Helping America's Most Vulnerable

Maud and Ballington Booth: the Beginnings

NOTE: This entry is about the lives and contributions of Maud and Ballington Booth, co-founders of Volunteers of America and was excerpted from the booklet "Maud and Ballington Booth: The Founding of Volunteers of America – The Seeds of Change 1890 – 1935" authored by Anne Nixon and produced by The Human Spirit Initiative, an organization with a mission to inspire people to desire to make a difference and then act on it.

The leaders of The Human Spirit Initiative believe that today's established organizations were new ideas 75-100 years ago and we owe those ideas to their founders. By studying, researching and communicating the details of the lives of these founding leaders within the context of their times, it is possible to create greater understanding of and commitment to strengthening civil society through individual initiative and collective endeavors in building community. For more information on The Human Spirit Initiative and a list of their publications visit:

Maud Booth, Co-Founder of the Volunteers of America

Maud Elizabeth Charlesworth was born on September 13, 1865, in Limpsfield, Surrey, England and grew up in London. She was the youngest daughter of Maria and Samuel Charlesworth, a prominent lawyer who gave up practicing law to become an Anglican priest due to his religious convictions. Her parent's work with social issues led to Maud's great interest and concern for social welfare and social service. The Charlesworth family had been in service to the Anglican church since the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Maud grew up in London, in an East Limehouse parish where Reverend Charlesworth ministered to the local middle-class population. Their poorer neighbors never attended this church but Maria Charlesworth took pity on the slum children – most of whom were too shabby to be seen in a regular school. She organized a "ragged school" so that these poorest children could receive some education and she offered the poor women of the parish religious teachings while serving them tea and snacks.

Early Career: Near the Charlesworths' Anglican church was the Christian Mission, whose focus was to serve the poorest Londoners. The Christian Mission reached out to the poor residents by holding lively street meetings with spirited sermons, prayers, and songs. These outdoor services were often a target for local toughs who not only made fun of them but were a threatening presence. Reverend Charlesworth came to the aid of the Christian Mission. He invited them to use his church's courtyard to conduct their meetings in peace and safety. Maud and her mother often attended the Christian Mission services and Maud was especially drawn to the Mission's enthusiastic way of reaching out directly and personally to God.

In 1878, the Christian Mission changed its name to The Salvation Army. Maud's interest in the Salvation Army became stronger and stronger. She saw young women – not much older than she was – preaching on street corners and urging the roughest of men to give up drink and follow God's way. They were called "Hallelujah Lassies." While attending Salvation Army meetings with her mother she met Ballington Booth, the second son of William Booth, the founder of the Christian Mission and the leader of the Salvation Army.

Ballington Booth, Co-Founder of the Volunteers of America

Ballington Booth was born in Brighouse, England, the second of eight children in the family of Methodist minister William Booth and his wife, Catherine Mumford Booth. The Booths founded the Christian Mission in 1865 whose focus was on serving the poor living in the East Limehouse area of London. In 1878, when Ballington was eight years old the Christian Mission was renamed The Salvation Army. So from early childhood, Ballington was exposed to a life of religious work and service to his fellow man.

During his teens Booth began preaching to awestruck crowds on street corners for his father's Salvation Army open-air meetings. At 23 he attained the rank of Colonel and was placed in charge of the Salvation Army officer training programs.

In 1882, Maud joined The Salvation Army. Maud's first active involvement as a Salvationist was not with Ballington Booth but with his sister Catherine. Maud's parents were displeased by her active involvement with the Salvation Army but she was certain of what she wanted. Her father couldn't stop her from joining Catherine Booth and two other girls who were sent to Paris to bring the Army's "Blood and Fire" message to the French. Maud proved to be a valuable addition to this evangelical project. While Catherine and the two Hallelujah Lassies were limited by their lack of skill in the French language, Maud, who had been cared for by a French nursemaid since she was a baby, was fluent in French. But the police in Paris and their next assignment (Geneva, Switzerland) were not friendly to the Salvationists. The young women ended up being arrested and then expelled from the country.

When their adventures were written up in the newspapers, Maud's father wanted her to leave the Salvation Army and abandon all plans to marry Ballington. Maud was 18. She could not marry without her father's permission until she was 21, but she knew her own mind. So, she joined the Salvation Army and waited until she was of an age to marry, thereby becoming estranged from her father.

Maud Charlesworth as a Salvationist

While her future husband was active in carrying God's message to Australia, Maud threw herself into her new life. She helped to organize the "slum sisters." These young women lived in the poorest of London slums where they cared for the sick, the elderly and anyone in need. They wore no uniforms and never identified themselves as Salvationists. In 1886, Maud was sent to Sweden to inspect the Salvation Army work there and hold public services. While in the university town of Uppsala, she observed the rowdy and irreverent students who had no respect for religion. This was a challenge she could not resist. She invited them to meet with her. They came to make fun of her but, instead, were captivated by her enthusiasm and sincerity.

When Maud's 21st birthday came, she and Ballington were married and Maud changed her name to: Maud Ballington Booth. The bride and groom were dressed in their Salvation Army uniforms. Maud's only bridal garb was a white scarf draped across her shoulders and a spray of white roses and myrtle. General William Booth didn't waste time in utilizing the services of his son and new daughter-in-law. When the New York office of the Salvation Army was in need of fresh organizational and fund-raising skills, William Booth assigned this important post to the newlyweds. On April 18th, 1887, they arrived in New York.

Ballington and Maud Booth

Ballington and Maud Booth wasted no time in beginning their new assignment. Even on their cross-Atlantic voyage, they made the acquaintance of people with influence in

New York society. Though they traveled second class, the first class passengers were fascinated by the young evangelists and invited them to make a presentation. Among the first class passengers was Chauncey Depew, a New York socialite, lawyer and political activist. His enthusiastic approval of Ballington and Maud assured their social recognition in New York. Most importantly, his support gave them access to well-to-do New Yorkers who would help pull the struggling New York Salvation Army out of debt. As soon as they arrived in New York, the Booths acted to unify two competing factions of the American Salvation Army and to combat the anti-English feelings of the American population. After examining their new territory by a four-week journey of 4,540 miles to visit the various "posts," they planned for the work ahead.

One way to make the Salvation Army acceptable was for Ballington and Maud to become citizens, so they applied for naturalization. The American flag was also on display at all their public meetings. And their new American friends helped put them on a sound financial basis. Ballington was an able organizer with a gift for making the best use of every penny. His charm and kind nature made him popular with both outsiders and his subordinates. Maud once again worked with the "slum sisters" to offer help and consolation to the poorest and most in need, especially women and children. And Ballington's Food and Shelter Depot brought aid and comfort to homeless and destitute men. Always at the core was the spreading of the word of God.

When a $37,000 debt was paid off, and a new building constructed to house the offices and services of the Salvation Army, the New York headquarters was on a solid footing. Everything changed with an historic visit from England. In 1894, during Maud and Ballington's eighth year in the United States, General Booth arrived to inspect the American Salvation Army. The welcoming ceremonies and the enthusiastic crowds impressed him as he visited posts from New York to Chicago. However, he was displeased in many other ways. He felt that Ballington and Maud had become too American. The display of the American flag and the American eagle offended him. There was conflict over the money collected in America. General Booth wanted to make use of these funds outside the United States, but Ballington explained that to do this would be a breach of trust against the promises made when these funds had been collected.

Maud and Ballington Leave The Salvation Army in Order to Stay in the U.S.:

Ballington's protests to his father were in vain. In a final disagreement, General Booth ordered Ballington and Maud to leave America immediately and return to England. They did not go and decided to stay on in their adopted country. The result was they bid farewell to The Salvation Army which had been their center of existence. Fortunately, Maud's father, Reverend Charlesworth, had reconciled with his daughter and her family. Thus,when they were without a home and without income he came to their rescue and sent them some funds to tide them over.

But they had not lost their purpose and dedication to an evangelistic and philanthropic way of life. On March 8, 1896, they drew up a constitution for a new organization, the Volunteers of America. Their mission was to "reach and uplift all people and bring them to the immediate knowledge and active service of God." Thanks to a suggestion by Maud, the constitution included an article recognizing the equality of men and women in the Volunteers of America. The headquarters of this new organization was three rooms at the American Bible House. It was furnished with a kitchen table, a few wooden chairs, some packing cases for desks, and cardboard cartons for files.

Although many American Salvationists resigned from the Salvation Army and joined the new organization, it was a point of pride with the Ballington's that they would never set themselves up in direct competition with The Salvation Army or any other social service organization. Instead they would go into fields where a wide-range of needs were not being met. They would act to meet sudden disasters. But they would give equal attention to long-lasting patterns of poverty, abuse, and destructive behavior. Whatever the problem, Volunteers of America was determined to be flexible in their awareness of problems or emergencies, and quick to act toward solving them.

Maud and Ballington knew that the success of this new movement depended on their personal willingness to work night and day. For months they never had dinner together. They were both on the move to establish posts in Newark, Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Chicago. They spoke in fashionable churches or in poor neighborhoods, each one making speeches at two or three different meetings every day, he in one city, she in another. This hard work paid off. In six months the Volunteers established 140 posts with 400 commanding officers, 50 staff officers, 3 regiments, and 10 battalions. Soon they had their own small three-floor building on UnionSquare in New York City. They were now ready to fulfill their mission.

Both Ballington and Maud felt that their effectiveness would increase if they were ordained ministers of the gospel. On September 14, 1896, Ballington Booth was ordained by Episcopal Bishop Samuel Fallows at St. Paul's Church in Chicago. It was an interdenominational event with Methodist, Presbyterian, and Congregational ministers assisting. Maud's ordination took place the next year in Carnegie Hall before an audience of 5,000 Volunteers. Her old friend Chauncy Depew presided with ministers of all major Protestant denominations in attendance while her husband ordained her as a minister of "the Church of God in general."