William Bramwell Booth

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Working to make the dream a reality

William Booth was the inspiration and motivation of The Salvation Army. Bramwell Booth’s administrative skills helped make it an effective worldwide organization.

William Booth had left a sealed envelope containing the name of his successor, with directions to open it after his death. This was the way he intended for all succeeding generals to be selected.

At William Booth’s promotion to Glory no one was surprised that the name in the envelope was that of his oldest son.

Praying for God’s help, Bramwell undertook the difficult task of keeping the Army together, and above all, of carrying out his father’s wishes in its administration.

“Holy Willie

Born March 8, 1856, the year after their marriage, “Willie” bore all the burdens as well as the privileges of the firstborn. Their home was noisy and the children full of their parents’ zeal for saving souls. It was their favorite play theme, as well as the subject which was early shown them in action as much as in words.

It was a different world that young Willie faced when sent off to school. His gentle personality and righteous ways caused him persecution by the boys and even injury at times. He was handicapped by a slight hearing loss as well. This dismal experience persuaded his parents that education at home was to be preferred, to keep their children away from worldly influences. Though busy with her preaching and countless ministries to others, Catherine spent much time with her family, and had people to help with their instruction.

When Willie–later Bramwell–was 12 or 13 years old, he was walking home with his father when he was led for the first time in his life into a drinking saloon. He never forgot the effect that the scene, crowded with brutishness and vice, had on him. Booth met his inquiring gaze and said, “Willie, these are our people; these are the people I want you to live for and bring to Christ.” The impression never left him.

During his formative years, the foundations of William Booth’s life had been challenged. As a Free Methodist, Booth had not expected to be a denominational leader, but as he went on with the Christian Mission, he realized that he was going to have to take control if the mission were to prosper. So gradually Booth became more of an autocrat, one who was used to being obeyed.

Bramwell becomes a mainstay

The year in which the Mission became The Salvation Army, Bramwell was 22, and his health was beginning to improve after a long period of digestive ailments. In spite of this, he had become a mainstay of the Mission, toiling late into the night in his efforts to balance the books and help in other kinds of administration.

CLOSE TO HOME–While Chief of the Staff, Bramwell’s travels were limited to the British Isles and Europe.

Close to home

George Scott Railton, who had lived with the Booths for several years, had been the Founder’s “right arm” in the workings of the Mission. As Bramwell grew capable of occupying that position, Railton’s restless evangelistic spirit was diverted to beginning the work in America and other countries. Bramwell from that time had to stay close to home to manage the business end while his father and mother traveled on speaking engagements. At a local meeting Henry Stillwell, later a prime pioneer in the Western U.S., was converted by the power of his words. In 1882 Bramwell married Florence Soper, one of the young women who had gone with his sister Catherine to Paris.

Sticks his neck out

Bramwell, constantly reminded by his wife of the appalling conditions that allowed girls as young as 13 to be sold or trapped into prostitution, resolved to do something about the age-of-consent law. In 1885, along with W.T. Stead, Army friend and editor of the Pall Mall Gazette, he enlisted the aid of a young woman volunteer to demonstrate how trickery could lead to innocent girls’ downfall. The girl, of course, was unharmed.

In 1885 he and Stead were indicted by the courts for “pandering.” The hearing, lasting 13 days, created a profound sensation throughout the country and in many parts of the world. Bramwell was acquitted, but others, including Stead, did time in jail. The result was the violent awakening of the public conscience on the subject of child prostitution, and led to the raising of the age of consent in Britain to 16.

While Bramwell himself was one to go by the rules, he appreciated those whose ways were often rough and uncouth, and sometimes landed the Army in awkward places. He felt their freedom of attack brought within reach the very people they wanted most.

Trouble brews

Soon after Ballington went to America, the Army Mother was diagnosed with cancer, and her husband traveled as little as possible. Upon her promotion to Glory in 1890, Booth was freer to visit the many countries of the world in which his Army had sprouted. This left much of the administration to the Chief of the Staff, Bramwell.

The first thorn that appeared among the family concerned his brother Ballington. He and his wife, Maud, had served admirably in America for nine years, making progress in many areas and building up substantial support among people whose contributions greatly helped the Army.

Gives the bad news

During a time late in 1895 when the Founder was in Australia, he directed the Chief to issue marching orders to many of the officers in the world, including all of his children except Bramwell. Only Ballington did not comply. It fell to Bramwell to deliver the orders and to attempt to make Ballington see things his–or rather their father’s–way. He sent both Herbert and Eva to try to persuade him in person. Despite these efforts, Ballington and Maud resigned to form the Volunteers of America, taking some officers with them. His sister Emma Booth-Tucker, whose health had made India unsuitable for her, was sent with her husband to heal the American situation once again.

Keeps things going

William Booth made several lengthy tours before his eyesight and health failed. More and more, Bramwell kept things going. Correspondence with the rest of the family shows his affection for them and his desire to treat them fairly while carrying out his father’s wishes. Nevertheless, Kate and Arthur Booth-Clibborn left the Army in 1902. Herbert, who had been territorial commander in Australia-New Zealand since 1896, chose to resign and become a traveling evangelist that same year.

The loss of Emma in a 1903 train wreck affected Bramwell grievously. He had counted on her for the future. Next to his wife and children, his mother and father, he had loved her best. It fell upon his father to comfort the son who had been the “shoulder” for the rest of the family.

The New General

Mourned around the world, the old General “laid down his sword” in 1912.

The worldwide Salvation Army first saw the new General at the International Congress of 1914. Adjutant Libbie McAbee wrote in her diary, “The General is fine and we all love him and will follow him. He said in his opening address that of course we all missed the dear old General, and no one more than he, and that he felt very unfit to fill the place left vacant by his death, but (with a twinkle in his eye) he supposed he did the best he could when he appointed him in his place.”

By 1915, as he had promised his father, the work was begun in China.

With Commissioner Henry Howard and later Commissioner Edward Higgins as Chief of the Staff, it was Bramwell’s turn to tour the many parts of the world where the Army operated. In this way he was able to learn about the varying conditions faced by his officers. He was warmly welcomed on his two visits to the U.S., in 1922 and 1926.

Florence had acted as the Army’s “first lady” since the death of Mrs. Booth in 1890. She began a number of the Army’s institutions such as Home League, Girl Guards, and League of Mercy. Along with this came an authority that she came to use in a way disturbing to many in the inner circles.

Becomes an autocrat

After his first two years in office, it was said that Bramwell did not value the opinions of his subordinates as had the Founder. They were utterly dependent on their small wage and, as it turned out, the favor of the General. Rebuke and punishment came readily from him, and officers in high position were apt to be sent to small posts far away merely for disagreeing in some matter. This happened to some of his best leaders, such as George Carpenter, whom his father had honored and trusted. Others, including Frederick Booth-Tucker, were summarily retired for speaking frankly to him. There was the feeling that his children were given posts when there were others more qualified. Furthermore, some said he allowed undue family influence to prevail in decisions relating to Army matters.

Bramwell and family
Bramwell and family
FAMILY IN 1890–Bramwell and Florence with (center) Catherine Bramwell Booth, (l-r): Mary, Miriam, and Bernard). Miriam was promoted to Glory in 1917 after a long illness.


Florence to the fore

In the last years he increasingly handed matters over to his wife, who exercised much of his authority. As the General became free to visit around the world, Florence was given power of attorney: in effect, to conduct the Army’s business. When Edward Higgins became the Chief of the Staff in 1921, Mrs. Booth served for a time as British Commissioner, and then again from 1922 to 1925. When Commissioner Adelaide Cox was asked to retire, Florence took over her old position in charge of Women’s Social Work, then passed it on to her daughter Catherine. She continued leadership of Guards and Sunbeams, was a Justice of the Peace, a visiting magistrate of Holloway Prison, and was responsible for the worldwide training of officers.

The stage was set for changes to take place.
To be concluded.

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