The Salvation Army USA History
Alexandria, Virginia 22314
Telephone: (703) 684-5500
Toll Free: 800-725-2769
Fax: (703) 684-3478
Sales: $1.6 billion (fiscal 1998)
NAIC: 624210 Food Banks; 81311 Religious Organizations; 813311 Human Rights Organizations
The Salvation Army, an international movement, is an evangelical part of the universal Christian Church. Its message is based on the Bible. Its ministry is motivated by the love of God. Its mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in His name without discrimination. Key Dates:
- Organization founded by William Booth, an ordained minister, in London.
- The Christian Mission is renamed the 'Salvation Army' and adopts a military structure.
- First salvationist journeys to the United States.
- Volunteer salvationists have converted 250,000.
- Booth's son Ballington breaks away and founds Volunteers of America.
- William Booth dies.
- Evangeline Booth, daughter of the founder, becomes General.
- Evangeline Booth dies.
From baking donuts during World War I to the ubiquitous bell ringers and red kettles of the last years of the 20th century, The Salvation Army is one of the most visible charitable organizations in the world. With world headquarters based in London, and U.S. operations based in Virginia, The Salvation Army is active in over 103 countries and its officers and personnel speak 160 languages. Stateside, the Army served over 32 million people in 1998, spreading its message of hope, love, and redemption through nearly 1.6 million volunteers who committed themselves to providing disaster relief and fighting hunger, illness, homelessness, and other social ills.
Man with a Message: 1829-78
William Booth was born in 1829 in Nottingham, England, and privately educated. He was ordained as a Methodist minister in 1852 at the age of 23, and took his calling to God as a crusade. He traveled the country as an emissary of the New Connexion Church, and began noticing, in increasing numbers, the forgotten souls of his surrounding communities. These forgotten or forsaken, living on the fringes of England's polite society, were not attending church. They could not or would not, and even if they had the desire, they were turned away as vagrants, drunkards, pimps, or prostitutes. Booth believed these people had the same if not more need for worship, to hear and learn of the Gospel, to be given the hope of redemption.
In 1860s Great Britain, Queen Victoria ruled and Edward, the Prince of Wales, married Princess Alexandra of Denmark. Although much of the country was caught up in the nuptials, Booth was more concerned with rampant poverty of London. Moreover, while the powers-that-be of British Methodism preferred worship and religious practice in a traditional manner, i.e. in a church with the proper pulpit, music, hymnals, and setting--Booth had become disenchanted and officially left the Methodist church in 1861. Since scores of the most desperate needed spiritual guidance and simply were not getting it, Booth resolved to take the church to them. He and his wife, Catherine, began traveling throughout the country, delivering the teachings of Jesus Christ to all who would listen.
During a tent revival in an abandoned Quaker cemetery in Whitechaple, word spread of Booth's charismatic message, and a multitude of the needy showed up. Booth soon settled his evangelical fervor on the destitute East Enders, who lacked spiritual guidance as well as food and shelter. Booth and Catherine came to believe that moral, physical, and spiritual well being were interdependent and aimed to provide a balance of all three. By July 1865 the Booths and several charitably minded colleagues began calling themselves the Christian Mission, and earnestly offered their message to the 'unchurched' of the East End. Within two years, General Superintendent Booth had a staff of ten full-time local missionaries (including Catherine, a skillful preacher, dubbed the 'Army Mother') and an increasing number of converts.
Throughout the 1870s the Booths and their growing band of believers continued to minister to the lost souls of London. Yet the squalor and helplessness of many of Britain's 26 million people was beginning to be noticed: Octavia Hill's tenement reforms had taken hold, debtors' prisons had been abolished, British Parliament legalized labor unions, electric street lighting was introduced, and the Booths brought many salvation through the Gospel. As their reputations grew among the poverty-stricken of London and beyond, many came to the Mission for salvation. The converts, known as the 'Hallelujah Army,' taught the Mission's message by singing or preaching on the streets, and the group's congregation multiplied. By 1874, the Mission had some 1,000 converted volunteers and 42 full-time evangelists. Ironically, these religious messengers still were not allowed into traditional churches, because many had once been prostitutes, gamblers, thieves, or drunks.
In 1878 the Booths and the Christian Mission regrouped under a new name, The Salvation Army. The move was precipitated by the wording of an annual report; Booth had been proofing the printed document and read a statement about the Christian Mission's 'Volunteer Army,' which he changed to 'Salvation Army.' From this revision came the organization's new name and the institution of a militaristic structure, to organize and fight for Jesus and to bring friendship and love to those who had neither. General Superintendent Booth became simply 'the General,' and the rank of 'officer' was given to all ministers within the new organization. The Salvation Army continued in the same manner as the Christian Mission, accepting anyone into its fold without discrimination, and its ranks swelled. Wearing military-type uniforms and called salvationists, they were often the victims of ridicule and/or violence. In this vein, Catherine Booth designed a sturdy bonnet for women salvationists, which protected their faces and eyes from flying objects. Yet William Booth's message was firm: 'Go for souls, and go for the worst.'
Coming to America: 1879-99
The message of the salvationists was carried to the United States by Lt. Eliza Shirley after she followed her parents overseas. Shirley held her first meeting in 1879 in Philadelphia. Upon hearing of Lt. Shirley's popularity and success, a group of salvationists was sent to the United States the following year to spread the word. In March 1880 the group, thankful for their safe arrival, held their first public meeting in Battery Park, New York. Though generally well-received, the American salvationists often suffered the same occasional attacks and persecution as their English counterparts. The latter had converted 250,000 people from 1881 to 1885; the former, though gaining recognition, paid higher prices--some salvationists were jailed in the United States and others were killed. Yet neither prejudice nor punishment daunted the salvationists, further strengthening their resolve and in turn their message.
By 1886 the American salvationists had received a ringing endorsement from President Grover Cleveland, and had moved from Philadelphia to the West Coast (California), the East Coast (Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Jersey), the Midwest (Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, and Pennsylvania), and the South (Kentucky). After expansion in the United States and Canada, the salvationists took their message worldwide, traveling to Australia, France, Germany, Iceland, India, South Africa, and Switzerland. General Booth began writing an organization newsletter, The War Cry, as well as several books.
General Booth and Catherine, who had had eight children, were the first to bring a second generation into their organization. Among their children were sons Bramwell and Ballington, and daughter Eva, all of whom had been active in their parents' evangelical work. Yet due to a dispute with his father, Ballington left The Salvation Army and founded his own charitable organization, Volunteers of America, in 1896. Some of the Army's officers and volunteers followed Ballington, much to the dismay of the other Booths, though everyone carried on with their missions.
A New Century: 1900s-50s
The Salvation Army's religious goodwill had continued to gain momentum with the turn of the century. A devastating blow came in 1912 with the death of General Booth; yet The Salvation Army remained stalwart and committed. Within a year of his death, General William Booth was immortalized by American poet Vachel Lindsey, who wrote a poem entitled 'General Booth Enters into Heaven,' and published a book bearing the same name. The poem eloquently told Booth's story and was a lasting memoir of the General's devotion to God and his fellow human beings.
Next came the advent of World War I in 1914, and The Salvation Army gained recognition in its many services for Allied soldiers. Lt. Colonel Helen Purviance, sent to France, began a new tradition by baking homemade donuts for the 'doughboys' in France, using rations, a wine bottle, and open-fire stove. Rolling the dough with the wine bottle and cooking the donuts over the fire, Purviance and her fellow Salvationists saw demand soar to 9,000 a day. Bramwell Booth, who had taken over leadership of the organization upon his father's death, saw the group through World War I and to 1929, when Edward J. Higgins was voted in as the first elected general. Eva, who had served throughout Great Britain and Canada, migrated to the United States and became that country's commander in 1904, changing her name to Evangeline. She served as commander until 1934 when she took over the generalship from Higgins, becoming the Army's first female general. Five years into her leadership, Britain and France declared war on Germany and World War II was underway. Though Evangeline retired during this year at age 70, she had contacted President Woodrow Wilson and offered The Salvation Army's help in any manner needed. Many war-related activities ensued for Allied soldiers, from mobile canteens with food, beverages, books, and writing gear to camps where the enlisted could dance, sing, and attend religious services. The War Work Council, which in turn created the War Service League, made clothing to be distributed by the Red Cross; the American Expeditionary Forces overseas were tended to by salvationists who went to the frontlines, bringing home-baked treats, including the world-famous donuts, as well as pies, cakes, and cookies.
After World War II ended, The Salvation Army helped veterans and their families, and initiated a wide range of programs for men, women, and children. There were teen programs to prevent juvenile delinquency, building services, aid for the handicapped, and, as always, preaching of the Gospel. In 1950, the Army lost another of its most ardent leaders when Evangeline Booth died at age 85.
The Modern Salvation Army: 1960s-70s
Like a military hierarchy, The Salvation Army's structure grew to consist of interlocking units answering to divisional chiefs. The General oversaw all operations from the organization's world headquarters in London, while a national commander directed activities in the United States, at national headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia. In the U.S., there were four tax exempt territories (Central, South, East, and West), each with a territorial commander who oversaw smaller units called divisions. There were in turn 40 divisions, each with its own divisional commander, and each division consisting of numerous social and religious outlets within its area.
Other members of the group included rankings from lieutenant to major, as well as soldiers, cadets, 'adherents,' and laypersons. Soldiers were required to profess their faith and sign a declaration called the 'Articles of War,' guaranteeing The Salvation Army two years of volunteer service (raised from the original nine months of service). Once a soldier was in the program for six months, he/she was eligible for Officers' Training at one of the Army's four U.S. colleges in Illinois, New York, Georgia, and California. After successfully completing a two-year residence program, each cadet was awarded the rank of ordained minister (lieutenant), then given an assignment and living quarters. Nonmilitary personnel, on the other hand, consisted of 'adherents' and laypersons, the former as people who designated Salvation Army churches as their place of worship and the latter from many walks of life, such as civic or business leaders, who wished to further the organization's reach.
The Army was a national, regional, and local organization, though funds were raised only through regional and local units with no national campaign (though most divisions participated in such fundraisers as the famed bell ringing during the Christmas shopping season). Like the military, The Salvation Army had instituted a strict code of conduct; uniformity and consistency were key to the organization's longevity.
Responding to New World Crises: 1980s-90s
In 1986 The Salvation Army elected its second woman general, Eva Burrows. It was a time of change for the Army, as the world around it was discovering the devastation of AIDS. Though the Army's religious mantra never became dated, the need for more modern assistance was necessary. With the advent of HIV and AIDS, greater awareness of spousal and child abuse, widespread drug abuse, and global devastation in the forms of hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, and civil warfare, the Army sought to become more proactive. The organization continued to reach farther into the lives and general welfare of the world's inhabitants, not just in times of extreme need or emergencies, but in order to support career counseling, vocational training, senior citizen services, and outreach programs for recently released convicts. In Florida, the Army began seeking custody of newly paroled prisoners, first-timers who had served their sentences and needed assistance to get back on their feet. Rather than see many of these convicts become habitual criminals, the Army created rehab programs to assimilate them back into society with great success.
Luckily, awareness of the needy had increased across the board in the 1980s and 1990s in the United States and the world, as nonprofit organizations multiplied. With more competition for charity dollars, the Army began using direct-mail brochures to bring awareness to its causes. By 1993 the international Salvation Army rivaled the armed forces with operations in 99 countries, a membership of over three million people, and 25,000 officers of diverse backgrounds.
According to Forbes magazine, by 1996 there were over 600,000 organizations vying for U.S. dollars; yet Americans gave varied charities upwards of $120 billion during the year. The Salvation Army USA, for its part, received close to $2 billion of these dollars in 1996 and spent $1.56 billion on helping men, women, and children around the globe. The organization spent 86 cents of every dollar furthering its causes, with the remainder going to administrative costs. This ratio of 86 percent ranked The Salvation Army at the top of the U.S. charities list, and as Forbes pointed out in April 1998, similar organizations spent significantly less on those in need and more on expenses. Additionally, the Army received less from the government (around 15 percent) than other organizations, many of which had received from 25 to 60 percent of their funding. These numbers were in part why legendary management consultant Peter F. Drucker told Forbes The Salvation Army was 'by far the most effective organization' in the United States. In the interview, Drucker heaped further praise on the organization: 'No one even comes close to [The Salvation Army] in respect to clarity of mission, ability to innovate, measurable results, dedication and putting money to maximum use.'
Global expansion was another key issue in 1996, with new recruits taking Korea, Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda by storm. The Salvation Army, better known than many of its competitors--be they hospitals, museums, symphonies, colleges and universities, or research facilities--funded its programs through tenacity and the sheer willpower of its volunteers. In 1997, the Army had 9,633 centers of operations (shelters, camps, churches, thrift stores, day care centers, clinics, etc.); helped 2,177 people find lost relatives; conducted 3.7 million Sunday 'holiness' meetings; operated 669,061 group homes; and served holiday meals to 6.9 million people nationwide. Salvation Army thrift stores, which numbered 1,576, were another of the organization's successful venues, popping up all over the nation, offering clothing, toys, and household goods at a fraction of their retail prices. The stores were responsible for contributing over 15 percent of the Army's annual revenues.
In 1998, the Army was again the focus of a Forbes profile, this time telling the story of Commissioners Robert and Alice Watson, lifelong salvationists who ran the organization's U.S. operations. The Watsons oversaw more than 500,000 volunteers, with outposts in every state, and controlled operating funds of over $1.5 billion for 1997 and $1.6 billion in 1998. The Army's worldwide growth was up by ten percent from 1994 to 1998, and the New York Times reported that 1998 donors in the United States gave more than ever before (up by 16 percent) and the number one recipient was The Salvation Army with $1.2 billion in cash and goods. While the Army did not consider itself a true competitor, its chief international rival was Goodwill Industries, the Maryland-based charity founded in 1910. This service organization, whose motto was 'a hand up, not a handout,' had a worldwide workforce of 60,000 (significantly higher than the Army's nearly 40,000), and brought in revenues of $1.5 billion for 1998.
In 1999, the Army was able to continue its deeds, as 42 percent of all Americans gave to charity, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy. That September the Watsons were replaced by new National Commanders John and Elsie Busby. The Busbys were previously commanders of the Southern territory, based in Atlanta. Approaching the new millennium, The Salvation Army operated much as it had at the previous turn of the century. Though it reached billions instead of hundreds of thousands, the message and mission were the same, brought by third and fourth generation salvationists. While Ballington Booth's defection from the family cause had pained his parents, they should nonetheless have been proud--the entire family succeeded in bringing help to those in need. Ballington's Volunteers of America, based in New Orleans, was nowhere near as large as his father's creation, but both had survived in the tradition of their founders.
Principal Divisions: Central Territory; Eastern Territory; Southern Territory; Western Territory.
Principal Competitors: Goodwill Industries International, Inc.
- 'Gifts to Charities up 16 Percent,' New York Times, November 1, 1999, p. 14.
- Kilgannon, Cory, 'Wary of an Invasion of Cars, Street Shuns New Neighbor,' New York Times,October 31, 1999, p.13.
- Lee, Susan, and Ashlea Ebeling, 'Can You Top This for Cost-Efficient Management?,' Forbes, April 20, 1998.
- Lenzer, Robert, and Ashlea Ebeling, 'Peter Drucker's Picks,' Forbes, August 11, 1997.
- 'Raising the Roof: The Philanthropy 400,' Chronicle for Philanthropy, http://www.philanthropy.com, November 4, 1999.
Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 32. St. James Press, 2000.