‘La Marechale’–Young Catherine Booth
“None other fought harder for the Army…”
By Frances Dingman –
Three Booth family members–Ballington, Emma, and Evangeline–left their distinctive marks as leaders in this country . It is unfortunate we hear so little about the charismatic and dedicated oldest daughter, Kate. None of the Booths fought harder for the Army, and only circumstance kept her from playing a key role in it during the latter half of her lifetime.
The girl’s mission among others began among her companions in nearby Victoria Park. She was 13 when she first spoke in public. Bramwell, conducting an open-air meeting in Hackney, was delighted when she whispered to him, “I will say a few words,” and her message proved her a born speaker. After that, her path was clearly marked out.
While continuing her education–including gaining some knowledge of French–Kate gradually did more and more public work. She enjoyed a special companionship with her father during the next few years. Just after she was 17 she began conducting evangelistic campaigns in other parts of England.
A look to the continent
After many victories at home and the successful venture in New York, the Booths began to look to the Continent. In the summer of 1881, with high hopes and some natural fears, they dedicated their oldest daughter to France. Though the thought of sending her unprotected into the slums of Paris was frightening to Catherine, she said. “Her innocence is her strength, and Katie knows the Lord.”
With her went Florence Soper and Adelaide Cox, two dedicated young women with a good background in evangelism; and later, 16-year-old Cornelie Schoch, who was proficient in French. Florence and Cornelie were later to marry Bramwell and Herbert Booth.
Though Kate had a natural affinity for France and its language, she knew Protestants faced opposition in that country. In fact, even the Jesuits had recently been driven out of France. She and her lieutenants rented the only rooms they could afford in Paris, on the seventh floor of a tenement building in the slums, occupied by prostitutes and rats. Their allowance was meager, and until they became self-supporting they lived on boiled potatoes and beans. Indifference was the worst obstacle to overcome.
After a month the London office received a triumphant telegram from her. She skirted the truth of the situation, since had she told of coming home bruised and bleeding after trying to preach on the streets; of pinning on her bonnet strings instead of sewing them because men would come from behind and try to choke her by them; of being waked at night by violent fights in the building, they would not have been allowed to stay.
Before long Kate’s shaky French improved until she could counsel and also use a bit of repartee. She told her lieutenants, “Don’t be frightened if you are accosted by a man–answer clearly, sharply, and memorably.” Silent for a moment herself in the face of a request for a rendezvous, her acceptance was assumed. “Where?” asked the man. “Before the throne of God” was the devastating reply.
One night, Kate tried a new approach with people who were dancing and shouting during her meeting. “I will give you 20 minutes to dance in my hall,” she said, “if you will give me 20 minutes to speak to you afterward.” A tall, dark man leapt to his feet. “That’s fair play, citizens,” he shouted. Then he stood and timed the dancing. After 20 minutes, he told them all to sit down and listen, and they did, for an hour and a half.
Gradually new converts appeared: jeered at and ridiculed, wearing neckerchiefs and with the letter “S” sewn onto their collars. With the first hint of success, opposition became more vicious. After eight months in Paris, Bramwell coined a new name for her, La Marechale–uniquely French, and obvious in its command of respect. She came to prefer it at times to her own name.
Toward the end of October, as if in answer to her prayer, a Quaker from Ireland gave up a family fortune to join the Army in France. He had a voice which “could penetrate the farthest corner of the biggest hall in England.” His name was Arthur Clibborn, immediately nicknamed the Hallelujah Quaker.
Arthur became her friend and Chief of Staff. He was the first Salvationist carrying the “malady, coming to us from England,” across the Jura mountains from France into Switzerland. Switzerland had become a melting-pot of dissidents from all over Europe. They came out of their dens of wickedness to hear Kate and Arthur preach, taking the “Blood and Fire!” placard as an invitation to mayhem. So much riot and roughness followed that middle-class Swiss stopped coming to meetings.
Though the Swiss constitution guaranteed freedom of religion, the police chose to ignore the troublemakers simply
because the Salvation Army brand of religion did not please them. La Marechale and her troops made many converts, but at the price of several lives among them. Eventually, the Salvation-ists were expelled from Geneva.
Though expelled, Kate came back into Switzerland to preach in a quarry hidden in the mountainside high above the city, sheltered by an overhanging rock. More than 300 people walked out from the city to hear her. Eventually the Marechale was banished from Neufchatel by decree. At one meeting in the forest, the Prefect of the local police arrived with 15 policemen and took her to jail.
Letters of sympathy arrived every day, sometimes from individuals, sometimes from whole communities. The British government, however, did not interfere, and the London newspapers, not aware of the facts, berated her for breaking the laws of the country.
The trial was lengthy and a hostile mob shouted outside the courthouse; but she was acquitted by the jury since she was “not guilty of culpable intention” in her actions.
To Paris in Triumph
Paris was agog when the Marechale returned, and she and Clibborn rode on a crest of popularity and influence.
Kate married her Chief of Staff in 1887, when she was 28 and the groom 32. In accordance with the Founder’s wishes, Arthur legally changed his name to Booth-Clibborn.
Kate and Arthur traveled France and Switzerland, doing 80 meetings in seven weeks, many of them held in defiance of local decrees.
Kate was not only the apostle, but the main fund-raiser for the Army in France. As the years passed, the task became more heavy. To meet all the Army’s needs, the Marechale toiled, traveled, and she and her secretary wrote countless letters by hand, sometimes 100 a day. Donations arrived from around the Continent, but mostly from Britain.
Army’s emphasis shifts
When Booth’s book, Darkest England and the Way Out, was published, the Army’s emphasis shifted somewhat away from its spiritual side in order to address social issues. Railton disagreed with this, and Arthur and Kate, still considering the salvation of the soul most important, chose to do their work in their own way. There came bad times in France, a great depression which forced Kate to beg for funds to carry on the work.
By 1894 there were five children: Evangeline, Victoria, Herbert, Augustin and William, being brought up to speak French in the home. On visits to London, Kate sometimes found her English failing her. Though it was not easy to support the family on their Army pay, Kate resolutely refused offers of donations for their personal use. The Booth-Clibborns remained immersed in their work. “The French have no soul,” a princess said to her once, “but you have found the soul of France.”
Nevertheless, in 1896, orders came from the General to take command in either Holland or Germany. Lucy and her Swedish husband, Emmanuel Booth-Hellberg, were to take charge in France. Kate and Arthur chose Holland. Their daughters Eva and Vicky were soon holding meetings with children and talking in Dutch, but Kate found herself handicapped when she had to preach through a translator, and could not counsel at all except in English or French. Arthur’s strict pacifism became a real obstacle in his relations with the Dutch concerning the Boer War then looming in South Africa. When conscription began in Holland, Arthur encouraged conscientious objectors and did not think the Army should give aid and comfort to both sides.
Soon after Catherine’s death, Arthur had written to the General asking permission to preach what he called the full, plain Gospel of the Sermon on the Mount, which departed in three ways from traditional Army doctrine: pacifism, faith healing, and the second coming of Christ. Not surprisingly, he had been turned down. In 1898, he and Kate visited the General and asked again for freedom to preach the gospel as they saw it. They were refused again.
“What else could I be but a Salvationist?” Kate wrote repeatedly afterwards. Behind her words lay the unthinkable and yet the only possible solution.
Talking angrily about authority without responsibility, they read the words of the vow to be enforced upon new candidates “to obey the General, or any succeeding General, and regulations now in force or hereafter to be enforced…”–and decided to ignore them. They also stopped dedicating their children into the ranks of the Army at birth.
On Christmas Day 1900, they wrote to Booth asking once more for liberty to preach their views. The answer was the same. It could not have been anything else, but it could have been delivered with more tact. Arthur contacted a Dr. Dowie, an American, who claimed to be a second Elijah, the forerunner of Christ, and was building a city called Zion near Chicago. While not accepting the Elijah claim, Arthur was impressed by Dowie’s spiritual experiences and by his lack of pressure.
Kate was expecting her tenth child in 1902. Caught between her husband and her father, she was facing the most difficult time of her life. After a three-day meeting with Booth, proceedings began against Arthur at the Court of Inquiry in London, and the judgment was to “dismiss immediately.” Nothing was done about Kate in this, since it was assumed she would follow her husband.
Some months later, Arthur decided to go with Dowie, a conviction which was to lead to the years Kate looked back on as “my years in hell.” In spite of all the strain of breaking with her family, her command, and against all the persuasions and prayers and tears of the Booths, she did what she thought was right–followed her husband.
Arthur later acknowledged that she would not have come near Dowie, except for him. All her instincts, as well as the consciousness of her true religious interests, were against Dowie’s spiritual personality, his ways, his claims, his style of government.
Before they had been in Zion a week, she had defied Dowie twice. When she heard him condemning William Booth as a man who had failed to reprove the sins of the rich, she leaped to her feet and shouted, “That’s a lie…!” A denunciation of the old heroes of the Bible called forth an impassioned sermon from her on the virtues of David. She was never asked to preach in Zion again.
After four months, Arthur was persuaded to leave Zion City, and they traveled the world as Arthur preached Dowie’s beliefs. Persecution followed, much as they had received in Switzerland, and Arthur received a wound on his leg which was followed by a long convalescence and withdrawal from preaching.
Back to England
In 1908, they returned to England. Kate spoke the language like a foreigner, and the children hardly at all. Instead of shouts of “down with the English!” they were referred to disparagingly as “those foreigners.” Kate had a devoted helper named Adele, without whom she would not have been able to go out and support the family by speaking. Poverty was their way of life.
Though Kate’s auditoriums were small, and her crowds nothing like those she had spoken to before, she retained the charisma that had drawn people to her earlier. Her brother Herbert had meanwhile launched on a successful evangelistic career, visiting several countries, including the U.S. Theo Booth-Clibborn, after finishing his education, was invited to travel with his uncle as an assistant. Under Herbert’s teaching he learned much about the successful conduct of an evangelistic organization. When he returned to work for his mother, her work prospered and soon the crowds were as they had been in the old days. He organized impressive united campaigns in huge buildings, using effective advertising, and trained large, combined choirs.
When Kate read that the General was dying, she rushed to see him for one last time. She was allowed in the room, but told not to let him know who she was, for the shock might be too much for him. When he asked, “Who is it?” she kept her promise and remained silent, her hands shaking as she left the room.
Time for mourning
Only the thought that she had given all her children to Christ comforted her when their son Eric, shortly after arriving in India as a missionary, was a victim of dysentery. During World War I she continued her missions, bringing fresh light and hope, and re-establishing the faith of many saddened by the war. She crossed the Atlantic six times under perilous wartime conditions.
The Marechale’s evangelistic ministry took her all over the world–to America, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Salvationists packed the halls as, in her 70s and still officially an exile, she returned to Switzerland. Everywhere, she left hearts touched by her remarkable words and the faith that shone through her messages. She had an amazing dramatic power: a blend of humor and tragedy, spiritual depths, tender understanding, and humanity.
Beloved in last years
On her 90th birthday, her son Theo asked the Chief of the Staff in London if his mother could have one last meeting where she could see her old comrades in the Army and talk to them. When a letter arrived saying that “Mrs. Clibborn” could not have an Army meeting, she wept. She did have her meeting, in Central Westminster Hall. Uniformed Salvation-ists packed the hall and 2,000 waited outside as her message once again touched hearts. Then it was on to Switzerland, and to Paris. Her daughter Evelyn said that when Brigadier Wycliffe Booth, the territorial commander, laid the Blood and Fire flag in his aunt’s hands, “her face was full of glory.”
That was her last tour. In her twilight days she walked in her garden and constantly wrote letters, often sorrowing that she was “doing so little for the Lord.” “I was the most like my father of any of them. I ought not to have left him. How I long to work with him now.”
When she died in 1955 at 96, her funeral was unpretentious, as Arthur’s had been. Bramwell’s children were there, and General Wilfred Kitching called her “La Marechale” as he prayed over her grave.
Photos courtesy Western Territorial Museum.
Sources: “La Marechale” by James Strahan; “The Heavenly Witch,” by Carolyn Scott.