moved to London in 1865 and launched an independent ministry. Following several name changes, the ministry became known as the Christian Mission by 1870 (Green 1996:310) when the Booths held their first conference. They continued their independent revivals and began to establish missions for their working-class converts who often were not welcome in middle- and upper-class churches. By 1875, they supported thirty Christian mission stations, where they held religious services; the largest accommodated 3,400 (Green 1996:177). By 1877, they employed thirty-six evangelists (Green 1996:187). The group appropriated military terminology for all aspects of the church. For example, members were soldiers, clergy and staff held officer ranks, while churches were called corps. Military language extended to the name of the group when it became The Salvation Army, [Image at right] which achieved legal status in 1878.

The Salvation Army grew exponentially. For example, in 1882, there were 442 corps and 553 officers. In 1887, the number of corps had increased to 2,262 with 5,684 officers (Booth-Tucker 1910 2:219, 291). Catherine often spoke in the parlors of the wealthy who lived in the West End of London to raise funds to continue the group’s work in the slums. Her preaching initially provided income for the family, making her the primary breadwinner.

Her revivals often drew crowds numbering in the thousands. For example, she visited fifty-nine towns in 1879 and at one location preached to about nine thousand people (Green 1996:197). She was so popular that a group of supporters proposed building her a church larger than that of Charles Spurgeon (1834–1892), a popular contemporary preacher. His tabernacle seated five thousand with room for an additional one thousand congregants standing.

Catherine preached her last sermon in 1888. She died of cancer on October 4, 1890. Fifty thousand attended her viewing while the audience numbered 36,000 at the funeral, with thousands turned away due to lack of room (Green 1996:291–92).

TEACHINGS/DOCTRINES

Catherine Mumford Booth primarily addressed theology through her speeches and sermons, some of which were published in book form. These writings served as the basis of The Salvation Army’s teachings.

The Salvation Army affirmed eleven essential doctrines that reflected its Methodist roots. These beliefs included justification by faith in Jesus Christ, God-given human free will, and postmillennialism. Postmillennialism was an optimistic view of end times when Christians would usher in the kingdom of God, which would be characterized by peace and prosperity. After a literal or figurative period of one thousand years, Christ would return to earth.

One of the doctrines maintained that all believers must be “wholly sanctified.” Sanctification, or holiness, is a distinct experience conferred by the Holy Spirit that follows justification; that is to say, salvation is a process. This was of prime importance to Catherine Booth (Green 1996:192) who testified to her own experience of holiness in 1861. Catherine Booth adopted Phoebe Palmer’s emphasis on total consecration to Christ and faith as conditions for achieving holiness (Green 1996:104, 106; Booth-Tucker 1910 2:233). She referred to consecration as “lay[ing] one’s all on the altar,” which was Palmer’s terminology (Booth-Tucker 1910 1:209).

The emphasis on holiness also formed the basis for the social ministries Salvation Army members conducted. Love was the defining characteristic of holiness. A Christian’s duty was to love God and neighbor, and that included meeting physical as well as spiritual needs. Love of God and love of neighbor were inseparable; there was no dichotomy between the two. While this understanding of holiness reflected John Wesley’s theology, The Salvation Army engaged in social ministries to a much greater extent than did other Methodists or Wesleyans.

William Booth’s account, In Darkest England, [Image at right] most clearly articulated the Army’s broad understanding of ministry: “If we are to represent the love of God to men we must minister to all the wants and needs of the human heart” (William Booth 1890:220). The notorious slums of the East End of London offered ample opportunities to minister to the social needs of people. Salvation Army members worked with individuals such as prostitutes, the homeless, the hungry, alcoholics, and prisoners, and sponsored programs for first offenders so they could avoid prison. Booth’s book documented the magnitude and ramifications of poverty in England and suggested ways to address them. While William is credited with authoring the book, Catherine provided significant input from her deathbed. Booth-Tucker observed “[t]he General bring [ing] his manuscripts and proofs of the great Social Scheme for the perusal and suggestions of the dying saint” (1910 1:306). Catherine herself had often advocated the importance of addressing all the needs of the poor in her speeches to the wealthy. In Darkest England reflected a postmillennial approach to addressing the world’s problems.

Catherine Mumford Booth promoted total abstinence from alcohol as one means of alleviating the suffering of the poor. She had adopted this position as a child and gave temperance lectures as a young adult before she began preaching. She persuaded William to adopt her position. The two were well aware of the negative social consequences of alcoholism. In Darkest England stressed the extent of the problem with the contention that “the drink difficulty lies at the root of everything” (William Booth 1890:47).

A major departure from Methodist practices at the time was the inclusion of women in all aspects of ministry. Roger Green, Catherine Booth’s biographer, contended that this was “the central most critical theological issue for Catherine” (1996:64). Her defense of women in ministry, Female Ministry, bears similarities to the arguments in Phoebe Palmer’s Promise of the Father, published the same year (Catherine Booth 1859:11, 18). Catherine Booth accused her opponents of prejudice when they contended that women preachers were “unfeminine.” She countered the argument that women were engaging in unscriptural activities by challenging the interpretation of the two verses used to bolster their position and by listing thirteen biblical women who were active in ministry. She quoted the popular refrain, which included a harsh judgment of Jesus’ male disciples:

Not she with traitorous lips her Saviour stung

Not she denied Him with unholy tongue;

She, while Apostles shrunk, could danger brave;

Last at the cross, and earliest at the grave (Catherine Booth 1859:16).

The women who received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and preached established a precedent.  This settled the issue of women’s preaching for Catherine Booth. She stated her position succinctly: “If she have the necessary gifts, and feels herself called by the Spirit to preach, there is not a single word in the whole book of God to restrain her” (Catherine Booth 1859:14). There is no evidence that Catherine Booth used the arguments from Female Ministry to justify her own preaching. She claimed that once people heard her preach, opposition “melted away like snow in the sun” (Booth-Tucker 1910 1:279).

The 1870 minutes from the first conference of The Christian Mission, The Salvation Army’s predecessor organization, reflected Catherine’s position:

As it is manifest from the Scripture of the Old and especially the New Testament that God has sanctioned the labors of Godly women in

His Church; Godly women possessing the necessary gifts and qualifications, shall be employed as preachers itinerant or otherwise and class leaders and as such shall have appointments given to them on the preachers plan; and they shall be eligible for any office, and to speak and vote at all official meetings (quoted in Murdoch 1984:355).

RITUALS/PRACTICES

In 1883, The Salvation Army decided to eliminate the observance of any sacraments during its worship services. There was concern that participating in the sacraments might lead participants to substitute this action for the personal experience of seeking God’s forgiveness from sin and committing one’s life to Christ. Catherine wrote: “What an inveterate tendency there is in the human heart to trust in outward forms, instead of seeking the inward grace!” (Green 1996:240).

As early as 1877, a military form of church government supplanted the democratic style formerly characterized by a committee structure. The Booths believed the autocratic military approach to leadership was necessary to provide the needed discipline for their converts. Military features infused every aspect of The Salvation Army. The group’s magazine became The War Cry in 1880. [Image at right] The adoption of uniforms in 1878 enhanced the military symbolism. William Booth became General Booth, not only indicating his position as head of the group but also his autocratic style of leadership. Converts became preachers in The Salvation Army. Catherine argued that working-class congregants (especially those who had been helped by The Salvation Army) were influenced by hearing the testimonies of their own flesh and blood (Booth-Tucker 1910 1:270). The Salvation Army established its first two training homes for officers in 1880. The curriculum included how to conduct marches, visitation among the poor, and “any kind of active warfare” or ministry (Green 1996:210, 212). The course work reflected the ministries its officers undertook.

LEADERSHIP

Military ranks designated the various positions of leadership within the Army. Despite her status as co-founder of The Salvation Army, Catherine Booth did not hold a military rank. Instead, she was designated the Mother of The Salvation Army. This maternal language does not accurately reflect the indisputable authority that she exercised. William Stead (1849–1912), a prominent newspaper editor who supported the Booths, documented her crucial role: “No one outside can ever know how much all that is most distinctive of The Army is due directly to the shaping and inspiring impulse of Mrs. Booth” (quoted in Green 1996:268). She was clearly the most prominent defender of The Salvation Army’s doctrines, ministries, and religious practices. She accomplished this responsibility primarily through her published sermons. In a War Cry article shortly following her death, William Booth wrote:

It is quite true that she was The Army Mother. This relationship, almost universally recognized, had grown up, like so much of The Army, without any set arrangement or design. Other religious organizations cannot be said to have a Mother; their guides and authorities are all Fathers. The Salvation Army has, of God’s great mercy and wisdom, and we think through His own leading and inspiration, felt its need of the more tender, feminine side of human character, as well as the more robust and masculine element (Booth-Tucker 1910 2:393–94).

His rationale reveals the influence of stereotypical gender differences promoted by Victorian culture. This ideology was often used to argue for female inferiority. William Booth made the case for his wife’s leadership role, however, even though she did not hold a rank. While the Booths were partners who co-founded a church promoting equality, their titles reflect inequality. William Booth was the general while Catherine Booth was not ordained or commissioned, but was referred to officially as Mrs. Booth or Mrs. General Booth.

ISSUES/CHALLENGES

The Booths’ titles illustrate a tension that continues to influence The Salvation Army. Despite affirmations of equality in their official documents, The Salvation Army has faced obstacles preventing it from achieving its commitment to equality beyond the pulpit. Primary among these impediments is the negative impact of gender stereotypes prevalent in Victorian society that persist to this day. These include stereotypical differences based on sex, the concept of separate spheres for men and women, and headship, the doctrine that the husband is the head of the house and exerts authority over his wife.

Societal constructions of gender imposed differences between the sexes that were most often utilized to justify women’s place in the private or domestic sphere while men belonged in the public sphere. Catherine Booth’s preaching challenged this arrangement. She and William Booth had eight children. At various times, she had servants, a governess, and a nurse to help, but she still experienced the frustration of attempting to fulfill the expectations of the domestic sphere and to work in the public sphere as well. She lamented in a letter to her parents: “But I cannot give the time to preparation unless I can afford to put my sewing out. It never seems to occur to anybody that I cannot do two things at once, or that I want means to relieve me of the one while I do the other” (Booth-Tucker 1910 1:202). While at home, her mind was on upcoming sermons. She often took notes on pieces of paper while nursing a baby or performing household tasks (Booth-Tucker 1910 1:314). When she was out of town at preaching engagements, she wrote numerous letters to her children. She admonished them to be good, expressed concern about their spiritual health, and was affectionate, assuring them that she missed them. Concern about neglecting the children must have been a topic of conversation between Catherine and William since she reported in a letter to her parents: “William says that he does not think that they are suffering from my absence, neither do I believe the Lord will allow them to suffer” (Booth-Tucker 1910 1:220). Despite her anxiety about abandoning the domestic sphere and its responsibilities, she refused to be confined to the home. The empowerment of the Holy Spirit made it possible for holiness women such as Catherine Booth to challenge society’s expectations of women and participate in the public sphere (Stanley 2002:211).

The incompatibility between the rhetoric of headship and the affirmation of equality of the sexes in The Salvation Army has been present from its beginning, as seen in the discrepancy between the titles of the Booths. The military organizational structure supported patriarchal leadership even while the group recognized spiritual equality by encouraging and supporting preaching by women. Several practices illustrate the continuing influence of the ideology of headship. Married couples only receive one paycheck, which is issued to the husband (Thieme 2013). Throughout the history of The Salvation Army, there have been twenty generals. While three were women, they were all single. In this case, headship seems confined to husbands and wives rather than to authority between all men and all women.

General Paul (b. 1934) and Commissioner Kay Rader (b. 1935), who served in theses capacities from 1994 to 1999, are among those who have challenged the constructions of gender that prevented The Salvation Army from achieving equality of women and men. The Raders committed themselves to the task of achieving equality within the church. This resulted in the directive that a married woman use her  own name rather than her husband’s (e.g. Captain Jane Smith rather than Mrs. Captain John Smith). In 1995, each spouse began to hold a rank in their own right. This allowed qualified married women to serve on the High Council that selects the General. In 1997, Commissioner Rader [Image at right] became the first general’s wife to hold a title in her own right (“Kay Rader” 1997). While cultural gender stereotypes have prevented The Salvation Army from actualizing its commitment to equality, progress has been made as the group continues to work toward its goal of equality.

Catherine Booth’s legacy of female spiritual leadership continues as evidenced by the thousands of women who followed in her footsteps and answered the call to ministry.

IMAGES
Image #1: Photograph of Catherine Mumford Booth.
Image #2: Photograph of William Booth.
Image 3#: Crest of the Salvation Army.
Image #4: Front cover of In Darkest England by William Booth.
Image #5: Photograph of the front page of the Salvation Army’s magazine, War Cry.
Image #6: Photograph of Commissioner Kay Rader.

REFERENCES

Booth, Catherine. 1859 [1975]. Female Ministry: Woman’s Right to Preach the Gospel. Reprint, New York: The Salvation Army.

Booth, William. 1890. In Darkest England and the Way Out. New York: Funk & Wagnalls.

Booth-Tucker, F. de L. 1910. The Life of Mrs. Booth: The Mother of The Salvation Army. 2 vols. 2d ed. London: The Salvation Army Book Department.

Green, Roger J. 1996. Catherine Booth: A Biography of the Cofounder of The Salvation Army. Grand Rapids: Baker Books.

“Kay Rader ‘Promoted’ to Rank of Commissioner.” 1997. New Frontier Chronicle, September 17. Accessed from http://www.newfrontierchronicle.org/kay-rader-promoted-to-rank-of-commissioner/ on 10 January 2018.

Read, John. 2013. Catherine Booth: Laying the Theological Foundations of a Radical Movement. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications.

Stanley, Susie C. 2003.  Holy Boldness: Women Preachers’ Autobiographies and the Sanctified Self. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press.

Thieme, Christin. 2013. “The Equality Paradox.” Caring, April 1. Accessed from  http://caringmagazine.org/the-equality-paradox/ on 11 January 2018.

Post Date:
11 June 2018

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