NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
Maud Ballington Booth ( 1865 - 1948)
For 65 years Maud Ballington Booth was a tireless and courageous advocate for the poor, the abandoned, the elderly, the abused, prisoners and their families. She provided emergency assistance, social services, educational opportunities and leadership in helping individuals and families. In the course of her long career she was the co-founder of Volunteers of America (VOA), the first person to initiate and demonstrate the use and benefit of halfway houses for prisoners and the founder of the Volunteer Prisoner League.
Maud Elizabeth Charlesworth was born on September 13, 1865, in Limpsfield, Surrey, England and grew up in London. She was the youngest daughter of Maria and Samuel Charlesworth, a prominent lawyer who gave up practicing law to become an Anglican priest due to his religious convictions. Her parent's work with social issues led to Maud's great interest and concern for social welfare and social service.
At 18 years of age she became estranged from her father and gave up her middle-class lifestyle in order to serve in The Salvation Army and minister to the poor in London's slum neighborhoods. At 21, Maud married Ballington Booth the second son of William Booth, the founder of The Salvation Army. 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. For eight years the young couple worked tirelessly to improve the finances and expand the services of The Salvation Army in the U.S.
In 1894, a family disagreement erupted. General Booth ordered Ballington and Maud to return to England.
They chose not go and instead stayed on in their adopted country. The result was they had to leave The Salvation Army, and all the resources and support it had provided. However, neither Maud nor Ballington had lost their 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. Thanks to a suggestion by Maud, the constitution included an article recognizing the equality of men and women in the volunteers of America. In six months the Volunteers established 140 posts with 400 commanding officers, 50 staff officers, 3 regiments, and 10 battalions.
Because of the commitment, vision and efforts of Maud and Ballington Booth, VOA is one of the nation's premier non-profit social welfare organizations with 16,000 full time staff and 16,000 volunteers helping people in 400 communities across the nation.
Throughout her career, Maud acted as a catalyst for the betterment of the nation's prison system. She became a pioneer in the prison reform movement and was nicknamed the "Little Mother" of the prisoners because of her deep commitment to caring for and providing rights to prisoners. Maud made a famous speech in the Sing Sing Prison in 1896 that led to the development of the Volunteer Prison League (VPL), a group that focused on turning the lives of prisoners around during
their period of imprisonment. The group worked to train prisoners and to prepare them for civilian life. In the first seven years of the Volunteer Prison League, 14,000 men joined. By 1912, more than 60,000 men were VPL members in twenty-eight state prisons, and 7,500 had graduated from the four Hope Houses (i.e. half-way houses). Sixty to seventy-five percent of the VPL prisoners made a successful transition to civilian life.
In 1935, Ballington's health began failing and Maud took on many of his duties. Then, on October 5, 1940, in his eighty-third year, Ballington died, and Maud became the General of the Volunteers of America. In addition she continued to travel and lecture, and whenever possible, she spent her Sundays visiting a prison.
In August 1948 – three weeks short of her eighty-third birthday, Maud Booth died and was buried beside her husband and partner with whom she had shared a long and meaningful life.
Maud and Ballington 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.
The Extra Mile is a program of Points of Light Institute, dedicated to inspire, mobilize and equip individuals to volunteer and serve. The Extra Mile was approved by Congress and the District of Columbia. It is funded entirely by private sources.