NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
Ballington Booth (1857 - 1940)
Ballington Booth was born in Brighouse, England, the second of eight children in the family of Methodist minister William Booth and his wife, Catherine Mumford Booth. The Booths founded the Christian Mission in 1865 whose focus was on serving the poor living in the East Limehouse area of London. In 1878, when Ballington was eight years old the Christian Mission was renamed The Salvation Army. So from early childhood, Ballington was exposed to a life of religious work and service to his fellow man.
During his teens Booth began preaching to awestruck crowds on street corners for his father's Salvation Army open-air meetings. At 23 he attained the rank of Colonel and was placed in charge of the Salvation Army officer training programs.
In 1886, Ballington married Maud Elizabeth Charlesworth who changed her name to Maud Ballington Booth. General William Booth didn't waste time in utilizing the services of his son and new daughter-in-law. When the New York office of the Salvation Army was in need of fresh organizational and fund-raising skills, William Booth assigned this important post to the newlyweds. On April 18th, 1887, they arrived in New York.
Ballington and Maud Booth wasted no time in beginning their new assignment. Even on their cross-Atlantic voyage, they made the acquaintance of people with influence in New York society. Though they traveled second class, the first class passengers were fascinated by the young evangelists and invited them to make a presentation. As soon as they arrived in New York, the Booths acted to unify two competing factions of the American Salvation Army and to combat the anti-English feelings of the American population.
One way to make the Salvation Army acceptable was for Ballington and Maud to become citizens, so they applied for naturalization. The American flag was also on display at all their public meetings.
In 1894, everything changed when General Booth arrived to inspect the American Salvation Army. William Booth felt that Ballington and Maud had become too American. The display of the American flag and the American eagle offended him. There was conflict over the money collected in America. General Booth wanted to make use of these funds outside the United States, but Ballington explained that to do this would be a breach of trust against the promises made when these funds had been collected. Ballington's protests to his father were in vain. General Booth ordered Ballington and Maud to leave America immediately and return to England. They chose not to return to England and they were forced to resign from The Salvation Army.
The young couple had not lost their purpose and dedication to an evangelistic and philanthropic way of life. On March 8, 1896, they drew up a constitution for a new organization, the Volunteers of America. Their mission was to "reach and uplift all people and bring them to the immediate knowledge and active service of God." Ballington and Maud knew that the success of this new movement depended on their personal willingness to work night and day. They were both on the move to establish posts in Newark, Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Chicago. They spoke in fashionable churches or in poor neighborhoods, each one making speeches at two or three different meetings every day, he in one city, she in another. This hard work paid off. In six months the Volunteers established 140 posts with 400 commanding officers, 50 staff officers, 3 regiments, and 10 battalions.
Under Ballington's leadership, a wide range of social services were offered for the poor and working class men and women. These services included day nurseries, food pantries, and affordable housing. During World War I, the Volunteers of America operated canteens and provided food and lodging for servicemen on leave. During the Great Depression, many Volunteers of America relief efforts were offered to millions of unemployed.
One fund-raising project that is still active today is the Industrial Salvage Program, which began in Bridgeport, Connecticut, in 1899. Donated clothing, electrical appliances, and furniture was collected to be sold in the Volunteers of America thrift shops. Homeless and destitute people, often from shelters, could repair and restore the donated furniture and appliances, learning skills that would help them find work.
Today, because of the commitment, vision and efforts of Ballington Booth and his spouse, VOA is one of the nation's premier nonprofit social welfare organizations with 16,000 full time staff and thousands of volunteers helping people in 400 communities across the nation.
Ballington and Maud Booth have been memorialized with a plaque in the The Extra Mile — Points of Light Volunteer Pathway located on the sidewalks of downtown Washington, D.C.