By Meta Menning
Graduate Student, Grand Valley State University
Evangeline Booth is one of America’s greatest public servants. Driven by her faith, she devoted her life to selfless service to help the poor and less fortunate. Booth successfully led the American Salvation Army for 30 years before becoming the first woman General for the International Salvation Army.
Eva (Evangeline) Cory Booth was born on December 25, 1865 in London, England. She was the seventh child born of William and Catherine Booth. Her father, William Booth, a Methodist minister, left the Methodist Church to become an evangelical preacher in the slums of London. The same year Evangeline was born, her parents founded The Christian Mission, which later was renamed The Salvation Army in 1878. The word "army" was used in the name to indicate that the organization is a fighting force, at war with the powers of evil (The Salvation Army).
Eva was often featured as a singer or musician at her father’s sermons. At the age of fifteen, Eva began preaching. William Booth was proud of his daughter’s public speaking skills and was also aware of her organizational ability. At the age of 26, he promoted her to the rank of Field Commissioner. She became head of the Army’s International Training College and Commander of The Salvation Army in London for five years (Ludwig 1962).
Following her service in London, she became the Territorial Commander of The Salvation Army’s forces in Canada from 1896-1904. Her sister, Emma Booth-Tucker, along with her husband, headed the American Salvation Army. In 1903, they were killed in a tragic train accident. In 1904, Eva was appointed Commander for The Salvation Army in the United States. At this time, with the persuasion of her friends, she changed her name to Evangeline (Salvation Army USA).
For 30 years (1904-1934) Evangeline Booth served as the Commander of the American Salvation Army. Under her leadership, she expanded the social services of the Army by establishing hospitals for unwed mothers, soup kitchens, emergency shelters, services for the unemployed, and homes for the elderly (History’s Women). During her first Christmas season in New York, Evangeline was appalled to learn that there were 70,000 children going to school without breakfast. She quickly got to work, and on
Christmas day that year, The Salvation Army provided food for 30,000 people (Ludwig 1962).
In 1934, she was elected as the organization’s International Commander-in-Chief. Evangeline became the first woman General for the International Salvation Army headquartered in London, England. She served as the General for five years. As General, she traveled to such places as India, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan to promote the work of the Salvation Army.
Retiring in 1939, Evangeline Booth returned back to her adopted country, America, where she continued to be a public servant until her death at the age of 84 in Hartsdale, New York. At the request of her father, Evangeline never married. He believed that with such a strong personality she could serve the Salvation Army best as a single officer. However, she adopted and raised four children, one of whom, Pearl, became an officer in the Salvation Army (The Salvation Army).
Evangeline Booth played a significant role in establishing the prominence and respect of the American Salvation Army. Under her leadership, she persuaded the United States government to allow women in The Salvation Army to serve overseas during World War I (Library of Congress). One of the women officers in The Salvation Army suggested they make doughnuts for the American soldiers. It was a great success. Soldiers wrote to their families and friends about The Salvation Army’s “Doughnut Girls”, their compassion, and front line service (McKinley 1980). For The Salvation Army’s work during the war, President Wilson awarded Evangeline Booth the Distinguished Service Medal in 1919.
As Commander of the American Salvation Army, Evangeline Booth responded with emergency relief and assistance in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire. This was the Army’s first large-scale and systematic relief effort for a natural disaster. Disaster relief then became a part of The Salvation Army’s services, which the public continues to depend on today (McKinley 1980).
Ties to the Philanthropic Sector
Evangeline Booth served as Commander of the American Salvation Army for 30 years which allowed her the opportunity to work among and help the poor throughout the United States. Evangeline was very active in raising money to support the causes of the American Salvation Army. She approached rich men and asked them for large donations and also led many fundraising drives. At the conclusion of her service in the United States, the American Salvation Army had assets of thirty-five million dollars (Ludwig 1962).
Key Related Ideas
Evangeline Booth was a Christian social reformer who dedicated her life to helping people through her service in The Salvation Army. A Christian social reformer is one who changes society for the better through religious beliefs.
Evangeline Booth added a disaster relief program to the Salvation Army. Disaster relief involves coming to the aid of those suffering from catastrophes, often those resulting from nature.
Under Evangeline Booth’s leadership in the American Salvation Army, she expanded the human social services programs. Human social service programs include programs that target the basic needs of those in society, often for the low-income or impoverished.
Important People Related to the Topic
- Ballington Booth (1857-1940): Ballington Booth was the older brother of Evangeline. He commanded the Australian Salvation Army (1885-87) and the American Salvation Army (1887-96). In 1898, he and his wife Maud formed the organization Volunteers of America.
- Maud Charlesworth Booth (1865-1948): Maud Booth co-founded Volunteers of America with her husband Ballington in 1896. She focused on developing a distinct service program for prison inmates. Through her efforts, The Volunteer Prison League was formed as part of the Volunteers of America.
- William Booth (1829-1912): William Booth was Evangeline’s father. He became an evangelical preacher in London and preached salvation to the poor. He founded The Salvation Army in 1896, which provided material and spiritual support to the needy, and was the first General of The Salvation Army.
Related Nonprofit Organizations
- American Red Cross is a national organization that focuses on humanitarian service. The Red Cross provides relief to victims of disasters and helps people prevent, prepare, and respond to emergencies (http://www.redcross.org).
- Goodwill Industries International is a nonprofit network of 207 community based autonomous member organizations that serves people who have workplace disadvantages and disabilities by providing job training and employment (http://www.goodwill.org).
- Volunteers of America is a national nonprofit which provides a variety of human services programs and is the largest nonprofit provider of affordable housing for the elderly, low-income families, and persons with mental or physical disabilities in the United States (http://www.voa.org).
- YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association) is the largest nonprofit community-based service organization in the country. The YMCA provides health programs and social services to communities. There are over 2500 YMCA’s that work to meet the needs of people in various communities throughout America (http://www.ymca.net).
Related Web Sites
The American Salvation Army Web site, at http://www.salvationarmyusa.org, offers in-depth information about their services, history, mission, and disaster relief assistance program. It also provides information about national publications and how to locate division offices.
The History’s Women Web site, at http://www.historyswomen.com/Evangline Booth.html, gives a short but detailed biography on the life and accomplishments of Evangeline Booth. This site is dedicated to highlighting the extraordinary achievements of women throughout history.
The Salvation Army Web site, at http://www.salvationarmy.org, provides information about the International Salvation Army, headquartered in London, England. This site offers a comprehensive history of The Salvation Army and information about their mission, religion, programs, events, news, publications, and current issues.
The Volunteers of America Web site, at http://www.voa.org, contains information about the organization’s history, services, and volunteer opportunities. It also tells how to locate their offices and provides a description of their public policy issues and advocacy work.
Bibliography and Internet Sources
History’s Women. “Evangeline Booth.” Accessed 1 October 2004.http://www.historyswomen.com/EvangelineBooth.html.
Library of Congress. The Salvation Army (Memory): American Treasures of the Library of Congress. Accessed 1 October 2004.
Ludwig, Charles. The Lady General. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1962. Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 62-18416.
McKinley, Edward H. Marching to Glory: The History of The Salvation Army in The United States. San Francisco: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1980. ISBN: 0060655380.
The American Salvation Army. History and Evangeline Booth. Accessed 1 October 2004. http://www.salvationarmyusa.org.
The Salvation Army. The Salvation Army Heritage Center. Accessed 1 October 2004. http://www.salvationarmy.org/heritage.
The Volunteers of America. About Us. Accessed 1 October 2004. http://www.voa.org.
YMCA. About the YMCA Movement and History. Accessed 3 October 2004. http://www.ymca.net
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