Kingdom Women: Catherine Booth, Salvation Army
I’ve always found the red kettle irresistible. It all comes together for me: meeting needs, telling people about Jesus, my love for giving. So I rarely pass one without dropping something in.
But the more I learned about Catherine Booth, who cofounded the Salvation Army with her husband, William, the more eager I was to be a part of that great movement.
Catherine “Katie” Mumford, born in 1829 in Derbyshire, England, was a frail and sickly child—which lasted her lifetime. A godly mother instilled in her a love for truth, hard work and the Word of God. By the time she was 12 she had read the Bible through eight times.
Her love for God carried her through three years on her back because of a spinal difficulty, but it also forced her make a difficult choice. When she was 15 a young family relative stayed at their home for a while and fell in love with Katie. When he proposed an eventual engagement, she was greatly tempted—she cared for him. But she felt his faith in God was not genuine and knew she couldn’t join herself to him. So she told him “no—it could never be.”
One Sunday a guest preacher, William Booth, caught her attention—with the depth as well as the quality of his preaching. Their shared love for winning souls and caring for people led to friendship and evolved into love.
During a three-year engagement Katie demonstrated consistently what a remarkable partner she was for him. Her letters helped him discern God’s will and lifted him from his weariness. Her biblical knowledge, common sense and loving exhortations enabled him to make wise decisions and prepare powerful messages, drawing thousands to Christ.
After their marriage, the realities of being married to an itinerant evangelist emerged. She wrote to her mother: “You cannot think with what joy I look forward to being to ourselves once more. For though I get literally oppressed with kindness, I would prefer a home where we could sit together at our own table.”
As the first of eight children arrived, Katie took Willie with her wherever William was. She was grateful when he took a church and they settled for a while.
But his calling was to “salvation campaigns” and he set out once again. The frequent separations were difficult for both of them. His ministry efforts, though greatly influential, did not pay well and poverty stalked always. She was frequently beset with deep bouts of depression as well as constant physical pain. Despite her health, Katie labored constantly to care and provide for her family.
When she accompanied William to meetings in Cornwall, he pushed her—as he often had—to preach as well. Her response to God: “Oh no, Lord, not me; I can’t. I am, as Thou knowest, the most timid and bashful disciple ever saved by grace.” But this time her husband prevailed, and her message was so powerful and well received that it launched a new era for her. She became almost as sought after as her husband.
She wrote, “God gave me grace and strength to do it. Many times as I nursed my baby He gave me what I should say on Sunday…I trusted in the Lord to give me the power of His Holy Spirit…He has never allowed me to open my mouth without giving me signs of His presence and blessing.”
Their ministry together, the East End (London) Mission, became the Christian Mission and then, in 1877, The Salvation Army was born.
Catherine became the “Army Mother”—always guiding, teaching, exhorting, leading by example. Her passions included:
Rescuing girls from sex trafficking—she went to get them herself.
Caring for the poor and needy—she provided out of her own poverty.
Fighting “the drink” and redeeming the drunkards—she went from home to home.
Preaching both sin and grace—the depth of our sin and the greatness of His grace.”
And campaigning for the right and freedom of women to teach and preach the Word of God. “She opened a door and encouraged and helped tens of thousands of simple, holy women around the world to follow in her steps.”
In 1888, Catherine was diagnosed with cancer, which led to a 2 1/2 –year battle of endless pain and deterioration. Until the end, though, she encouraged her husband, her children and the entire corps of the Salvation Army to stay strong in the Lord.
She died October 4, 1890.
The extent of her influence—the lives she touched--is powerfully seen in what happened next. Fifty thousand people came for a last look at the face they loved over the five days of viewing. Some 26,000 attended her funeral service. And thousands more lined the 5-mile route for the procession to the gravesite.
Her grieving husband preached words of love and mercy, of salvation and redemption, just as his beloved wife would have wanted.
How about you? How have you been touched by the Salvation Army?
C2014 Judy Douglass
Much of this article was gleaned from Catherine Booth: A Sketch by Colonel Mildred Duff, which was reprinted from The Warriors’ Library of The Salvation Army. Thanks to Susan Allendorf for her help with research.
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