The West’s Caring Ministry Has a Long History

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LOW TECH–Early Industrial wagon pictured outside a Salvation Army relief store.

By Frances Dingman – 

Captain Joseph McFee, with his wife, had sailed the world as master and part owner of the “S.S.Victoria.” In 1891 he decided to settle down, sold his shipping interest, and began a drayage company. McFee had had a bit of a drinking problem. When he met The Salvation Army in San Francisco, he decided to mend his ways and soon became an officer.

One of his first concerns was the plight of the out-of-work seamen at the wharf, who would complete a voyage, be paid off, and soon be without money to support themselves before signing onto another ship.

He conceived the idea of a huge Christmas dinner for people like this, picking a goal of 1,000. But the money? How would this be raised? He pondered this question until he recalled a kettle used as a “poor pot” in England.

Being careful to get all the proper permissions from the city, he set up a borrowed crab pot at the Oakland Ferry, where prosperous people rode between the two cities. Signs such as “Keep the Pot Boiling” and “Christmas Dinner for 1,000” helped raise the money for the food. Cooked and served by virtually every Salvationist in the city, the dinner was a resounding success. Thus was born the very first Salvation Army Christmas Kettle, which has evolved through the years as one of the Army’s most cherished symbols.

Staff Captain William McIntyre took the idea to New England, persuading volunteers to “make fools of themselves,” standing beside a kettle. A young officer named Amelia Kunkel is credited with ringing the first attention-getting kettle bell.

That started something!

In the months after the first Christmas dinner at the wharf in 1891, McFee began hatching plans to help the inhabitants of the Barbary Coast. By March the Pacific Coast War Cry reported that plans and proposals had been sent to National Commander Ballington Booth.

Discards were soon being collected, as well as food for poor families. A special campaign resulted in shoes for 200 school children. Regular evangelistic visits were made to the San Francisco city almshouse, jail and San Quentin. The December 10 War Cry said the Commander had “sanctioned a proposal to begin men’s social work on the Pacific Coast.”

Inspired by the “Lighthouse” that had been opened in New York, a new shelter called the “Lifeboat” opened on Christmas Day 1892, in a former saloon on the corner of Sacramento and Kearny Streets. For a time, a crowd of 1400 lining up for the free Christmas dinner blocked the cable cars from getting up and down the street

There was a big Congress Meeting for Salvationists in the evening. In a torchlight parade, there were illuminated transparencies labeled “No more sleeping in lumberyards” and “Don’t be a slave to the devil.” The shelter was filled to capacity by December 28. Bed, bath and meal cost 10 cents. There were bunks for 50 men, with three baths, and meals could be served to 60 at a time.

Captain and Mrs. Joseph McFEE–worked together to begin The Salvation Army men’s social work at San Francisco docks.

“Poor but willing”

The aim of the Shelter was to help unemployed, poor but willing men, who with help could be restored to a useful place in life and were likely to be converted to Christ in the process. Admittedly, an occasional “bum and tramp” might get in, but these were the exception.

The Army called attention to the respectable men in the Lifeboat Shelter, men forced into poverty–sometimes heavy drinkers. It claimed a special mission to rescue victims of drink. The second Lifeboat building had tin-lined room for drunks to sleep in safety without disturbing others. There was a room where the men’s clothing could be dusted with sulphur for delousing.

Penniless men could work for their meals and bed. A woodyard, and a labor bureau for referrals to outside employment, were in place before the formal launching. The staff became a “crew” in sailor uniforms and soon 400 meals were served a day.

The Army began distributing tickets paid for by sympathetic citizens such as wealthy Mayor Adolph Sutro, who bought tickets by the thousands and allowed the Army to distribute most of them. Later, brass tokens served the same purpose.

McFee kept adding inventive enterprises which really pioneered the classic Salvation Army formula for work therapy: waste materials employed by waste labor in honest and useful production. The Workshop began in 1893.

Inspired by the Charioteers and their stagecoach, McFee acquired the launch “Theodora.” which took a crew known as the Lifeboat Cruisers down the river holding evangelistic services.

Depression strikes

During a critical depression in the winter of 1893-94, the Army was asked to administer a municipal soup kitchen downtown. McFee arranged for city street sweepers to use needy men to earn their keep by doing the work. When some refused to work, the Army asked police to clear them from the lot, a move warmly endorsed by public and civic authorities.

When the shelter became too small, the Army was allowed the use of City Hall to house 350 homeless men nightly. Railroads offered to transport men to homes or other places if the Army would certify them as reliable.

In 1894, the Lifeboat moved to a two-story building, shared with No. 10 Corps. Sacramento asked to have a shelter opened there, but the Army pointed out that their homeless were coming to San Francisco anyway.

McFee was transferred to be Social Services Superintendent in Chicago in 1898. The department came to be called the Men’s Industrial Homes, a name it kept until 1920. At the formation of the new Western Territory, Lt. Colonel Emil Marcussen became the first secretary of the Men’s Social Service Department, which then included prison work. This name was retained until 1990, when it was changed to the Adult Rehabilitation Centers Command.

By Gordan Bingham – 

Any reflection on the history of The Salvation Army almost always takes us back to the early part of this century. However, what we are today, at least in our social service programs, has important antecedents in the latter half of this century

While much of the early social service history is linked to the former men’s and women’s social service departments, developments also took place through the response of corps to local needs and the efforts of divisional headquarters to respond to opportunities in major urban areas. By the 1950s, family service and other programs in divisional headquarters cities had reached a level of professional development that helped set the stage for dramatic growth both in the volume and the scope of Army social services in the decades that followed.

The mid-1960s and early ’70s saw the launching of the nation’s “war on poverty,” and with it the concept of a “partnership” between government and the private sector in the operation of a large number of new programs. These efforts didn’t defeat “poverty.” Politicians like to lump them together as the “failed programs of the sixties.” But many of these programs were and are quite successful, and the government/private sector partnership has dramatically changed the way The Salvation Army and other organizations now work.

Among the earliest of our programs using newly available government funds were those in response to the Older Americans Act of 1965. Corps across the country became program sites or even primary contractors for senior nutrition programs, activity centers and adult day care. The Social Security Act amendments of 1967, and the later passage of Title XX, made still further federal dollars available for child care, and a wide range of other social services.

Responding to these new opportunities and initiatives at the corps level, the Commissioner’s Conference determined in 1969 that all corps would be designated as “corps community centers.” The intention appears to have been to better communicate the growing community service role of the corps.

In that same year, the Western Territory convened a committee to study the need for a territorial program council that would help to shape the territory’s response to program opportunities and assure a thoughtful and well-managed response to government and other contract demands. The Territorial Program Planning Council, the first in the country, was launched in August 1971 under the chairmanship of Lt. Colonel Victor Newbould.

Among the earliest issues to be addressed by the council were the shifting program directions of the maternity homes and hospitals. For years their primary service was to provide confidential care to unmarried women, almost all of whom would relinquish their children for adoption. The availability of abortion and changing attitudes towards pregnancy out of wedlock ultimately made the traditional program unsustainable. A surprising number of the maternity homes of the Western Territory were able successfully to redirect their program to meet a different need, the care of at-risk and troubled teens who happened also to be pregnant, and almost all of whom would elect to keep their children and live as single mothers. From these roots, innovative programs in Anchorage, Portland, Boise, Los Angeles, San Diego and Honolulu now provide care to young women and their children who are otherwise at great risk. Former maternity home facilities in Spokane and Honolulu became residential addiction treatment centers.

The early minutes of the Territorial Program Planning Council also reflect discussion as to the level of program sophistication that could appropriately be assumed at the corps level as opposed to what needed supervision of specialized departments or divisional headquarters. In most instances, corps were given wide latitude to create very complex and professional programs addressing needs from child care to shelter of domestic violence victims; from senior day care to a “Drinking Driver Improvement School.”

The economic recession of the early 1980s, coupled with dramatic cutbacks in federal levels of basic income maintenance programs, saw the growth of homelessness and increasing “food crises.” Throughout the decade the Army responded with the opening of feeding programs, the expansion of food pantries and food banks, the assumption of utility assistance efforts, and the development of shelters and transitional residences of every description.

It has been an integral part of our heritage and our spiritual gifting to respond to human need. From homelessness to AIDS to “welfare reform,” we have sought to be part of the solution for human need in Christ’s name and in response to his example. The results have been a wonderful array of programs from the very simple to the very complex that have made us “America’s favorite charity.”

Again this year at its National Social Services Conference in Dallas Texas, the Army will recognize and celebrate innovative, precedent setting programs that have achieved a level of excellence that makes them worthy of replication elsewhere. But even as we do, we will be waiting and watching for new and more effective programs to come into being. Perhaps these will emerge from the new work with the homeless mentally ill being developed in Las Vegas, or the long-term transitional residences expected to be constructed in Los Angeles this Spring. Maybe they are being birthed right now in the imagination of our officers, employees or volunteers. Perhaps they will come from our response to welfare reform or as we look for new ways to integrate corps work and our response to the community. To remain relevant, responsive and effective continues to be our challenge for the future.



Soldier of Christ – Well Done!

ALC–More Than Powder

ALC–More Than Powder

Territorial Administrative Leaders Conference Convenes by Robert Docter – 

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