The Ballington Story

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By Frances Dingman –

Family Photo

LOVING FAMILY–Maud Booth with
children William (Charles) and Theodora.

This year marks the hundredth anniversary of an event that shook The Salvation Army in the United States to its foundations, and could have meant its destruction: the resignation of National Commander Ballington Booth and his wife, Maud, from the Army to form the Volunteers of America.

General Booth chose his second son, Ballington, to succeed Commis-sioner Frank Smith in 1887. The General had fallen in love with America, but noted at the time “there will be a tendency to linger. His appointment should be no longer than five years or so…”

Thirty-year-old Ballington was six feet four inches tall, dark and dynamic, buttressed by a beautiful and charismatic wife. Previously he had been in command of the Men’s Training Home in London, and in 1883 was placed in charge of operations in Australia. He returned to England for the International Congress in 1886 by way of the U.S. and Canada, preaching in the major cities. He and Maud Charlesworth, who had helped the younger Catherine pioneer the work in Paris, were married that year and they departed for America.

Booths Move Forward

The young Booths immediately set about to make their mark, plunging into touring the country, reaching as many of the American public as possible, to complete healing the rift of 1884 caused by the defection of Thomas E. Moore.

“Forward, ever forward!” he wrote in the May 1, 1887 Pacific Coast War Cry, “and faster, ever faster! as the days go by, must be the Army’s march, especially among the go-ahead people of the West, and we believe God is too deeply concerned to allow us to lag behind in the race for men if we trust and follow Him fully…We go asking every comrade in England’s war to pray for us, and stand by us in faith and affection. We go assuring all that we shall often cross in spirit to fight and suffer and triumph at their side.”

Ballington, or “The Marshal,” set about immediately to make conspicuous advances in this country. They at once fought to put the work on a self-supporting basis, not asking for any money from England. By steady and prompt action, confidence was gradually established, and the people opened up their hearts and pocketbooks. During their time in office the American Salvation Army gave generously to World Services, sending to India, France, the Social Scheme in Britain, and by loan to Canada the sum of $113,477.

As the Founders had done, they immediately cultivated prominent business people and formed Auxiliaries (now Advisory Boards) who “protect and defend, the movement, not in name only, but by pen, voice and pocketbook.” Due in no small part to Maud’s leadership, membership in the Auxiliary became fashionable. The Auxiliary League grew to 6,000 during their time as commanders.

Gradually, in quality, as well as efficiency, the ranks of the officers rose. Prominent visitors from overseas often spoke of the sterling character and zeal of the officers.

The Army had had a steady gain in the big cities, and slum and rescue work had progressed. Begun in a quiet manner, but with careful selection of the right woman and the right spirit on her part, a truly wonderful work had been founded, following the work done in London. Figures showed the astounding good done by these devoted “Slum Sisters,” raised beneath Maud Booth’s influence, in the darker, sadder, viler walks of society in the great cities.

New Headquarters

A fine Memorial Building had been raised in New York as National Headquarters, its value expressed not only in dollars but in the affection and esteem of Salvationists and friends of the Army. The Trade Department had been founded and was doubling in business each year. There were two War Crys–one on the Pacific Coast–with Commander and Mrs. Booth also contributing faithfully to papers in three other languages as well as the Young Soldier and the Conqueror.

During Christmas week, all over the country thousands of the most neglected and hungry sat together to feast and hear words urging them to a new hope and a new life.

The Booths aggressively began work among prisoners, forming the Prisoners’ Hope Brigade for visitation and counseling. There was a marked development in the field of Army music, the first book being “Soldier Soloist,” containing songs written by the Marshal. It was Ballington’s decision to open the work in the Hawaiian Islands in 1894, after invitation from Island Christians.

Heralded wherever they appeared, both the Marshal and his wife toured extensively in the country, cementing the bonds among American Salvationists.

During her last tour, in 1895, Maud traveled 35 days by train throughout the West. In Los Angeles, a hallelujah wedding had been planned during the Friday night meeting, and Mrs. Booth, “perhaps the only woman in the state having power to perform this ceremony,” was asked to tie the knot. The wedding of Captain and Mrs. Edmond Clinton, grandparents of Don Clinton of the Los Angeles Advisory Board, is chronicled in the Pacific Coast War Cry, complete with a parade and the participation of bands from Los Angeles and Pasadena.

Trouble Looms

As Maud proceeded on this tour, troubling events were unfolding. The Founder had shown impatience during his visit the previous year with the way the work was going in America–not its lack of energy or purpose, but its growing independence from International Headquarters. On their part, the young Booths were defensive; they felt the General showed little interest in their plans or goals. Although his public triumph was spectacular, he gave no public approval of his son’s service. One order which incensed Ballington was to mortgage the new headquarters building and send the money to London for World Services. Another order, which Ballington did obey under protest, was to transfer the direction of Salvation Army work in Montana, North Dakota and part of the state of Washington from the U.S. to the Canadian command.

General Booth announced that there would be a reshuffling of commanders throughout the world. His son Herbert in Canada, daughter Eva in London, daughter Catherine (the Booth-Clibborns) in France and Belgium; the youngest daughter Lucy (Booth-Hellberg) and her husband in India, and Ballington and Maud all received farewell orders. While the others agreed to move, the Ballington Booths refused to accept a new assignment.


Ballington Booth Maud CharlesworthCO-FOUNDERS OF VOA–Ballington Booth and Maud Charlesworth
first met in 1881 at a Salvation Army rally in London’s Albert Hall.
Press Joins In

It is almost unbelievable that what seemed essentially a family squabble would draw in so many bystanders. The January 15, 1896. Los Angeles Times reported, “…The Commander and his wife recently became American citizens and now have a large proportion of Americans in the ranks of their paid officers. The removal of the two popular leaders will, it is feared, cause a large withdrawal of financial help.”

General Booth received the following cablegram, dated February 23: “Under mentioned staff assembled Chicago pledge utmost continual loyalty to General, but under existing circumstances consider it duty to advise you Commander’s farewell extremely disastrous, whole country greatly agitated, columns and editorials, Press taking advantage Venezuelan question, embittering public, earnestly beseech allow Commander remain; letter following this cable unknown to Commander.” Among the signed were several prominent in the West, including Brigadiers (Edward) Fielding, Keppel, Evans, French, Holz, Sully, Majors (Henry) Stillwell, Addie, Staff Captain (Ashley) Pebbles and Captain (Adam) Gifford.

Statements Made

Ballington’s letter of resignation to the Chief of the Staff, Bramwell Booth, is dated January 31, 1896. “…The instructions to relinquish our command came to us without a word from the General himself, at a time when he knows we cannot proclaim to the world that ‘we are sure our beloved General has planned this with far-seeing wisdom, etc.’ We have to be sincere and cannot pen or speak that which we do not feel and believe…

Following are excerpts from Ballington’s statement which appeared in the San Jose Mercury, April 13, 1896:

Our reasons for deciding not to take another command under international government: On his last visit, the General “impressed us with his displeasure and his dissatisfaction with us personally, and with our method of administering affairs…He objected to the display of the national flag upon our badges and in our halls and homes…He spoke no word in public of approval of our toil, service or success…

“…We have gradually become convinced that the system of governing the work of this country from a foreign center, by laws made by those unaware of the needs and conditions of the country, is neither wise nor practical…We could not accept another command where we should have to administer where we ourselves could not agree with the rules it demanded and enforced.

“Our judgment was not accepted on matters vitally affecting the welfare of the work in this country. During his last visit, the General had stated that he wished us to assist the struggling work in Canada by giving up a certain portion of the United States to be annexed to the Dominion…Our arguments carried no weight…When we spoke of the national feeling he closed the controversy by drawing his fingers down the map of North America in three sections, declaring that ultimately he intended to cut the country in three, joining each to a section of Canada, to break down any national feeling that existed. We said such a division would ruin the work in this country…At the present time the Army work in Dakota, North Montana and North Washington is governed from Toronto, and we are informed that the officers hardly dare let the citizens of these states know that their money goes to the Canadian headquarters.

“Though we repeatedly urged after the departure of our chief secretary, William Evans, that for the sake of the advance and safety of the work in America it was absolutely necessary to choose for that position an officer from the ranks in this country who was an American citizen familiar with the thought and feeling of the American people, our request was ignored…We were told that the officer holding that position must be someone trained in England, and well known to the General, and chosen by International Headquarters.”

The Chief of the Staff’s manifesto expressed sympathy for American Salvationists and the hope that they would “stand fast to God and to the worldwide purpose of the Army and to the flag.”

The New York Times of March 8 announced that the first independent evangelical meeting would be held by the deposed Salvation Army leaders. This drew a crowd so large that the hall was packed and hundreds were turned away….In the audience were many Salvation Army men and women who wore their uniforms, but stripped the insignia from them, and instead wore little American flags and badges bearing portraits of ‘Mr. and Mrs. Booth.’

“Mrs. Booth and myself,” began Ballington, “have not come to this gathering with the intention of alluding to recent sad events in our experience. It is quite true that after serious thought and careful deliberation we have resolved to inaugurate a new movement.” Three cheers were given with a will, and flags and hats were waved. Maud appealed for funds, and the Booths were encouraged by the many who came to the altar.

The name for the new organization had not been decided upon. Its motto would be “Jehova Nisi–None but the Lord.” The auxiliaries would be known as the Defender Auxiliaries. On March 21 the name “Volunteers” was adopted.

Eva to the Rescue

At National Headquarters Ballington gathered leading officers, supposedly to withdraw them from his father’s command. Eva, who had been sent by her father to speak for him, was refused admittance. After thinking for a moment, she rushed around to the 13th street fire escape, and entered the hall by a window. Her emotional eloquence worked on the feelings of the officers, and they agreed to stay.

The newspapers had had a field day with the Army’s troubles, running headlines such as “Booth Wants to Anglicize American Salvation Army.” This played on a bit of anti-British sentiment then centering around a border dispute in Venezuela.

Staunch friends were sick of the public airing. Some of the New York Auxiliaries gave, for a time, full support to Ballington and Maud. Eva, denounced by the press as a “minion of British despotism,” was put in charge until Emma and Frederick Booth-Tucker could arrive from England. She stood like a rock for the Army and helped it through the most critical period. At one protest meeting in New York, she was hissed and booed as she mounted the platform. She seized the American flag and, wrapping it about her, shouted, “Hiss that if you dare!” The audience was silenced and she won their cooperation. The major part of the American Salvation Army was intact at the arrival of Commander Frederick and “Consul” Emma Booth-Tucker.

William Booth said later, “I say my children have helped me, but The Salvation Army does not belong to the Booth family. It [the family] belongs to The Salvation Army. So long as the Booth family are good Salvationists, and worthy of commands, they shall have them, but only if they are. I am not the General of the family. I am the General of The Salvation Army.”

One of the steadying influences after the break was Samuel Brengle. Through personal contacts and writing, this gentle, compassionate man attracted the devotion of multitudes. On March 10 he wrote to Bramwell: “…If we humble our hearts and seek His face and look only to Him for deliverance, we shall live and yet delight ourselves in fatness. It seems to me that now is the time to strike roots, to deal with our own people, to lead them back to the old paths, to make them mighty in God.”

Herbert and Cornelie Booth moved from Canada to Australia; Eva to Canada; Catherine and Arthur Booth-Clibborn to Belgium and Holland (though they had raised their children to speak French), and Lucy and Emmanuel Booth-Hellberg to France and Switzerland.


Family Slips Away

A few years later, Herbert and Cornelie, chafing under orders of unity and obedience, resigned; the Booth-Hellbergs left because of his interest in following a cult leader; Emma died in a train accident in 1903; Eva came to the U.S. in 1904 and, defying Bramwell’s efforts to transfer her, remained for 30 years until her election as General in 1934. Lucy, widowed early, continued to “salute and go” with all marching orders, serving as Commissioner in South America, Denmark, and Norway.

Within two years, the Army in the United States was incorporated. More democratic measures began to be introduced. Although a central international control and uniformity remained, the rapport and cooperation between International Headquarters and all territorial commanders improved. These changes are the pattern of present-day Army structure.

Major Maud Clements (R) was a headquarters officer during the Ballington Booth administration. She had great affection and respect for Ballington, and recalled meeting him on the street several times after the secession. He was always gracious and interested, and one time she couldn’t avoid asking, “Commander, are you happy without the Army?” Ballington replied, “I should never have left The Salvation Army.” 1

SOURCES: Pacific Coast War Cry; 1“Born to Battle,” by Sallie Chesham; 2Volunteers of America: 1896-1948″ by Dr. Herbert A. Wisbey, Jr. Special thanks to Kurt Stein, VOA Bay Area Inc., and Arthur Smith, VOA National Headquarters, Metairie, La.

The Volunteers of America

Ballington Booth’s personal vision for the new movement was rooted in his desire to see God’s Kingdom established among “all people.” He saw Volunteers of America serving not only the destitute, but also the emerging middle classes, especially those with no church affiliation.2

He wanted the organization to be a “valuable auxiliary” to mainstream churches, a meeting ground where people of all faiths could come together in service. The nation’s leading churchmen gave him their endorsement.

Booth originally intended to dress his officers in uniforms of seal brown. Women officers declared this was an unbecoming color, so dark blue for the men and a softer cadet blue for the women was decided upon. In 1898, the color was changed to cadet gray to prevent any confusion with The Salvation Army.

Brigadier Edward Fielding was the highest ranking officer to join the Volunteers. A close friend of Ballington since training school, he directed the VOA’s Northwestern Territory from the Chicago headquarters and rose to the rank of Major General, second in command.

Six months after the founding, Ballington was ordained a presbyter in the “Church of God in General,” in an unusual interdenominational ceremony at Dwight L. Moody’s church in Chicago. It was a way for Booth to distance himself farther from Salvationism. He also felt it enabled him to preach in any pulpit with propriety.

Along with religious leaders, Booth counted powerful friends among the era’s political and business elites. He was friends with Theodore Roosevelt in 1896 when the future president was police commissioner of New York; and with William Jennings Bryan. He counseled Woodrow Wilson on the social impact of the World War, and with Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt on private charity efforts during the depression. As early as 1934, he publicly condemned the anti-Semitism of the new Nazi regime in Germany.

Booth provided a spiritual compass for the organization, believing as had his parents that it was only through the fulfillment of the needs of the individual that the spiritual advance of mankind can go forward. Booth died in 1940 at 83. About 500 people, including his sister, Eva, attended the funeral service at the Collegiate Church of St. Nicholas in New York. Maud delivered a spontaneous eulogy, saying, “This is not defeat, this is victory.” Of her husband she said, “He didn’t work to build up this organization for publicity, for the world’s honor or esteem, but rather for Jesus’ sake. So smile and square your shoulders and carry on, not for Ballington Booth, but for Jesus’ sake.” She had been caring for her husband, continuing the prison work, and directing the Volunteers for several years. Maud’s election as commander-in-chief in her own right was a matter of formality.

Work of the VOA

After the founding of Volunteers of America, Maud Booth concentrated on her true mission: reform of the nation’s prisons and a lifelong ministry to the men inside their walls. In 1896 she opened what is believed to be the nation’s first halfway house for released prisoners–Hope Hall No. 1 in the Bronx. Others soon followed around the country. This system was supported by lecture fees from Mrs. Booth’s national speaking tours, and by prisoners who contributed from their meager earnings. She formed the Volunteer Prison League for prisoners who were determined to make good. By 1923, over 100,000 men had been enrolled, and of those leaving, 77 percent never returned to prison.

During the World War, she visited the troops in France for the YMCA. She actively supported women’s suffrage, was a founding member of the national Parent Teachers Association, and was an outspoken anti-vivisectionist.

The Booths raised two children–William, renamed Charles, who was Commander in Chief from 1949 to 1958, and Theodora. Since then there have been no Booths connected with the Volunteers.

Today the VOA continues the tradition of Hope Halls, with halfway houses, restitution centers and alternative sentencing programs. There are special programs for women with young children.

At present, community-based VOA organizations offer more than 400 human service programs ranging from the Bar-None Children’s Ranch in Minnesota to Phone Pals in Alaska, a network of seniors who keep in regular contact with latchkey children. At their Community Garden Nursery in Sacramento, homeless men and women learn new job skills, and neighborhoods in need of greenery receive it free of charge. Another example of forward thinking is a pilot program in Los Angeles that uses interactive cable television to reach the frail elderly.

In addition, VOA is the nation’s largest provider of affordable housing for families and seniors, and a major provider of long-term nursing care and other health services.

The organization has more than 9,000 employees and 20,000 active volunteers. Uniforms and ranks declined in use until they were discontinued in 1981.”

TRADITION–Although gone from most cities, the VOA ‘Sidewalk Santa’ has become an icon in American popular culture. This photo was taken in Louisville, c. 1920. Photos courtesy of Volunteers of America and Western Territorial Museum

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