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Female Ministry in the Thought and Work of Catherine Booth

  • Norman H. Murdoch (a1)


As with other professions, the ministry has a long record of excluding women from its ranks. Virtually all women, unlike all men, have been categorized as laity, although they have failed even to achieve that designation on occasion. George Bernard Shaw, in The Doctor's Dilemma, observed that “every profession is a conspiracy against the laity.” Certainly this has been the case among lay women aspiring to become members of the clergy. But Shaw recognized in his play, Major Barbara (1905), a new kind of Christian minister, one who contested her business-tycoon father on a significant contemporary issue of how best to relieve poverty in Britain. Indirectly Shaw was paying tribute to the influence of Catherine Booth (1829–1890), co-founder of the Salvation Army, who recognized women's powers of intellect and innate equality and elevated them to clerical parity with men.



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1. Shaw, Bernard, Major Barbara (New York, 1907).

2. Constance Coltman, M., “Post-Reformation: The Free Churches,” in Royden, A. Maude, The Church and Woman (London, 1924), pp. 122123.

3. Butler, Josephine, “Catherine Booth,” Contemporary Review (1890): 649650.MrsButler, quotes Mill, John Stuart's Subjection of Women (Cambridge, 1970). See also “Josephine Butler on the Rise of The Salvation Army,” All the World (01 1896) and Review of Reviews (01, 1896), p. 93.

4. “Occupations of the Population of the United States,”1880, 1890, and 1900 Censuses of the United States (Washington, D.C.). From 1870 to 1980 census figures indicate growth in the number of women clergy, to which the Salvation Army was a major contributor. Clergy 1870 1880 1890 1900 1970 1980 Male 43,807 64,533 87,060 108,537 211,830 266,610 Female 67 165 1,143 11,027 6,237 16,434 % Female. 15%. 225% 1.296% 9.2% 2.86% 5.8% The total number of women in professions, 33.01%, was inflated by the nearly 2.5:1 ratio of women to men in teaching (101,287 men to 246,066 women). Of the 1,143 female clergy in 1890, 182 (16%) were “foreign white,”possibly indicating the large number of English Salvation Army officers. The increase in female physicians (4.35% in 1890 to 5.596% in 1900), and lawyers (4% in 1890 to 7.3% in 1900) failed to keep pace with the rapid increase in women clergy. By 1950, Zapoleon, Marguerite, The College Girl Looks at Her Career Opportunities (New York, 1950), pp. 104108, found that of the 7,000 women (of 167,000 men clergy, 4.02%), only one in four had four years of college education, indicating most were in the Salvation Army or other denominations not requiring advanced education. Notice in the table above that the percentage of women clergy recorded on the 1980 census is less than in 1900, even though recent years have shown an increase.

5. Railton, George Scott, Why Not? A Salvation Army Question (London, 1896).

6. Booth, Catherine, Female Ministry: Woman's Right to Preach the Gospel (1859; reprint ed., New York, 1975) p. 22; See also Bramwell-Booth, Catherine, Catherine Booth: The Story of Her Loves (London, 1970), pp. 4952;Stead, William T., Catherine Booth (London, 1900), pp. 96103;Booth-Tucker, Frederick St. George deLatour, The Life of Catherine Booth, The Mother of the Salvation Army, 2 vols. (London, 1893), 1:117123.Jewett, Paul K., The Ordination of Women (Grand Rapids, 1982) takes up in the present debate the same outline Mrs. Booth used in 1859: (1) woman's nature; (2) the nature of the preaching ministry; (3) scriptural problems.

7. Not until 1878 (London) did English universities admit women to degrees—Oxford (1920) and Cambridge (1948). Oberlin College in Ohio had no restrictions on race, creed, or color from its 1833 founding, admitting women to degrees by 1841. In 1850, as Catherine was writing to Dr. Thomas, Oberlin granted a theological degree to Antoinette Brown, who was ordained in 1853, the first woman ordained by a major denomination (Congregationalists). She died in 1921, a Unitarian, at age ninety-six. Wesleyan Methodist Luther Lee's ordination sermon for Antoinette Brown was titled, “Woman's Right to Preach the Gospel,” Catherine's subtitle six years later. Matthew Vassar, a devout Baptist brewer, established the first liberal arts college for women in 1861. See Handy, Robert T., A History of the Churches in the United States and Canada (New York, 1977), pp. 183184.

8. Catherine Mumford letter to William Booth, 1st 01 1853, in Bramwell-Booth, , Catherine Booth, pp. 8889.

9. Stead, , Catherine Booth, p. 92.

10. Layman, Fred D., “Male Headship in Paul's Thought,” Wesleyan Theological Journal 15 (Spring 1980): 4667, effectively argues that Paul recognized the male as the “head” in the sense of source or order of creation, but did not link that with hierarchy and “lordship”as commentators have traditionally done. Catherine instinctively felt equality, but did not clearly state this position. The Booths sat side by side at family meals, and in spite of William's well-documented autocracy, there is no evidence of an instance in which he proceeded without her advice and consent.

11. Catherine Mumford to William Booth, 9 April 1855, in Bramwell-Booth, , Catherine Booth, pp. 138143.

12. William Booth to Catherine Mumford, 12 April 1855; Catherine Booth to her parents,7 December 1857, in Bramwell-Booth, , Catherine Booth, pp. 142143, 176.Coltman, , “Post Reformation,” pp. 110111, credits the Primitive Methodists with thirteen women preachers in 1823, “one of the factors of its success.” Finney's work on revival methods was, next to the Bible, Mrs. Booth's guide to ministry.

13. Carwardine, Richard, Transatlantic Revivalism: Popular Evangelicalism in Britain and America, 1790–1865 (London, 1978), p. 188;Jarbo, P. J., “a letter to Mrs. Palmer in reference to Women Speaking in Public” (North Shields, 1859);Palmer, Pheobe, The Promise of the Father, (Boston, 1859). See also Watson, Bernard, “Catherine Booth—The Feminist,” The Officer 26 (07 1975): 296300, who acknowledges the American influence (p. 297), as he did in “The Young Lady from Cincinnati,” The Officer 26 (02, 1975): 6670, concerning the first woman doctor in 1849, Elizabeth Blackwell (1821–1910) of Cincinnati, who preceded the first British woman doctor by fifteen years. In 1869 Belle Mansfield of Iowa became the first woman admitted to the bar, but in 1873 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Bradley v. Illinois that “it belongs to men to make, apply, and execute the law.” Dayton, Donald W., “The Evangelical Roots of Feminism,” in Discovering an Evangelical Heritage, (New York, 1976) pp. 8895, fills in the American influence (ca. 1825-) which followed Wesley's earlier recognition of female preachers in England and acknowledges the profound influence of Catherine Booth.

14. Anderson, Olive, “Women Preachers in Mid-Victorian Britain: Some Reflections on Feminism, Popular Religion, and Social Change,” Historical Journal 12 (1969): 467484.

15. Rees, A. A., “Reasons for Not Co-operating in the Alleged Sunderland Revivals,” (Sunderland, 1959).Booth-Tucker, , Catherine Booth, p. 177, describes Rees as “once a Church clergyman,… now an independent minister.”

16. Catherine Booth to her parents, 7 December 1857, in Bramwell-Booth, , Catherine Booth, p. 181.

17. Booth, C., Female Ministry, pp. 56. For an extensive hermeneutical treatment see Meer, Haye Vander, S.J., Women Priests in the Catholic Church: A Theological Historical Investigation (Philadelphia, 1973), pp. 1039.

18. Booth, C., Female Ministry, pp. 67. See Layman, , “Male Headship,” pp. 5660, who views this head-covering issue as one of hair style, in which Paul calls for conformity so as to avoid a social offense. He agrees with Mrs. Booth that Paul recognized the legitimacy of female prophecy (preaching).

19. Booth, C., Female Ministry, pp. 913.

20. “Regent Hall-Presentation of Colours,” War Cry (London), 17 08 1882, p. 2.

21. Booth, C., Female Ministry, pp. 1314.

22. “‘Our View of Scripture’—from the Training Homes' Catechism—falsely termed a ‘Secret Book,’” War Cry (London), 10 03, 1883, p. 4, gives the Salvation Army's view of scripture as “written directly under the direction or inspiration of God's Spirit,” who “reserved these holy men from mistake,” enabling “them to write the exact truth concerning the facts they record,” and “to communicate the mind and will of God to us.” It is not the only way God speaks, but it is “the divinely authorized standard by which all other professed revelations are to be tried… Whatever is contrary to teachings of this Book must be considered false and thrown overboard.” Catherine did not dispute a passage, but reasoned that it must be understood in the context of the whole.

23. Booth, C., Female Ministry, p. 20; see Stead, , Catherine Booth, pp. 75103;Bramwell-Booth, , Catherine Booth, pp. 181187.

24. Stead, , Catherine Booth, pp. 214216, 230232;Bramwell-Booth, , Catherine Booth, p. 291.

25. Booth-Tucker, , Catherine Booth, 2:3957, quotes the Wesleyan Times, 1862. See Booth, Bramwell, Catherine Booth, p. 215.Stead, W. T., General Booth (London, 1891), p. 56, quotes Minutes of the Methodist Conference, 1862, vol. 15, p. 326, par. 4, on the issue of the Booth's exclusion from Methodist pulpits.

26. Catherine Booth to her parents, 31 December 1860, in Bramwell-Booth, , Catherine Booth, p. 197.

27. Ibid., pp. 227, 253; William Booth wrote to eldest son Bramwell in July 1872—“mama must earn some money by preaching”. Not until 1881 did the family receive a dependable income apart from Catherine's preaching.

28. Minutes, First Conference of the Christian Mission, held at the People's Mission Hall, 272 Whitechapel Rd., London, 15–17 June 1870; Christian Mission Magazine 4 (01 1873): 89.

29. “Christian Mission Work: The Month,” Christian Mission Magazine (04 1878), pp. 9899;Booth-Tucker, , Catherine Booth, p. 144170, points to opposition to women preachers within the conference in 1857–1877, leading to resignations of at least two men evangelists. The East London Evangelist, October 1868–December 1869, and Christian Mission Magazine, 1870–1878, carry numerous reports of women preachers in the Mission.

30. “The Annual Meeting,” Christian Mission Magazine (September 1878), p. 245. Of the thirty-five persons present in 1870, the six women were Sisters Booth, Jane Short, Louisa Draper, Eliza Collingridge, Mathieson, and Tidman. The 1875 conference listed four incontrovertible rules of the mission. Conference cannot “alter or controvert” (1) “any of the doctrines;” (2) “the right of districts to elect delegates;” (3) “rules against pew rental;” (4) “rules against obstruction of females from any office or work in the Mission”.

31. Stead, , Catherine Booth, pp. 122123; see Booth-Tucker, , Catherine Booth, 1:299: “The Salvation Army has been largely the history of its founders and of their family”.

32. Catherine Booth to Dr.Soper, 1February 1882, in Bramwell-Booth, , Catherine Booth, p.371. For Florence E. Booth's role in opening pulpits in Norway to women see Bliss, Kathleen, The Service and Status of Women in the Churches (London, 1952), p. 145146.

33. Booth, Catherine, The Salvation Army in Relation to the Church and State, (London, 1890) p. 87;Bramwell-Booth, , Bramwell Booth (London, 1933), pp. 147173, for full story; “Central Division,” The Conqueror (02 1892), p. 20, reports a wedding performed by Mrs. Ballington Booth as “the first instance on record, we believe, of a ‘clergywoman’ performing the marriage ceremony, unassisted, in the States.”

34. Daughters Catherine, Emma, and Evangeline each have biographies; see “Dowie and Dowieism,” The American Monthly Review of Reviews 7 (11 1903): 611613. The third of five daughters, Marian Billups Booth (1864–1937) was an “invalid,” but held staff captain rank. Booth-Tucker and Harold Begbie differ on why Marian was invalided. Booth-Tucker mentions “severe convulsive attacks” soon after birth, Catherine Booth 1:534, Begbie, While, The Life of General Booth, 2 vols. (London, 1920), 1:307, says she “was only reared to an invalid life with considerable difficulty … following an accident [which] developed serious physical weakness…”

35. Davis, Allen F., American Heroine: The Life and Legend of Jane Addams, (New York, 1973), p. 80, quotes Francis Hackett's description of some settlement houses of this era as “a protective sanctuary for the ‘sexually unemployed.’” “Respectable ladies” such as American Ivy-Leaguers Susie and Elizabeth Swift (Vassar), Elizabeth M. Clark (Bryn Mawr), Jennie Newcomb (Wellesley), along with Eileen Douglas, Mildred Duff (daughter of Colonel James Duff, intimate of Edward VII), Marianne Parkyn Railton (daughter of a Free Church minister and “man of property” and she a “strong feminist”), Mary Murray (daughter of Sir John Murray, K.C.B.), Madge Unsworth, Blanche Peyron, Alice Lewis, Emma Jane Bown, Hannah Ouchterlony, Adelaide Cox, B.B. Cox, and many others became Salvation Army officers. See Larsson, Flora, My Best Men are Women (New York, 1974);Watson, Bernard, Soldier Saint (London, 1970);Clark, E.M., “Brigadier Susie Swift,” The Conqueror (11 1896), pp. 512515;“Two New Letters from Mrs. Booth to Alice Lewisl,” The Conqueror (10 1896), p. 461.

36. Butler, , “Catherine Booth,” p. 648, describes this “surplus womanhood” the Army “absorbed” and “trained”. See Pugh, Evelyn L., “John Stuart Mill and the Women's Question in Parliament 1865–1868,” The Historian 43 (1980): 399418.

37. Booth, Herbert, The Training Home Annual (London, 1887). See “The Training Homes” in Railton, Twenty-One Years Salvation Army (London, 1886), pp. 250254, and “The Newark Training Garrison Corps,” The Conqueror (04 1896), pp. 156157.

38. Booth, William, “Our May Meeting in Exeter Hall,” War Cry (London), 12 05 1888, p. 9; and “Common Shares of Officers,” The Officer (12 1896), p. 306.

39. Stead, , Catherine Booth, p. 82, quotes Orders and Regulations for Field Officers (London, 1886), the Army's first comprehensive discipline. An attack on the Army's progressive position on female preachers was published by “A Street Preacher” (T.W.), The New Revelation; or Salvationism Brought to the Test of the Word of God (Glaslow, n.d.), in the British Museum. The Christian Mission Conference Journal used the term “persons” in the 1870s.

40. Bramwell-Booth, , Catherine Booth, pp. 235236, observed Catherine “was Sensitive to the impression that her preaching was more praised than his [William's]”.

41. The Christian Mission Conference Journal, 1873 and 1875; Mary Beth Norton, “The First Patriots were Formed by Their Mothers,” Taft Lecture, University of Cincinnati, 11 May 1982, claimed English women were fifty years ahead of American women in the seventeenth century, but the American Revolution altered their positions, creating a Republican motherhood of which none existed in England. Rather, English women adopted a “moral motherhood” which the Booth women appropriated while reaching for something approaching the American woman's civic role.

42. Larsson, , Best Men, p. 82. The Army's position on “lay” women (soldiers) is that “Officers must see that women are given an equal opportunity with men, as far as their strength and circumstances allow,” Memorandum of Guidance for Corps Officers (London, n.d.), p.7, Rule 6. In March 1970, a U.S. District Court in Atlanta refused to hear a case alleging Salvation Army sex discrimination. Although the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission supported the plaintiff against the Army, the court held that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Right Act did not apply to religious organizations. See Genesis III 1 (Philadelphia, 1112, 1971): 3;“Crisis for Salvationists,” Christian Century 84 (1970): 114; and Chamberlain, W.E., “Memorandum, Mrs. Billie McClure vs. The Salvation Army” (Salvation Army Archives, New York, n.d.). Well-educated women took staff positions, editing papers and writing articles and books. Others led the social reform enterprises, managing rescue homes for “fallen women,” slum posts, shelters, and nurseries. See War Cry (London), 12 05 1888, pp. 56.

43. See Layman, , Male Headship, pp. 47, 49, 54.

44. Although the Army has claimed a nonsacramentalist position since around 1883, dedication of infants and “swearing in” of soldiers may be performed only by officers. Originally the rejection of sacraments was partly based on acceptance of female ministry. The people were not accustomed to women performing sacerdotal rites. Some connect Quaker recognition of women ministers to the Army's nonacceptance of a sacerdotal office. See Coltman, “Post-Reformation,” pp. 126–127.

45. The Salvation Army Yearbook, 1983 (London, 1983), 01 1982 statistics. Most denominations readmitted women to the ordained ministry in the 1950s, including the United Methodist Church, 1956. See Harmon, Nolan B., The Organization of the Methodist Church, 2nd rev. ed. (Nashville, 1962), pp. 121123. Frances E. Willard was elected a lay delegate to the 1888 Methodist General Conference along with four other women. They were not seated, and the 1892 conference decided that only men qualified as “laymen,” excluding women from further participation. Two years later Miss Williard wrote the story of “Mrs. Catherine Booth's Eldest Daughter,” for the Review of the Churches, see Review of Reviews 9 (04 1894): pp. 479480. Nevertheless, women had roles as “religious workers.” Aaron I. Abell discovered that 150 new institutions of deaconesses were founded between 1885 and 1900 in America, reflecting “the impact of the social crisis upon conventional modes of religious behavior,” quoted in Michaelson, Robert S., “The Protestant Ministry in American: 1850 to the Present,” in Niebuhr, H. Richard and Williams, Daniel D., The Ministry in Historical Perspective (New York, 1956), pp. 250270. Census records regularly record twice as many women as men Catherine Booth regarded as the tasks of “the kitchen and the distaff.” Zekmund, Barbara, “The Struggle for the Right to Preach,” in Women and Religion in America, eds. Rosemary, Reuther and Rosemary, Keller (San Francisco, 1981), pp. 193241, divided women into two groups: (1) “Women in denominations with free church polity and membership of groups upholding the power of the Holy Spirit tended to argue for increased female leadership;” (2) those “wishing to preserve the authority of Scripture and to uphold proper order… sought to justify historical leadership patterns and maintain the status quo.” The Army falls into the first category, although they would also claim to “preserve the authority of Scripture and to uphold proper order.” See Nickerson, Kathy, “Women in Ministries,” The Interpreter (05 1981): 2526.Dayton, Donald W., “The Evangelical Roots of Feminism,” p. 85, observed that the early nineteenth-century evangelical commitment to an ordained female ministry has been obscured by opposition “by the dominant leaders of contemporary Evangelicalism.” Dayton quoted Billy Graham who told the Ladies' Home Journal 87 (1970), “Wife, Mother, Homemaker—This is the Appointed Destiny of the Real Womanhood.” This, Dayton complained, in spite of the fact that “modern revivalism gave birth to the women's rights movement” at the time of the second great awakening in America.

46. Coltman, , “Post-Reformation,” pp. 105106, found that Quakers experienced rapid growth in the seventeenth century due to the ministry of women and declined as “the public and itinerant ministry of women declined.” A similar finding might be made in the Salvation Army, but to draw a causal relationship would be difficult.

47. Gordon, Anna A., The Beautiful Life of Frances E. Willard (Chicago, 1898), pp. 235237. The War Cry (London), 22 05 1880, p. 4, reported that Miss Frances E. Willard, “eminent temperance advocate,” had attended the Army in Philadelphia on Easter and reported as follows: “After half-an-hour's exercise in the street, they adjourned to a great barn-like chair factory, followed by a motley crowd who had evidently seldom seen the inside of church or prayer-meetings. The place was soon packed to suffocation. After prayer and a brief Scripture exposition by ‘General’ Railton, Mrs. ‘Captain’ Shirley called for witness- bearers,’ and twenty or more brief testimonies filled up the hour, interspersed with the most inspiring songs I ever heard in a religious meeting. They repeated the same verse a dozen times with increasing power. They sang the hymns of the Church, but chiefly, to familiar plantation melodies and with Jubilee choruses. The effect was overwhelming. When I say we cried and could not help it, you may have some idea of the pathos and triumph of the occasion. I shall never forget what it meant to me to see young men converted from a life of sin, transformed drunkards, grey, sad old women, and little children from the alleys, and all beating time as they swelled the chorus, twenty times, repeated, ‘Arise and shine, and give God the glory:’ and ‘I've come to join that band!’ Thank God for this new repetition of the most blessed among Christ's miracles: ‘The poor have the Gospel preached to them.’”

48. As a result of support for W. T. Stead's crusade to end the White Slave trade in young women being procured for European brothels, Bramwell Booth was arrested. Along with other Salvationists, he had assisted Stead, editor of the Pall Mall Gazette, in procuring Eliza Armstrong from her mother. For this conspiracy they were tried in the Old Bailey, Bramwell being found not guilty, while Stead and Rebacca Jarrett, an associate of Josephine Bulter, were Sent tojail. The issue so infuriated Catherine Booth that she wrote to the queen, held large public demonstrations, circulated a “monster petition” with 303,000 signatures to ask Parliament to raise the age of consent to eighteen, and came out in favor of women's suffrage. (see the War Cry (London), 0710 1885). On 13 July 1885, Mrs. Booth moved a resolution at Prince's Hall, concluding: “I say it is time that we women had some sort of voice in choosing our lawmakers when they consign our little helpless daughters to such a fate,” as they had in lowering the age of consent to thirteen, when a girl could not dispose of property till she was twenty-one. She proposed to “organize bands of women” in “vigilance bands” to roam the streets from midnight to 3 am, to stop prostitution as had been done in Boston, Massachusetts. If the government would provide the funds, the Army would ‘reclaim them, teach them to get a living,’”for less than it costs to shoot “‘a few Zulus.’” See War Cry (London), 18, 22, 2907, 8 08, 1885.

49. Booth-Tucker, , Catherine Booth, 1:356.


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