Looking over the fifty-five years of the life of The Army, and further back still, we can trace clearly the guiding hand of God in the formation and direction of this instrument of His choosing.
When, in the order of Divine providence, William Booth was chosen to be Founder of the Salvation Army, by strange, devious, suffering ways, God led him, chastened him, disciplined him in preparation for his great work. At the same time, Catherine Mumford, by the hand of God, was being fitted to be the Mother of The Salvation Army.
She was a delicate, retiring, but highly intelligent young woman of twenty-four years of age, when she heard her minister, in the course of a sermon, give expression to the view that women were mentally and morally inferior to men. At this suggestion Catherine Mumford felt a strong native resentment rise within her. Until that hour she had held the view that God had made men and women equal in gifts of mind and heart; now she made a thorough study of the subject in the light of the Word of God and of history, and as a result she formed a reasoned opinion from which she never swerved. In a letter, remarkable for its logic and its command of vigorous English, she set forth her views to her pastor. She admitted that prejudice and custom had relegated woman to positions inferior to those occupied by men; but argued that, given similar advantages of education and opportunity, woman is man's equal, fitted to be his partner, and able, with great advantage to enter with him into all serious and practical counsels for the benefit of the race.
In championing the cause of her sex, Catherine Mumford found she had to take the field almost alone. Even William Booth, to whom she was then engaged, did not share her views. Mr. Booth believed that while woman carried the palm in point of affection, man was her superior in regard to intellect. Miss Mumford would not admit this for a moment; and by degrees, chiefly by the charming power of her own personality and also by argument, she wholly carried her beloved to her view-point.
In the 'Life of Catherine Booth,' by Commissioner Booth-Tucker, we find records of the young husband, soon after their marriage, urging his wife to lecture on various subjects.
The next move along the track which all unconsciously Mrs. Booth was blazing for a host of women to tread, publishing the Salvation of God, was in defence of Mrs. Phoebe Palmer, a consecrated American evangelist who, in company with her husband, was conducting powerful mission services in England. Mrs. Palmer's ministry, notwithstanding the fact that it was more honoured of God in the conversion of souls than that of her husband, excited a vigorous attack from a clergyman of a large church in Sunderland. In Catherine Booth's breast again flamed that powerful resentment she had felt on the occasion previously mentioned. She wrote her mother saying that for the first time in her life she felt like taking the platform in order to answer the false views propounded concerning female ministry. Instead, she wrote a well-reasoned and convincing paper on woman's right to preach -- a pamphlet of some thirty- two pages. By this time her husband was so entirely with her in this matter that he encouraged her to make her defence. And we find Mr. Booth copying the pamphlet from his wife's manuscript and preparing it for the press.
But while Mrs. Booth was the most powerful advocate in England of woman's right to preach, she herself had never attempted to speak in public.
At last there came a day when she realized that her silence was not consistent with her profession and at great personal sacrifice she broke the bonds of timidity and publicly witnessed for her Lord. The following is an account from Mrs. Booth's own lips of her experience given in a public meeting twenty years after she began to speak:
Perhaps some of you would hardly credit that I was one of the most timid and bashful disciples the Lord Jesus ever saved. But for four or five months before I commenced speaking the controversy had been signally roused in my soul, and I passed through some severe heart-searchings. During a season of sickness, it seemed one day as if the Lord revealed it all to me by His Spirit. I had no vision, but a revelation to my mind. He seemed to take me back to the time when I was fifteen or sixteen, when I first fully gave my heart to Him. He showed me that all the bitter way this one thing had been the fly in the pot of ointment, preventing me from realizing what I otherwise should have done. And then I remember prostrating myself upon my face before the Lord, and promising Him there in the sick room, 'Lord, if Thou wilt return unto me as in the days of old, and revisit me with those urgings of the Spirit, which I used to have, I will obey, if I die in the attempt.' However, the Lord did not revisit me immediately. But He permitted me to recover, and to resume my usual duties.
About three months afterward I went to the chapel of which my husband was a minister, and he had an extraordinary service there. Even then he was always trying something new to get at the outside people. For this Sunday he had arranged with the leaders that the chapel should be closed, and a great out-door Service held at a place called Windmill Hills. It so happened, however, that the weather was too tempestous for carrying out this design, and hence the doors were thrown open and the meeting was held in the chapel. In spite of the stormy weather about 1,000 persons were present, including a number of preachers and outside friends.
I was, as usual, in the minister's pew with my eldest boy, then four years old. I felt much depressed in mind, and was not expecting anything particular; but as the testimonies proceeded I felt the Holy Spirit come upon me. You alone who have experienced it can tell what it means. It cannot be described. I felt it to the extremity of my hands and feet. It seemed as if a Voice said to me, 'Now if you were to go and testify, you know I would bless it to your own soul, as well as to the people!' I gasped again, and said in my heart, 'Yes, Lord, I believe Thou wouldst, but I cannot do it!' I had forgotten my vow. It did not occur to me at all.
A moment afterward there flashed across my mind the memory of the bedroom visitation, when I had promised the Lord that I would obey Him at all costs. And then the Voice seemed to ask me if this was consistent with that promise. I almost jumped up, and said, 'No, Lord, it is the old thing over again. But I cannot do it!' I felt as though I would sooner die than speak. And then the devil said, 'Besides, you are not prepared. You will look like a fool, and will have nothing to say.' He made a mistake. He over-reached himself for once. It was this word that settled it. 'Ah!' I said, 'this is just the point. I have never yet been willing to be a fool for Christ. Now I will be one.'
Without stopping another moment I rose up from my seat and walked down the aisle. My dear husband was just going to conclude. He thought something had happened to me, and so did the people. We had been there two years, and they knew my timid, bashful nature. He stepped down and asked me, 'What is the matter, my dear?' I replied, 'I want to say a word.' He was so taken by surprise that he could only say, 'My dear wife wishes to speak,' and sat down. For years he had been trying to persuade me to do it. Only that very week he had wanted me to go and address a little Cottage Meeting of some twenty working people, but I had refused.
I stood -- God only knows how -- and if any mortal did ever hang on the arm of Omnipotence, I did. I felt as if I were clinging to some human arm; but it was a Divine one which held me up. I just stood, and told the people how it had come about. I confessed, as I think everybody should who has been in the wrong, and has misrepresented the religion of Jesus Christ. I said, 'I dare say many of you have been looking upon me as a very devoted woman, and one who has been living faithfully to God. But I have come to realize that I have been disobeying Him, and thus have brought darkness and leanness into my soul. I have promised the Lord to do so no longer, and have come to tell you that henceforth I will be obedient to the holy vision.'
There was more weeping, they said, in the chapel that day than on any previous occasion. Many dated a renewal in righteousness from that very moment, and began a life of devotion and consecration to God.
Now I might have 'talked good' to them till now. That honest confession did what twenty years of preaching could not have accomplished.
But, oh, how little did I realize how much was then involved! I never imagined the life of publicity and trial that it would lead me to, for I was never allowed to have another quiet Sabbath when I was well enough to stand and speak. All I did was to take the first step. I could not see in advance. But the Lord, as He always does when His people are honest with Him and obedient, opened the windows of Heaven, and poured out such a blessing that there was not room to receive it.
From that morning Mrs. Booth continued to respond to the call to proclaim Salvation, until she came to be regarded as one of the most powerful preachers of her day. Her service was not unattended with sorrow. For many years this shrinking woman had to face fires of criticism and blizzards of scorn; but she persevered.
Not only within the ranks of The Salvation Army has Mrs. Booth's brave example borne a harvest of blessing, but in all walks of public life women now stand in the gates as co-workers with men in every righteous cause; sometimes they raise their voice for truth and equity where no other voice is heard.
When the Christian Mission began to take form, William Booth had no particular intentions as to the kind of helpers he was to have -- either male or female. Female ministry evolved as a part of its service, as indeed the whole Salvation Army evolved, without premeditation or plan, indeed, as it is said of the Kingdom of God, 'without observation.' To Mr. Booth's early meetings in the East End of London came a godly man and his wife to assist him with their sympathy. The woman was so shy as to be unable to pray aloud. She was in deep sorrow over the death of her two children. Later, when attending a holiness meeting, conducted in an old wood shed in Bethnal Green, this woman, Mrs. Collingridge, yielded herself entirely to God for His service. She knelt, a timid, broken woman, making the sincere offering of herself to God, and rose from her knees delivered from all fear and inspired with a message to the people. From that day, with the arresting power of a prophetess, she proclaimed the Saviour's love and power. She could command a crowd of the wildest roughs in the open-air, or hold breathless a great theatre audience. She specially excelled in visiting the converts and others; so blessed was she in this work that Mr. Booth asked her to become the first paid woman member of the Mission.
Commissioner Railton tells of Mrs. Collingridge in his 'Twenty-one Years Salvation Army.' He writes, 'It was no longing for publicity or notoriety that attracted her, for one hears not so much of her public work, blessed and glorious as that was, as the victories she won from garret to garret, from door to door, as she pressed on, resolved never, to the last hour, to give up a victim of sin.' Worn out with loving and seeking souls, this -- after The Army Mother -- the first woman officer of The Salvation Army was promoted to glory, triumphing in God to her last breath. Mrs. Collingridge was the forerunner of such spirits as Kate Lee. She raised up and trained a band of brave women fighters; these women were used with remarkable success in the growing Mission. William Booth was hard put to find sufficient evangelists for the rapidly increasing stations about London and in the Provinces. God had signally blessed the Women's Band as visitors and exhorters, and William Booth saw in them qualities that caused him to believe that, given opportuity, woman would excel as a leader -- a commander.
Necessity urged the experiment. The first woman chosen for this purpose was Annie Davis, who later, as Mrs. Commissioner Ridsdel, after most distinguished service as a soul-winner, was promoted to glory. A quiet girl from a village, she had been converted in the old hall used by the Mission under the Railway Arch at Bethnal Green. From the first it was evident that the power of God rested upon her.
Annie Davis was placed in charge of the small Christian Mission Society in Barking. At the end of her term of office she left a flourishing work. She had managed her committee, successfully led her people, paid her way, and left a balance in hand.
The fact had been demonstrated that a woman was as capable of filling the position of an evangelist as a man. Kate Watts (now Mrs. Colonel Josiah Taylor) was then sent in charge of the Mission Work at Merthyr, in Wales, where she was used by God in the salvation of hundreds of souls -- and Mrs. Reynolds 'opened fire' at Coventry. To Captain Reynolds was presented, on behalf of the Coventry Corps, the first Flag of The Salvation Army.
The Hallelujah Lass became an indispensable part of The Salvation Army. No effort was made to set these women in one common mould and turn them out replicas of the first. Indeed their naturalness, the very differences in disposition and method added to their usefulness.
In great contrast to the women already mentioned, was the type of whom 'Happy Eliza' was a specimen. Rough and ready and entirely fearless, she knew how to capture the most indifferent crowds. At one corps where ordinary methods had failed to secure the people, she marched through the streets with streamers floating from her hair, and on her back a placard bearing the words 'I'm Happy Eliza.' The denizens of public-houses and the slums flocked to the hall to hear a preacher who evidently understood them. At another place where a theatre was to be opened as a Salvation Army hall, she advertised the meetings by hiring a cab. On the box a man beat a drum, inside two or three others played brass instruments, while Happy Eliza took up her position on the luggage on the top, and drove through the streets alternately playing a fiddle and distributing handbills announcing the coming meetings.
Another indomitable was Chinee Smith. Trampled on by a Lancashire mob, her bonnet torn from her head, her shoes from her feet, she marched in her stockings through the streets to the hall, her hair streaming down her back. Taking her place on the platform she led the meeting as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened. The hall was packed and souls sought salvation.
The Army's Founder began to recognize that almost limitless possibilities lay in these women. Since they could attract and win sinners to Christ, could command the people of their corps with acceptance, why should they not be placed in charge of Divisions? He saw no reason. Captain Reynolds was promoted to the rank of major, and placed in charge of The Salvation Army work in Ireland, and the decision was fully justified by the blessed results which followed.
Thus, in a perfectly natural way, without design, woman's position in The Salvation Army was established. To-day, there is no rank or position in its ranks which a woman may not occupy, including even that of General.
As may be supposed, the greater number of women officers marry officers, and therefore, as a rule, merge their activities into their husband's work. This being the case, not so many women occupy leading positions as men. Nevertheless, women are to be found holding the highest rank and occupying leading positions in every phase of Army warfare. As Territorial Commander, Mrs. General Booth was for several years responsible for The Army's work in Great Britain and Ireland; Commander Evangeline Booth for that of the United States; Commissioner Lucy Booth- Hellberg for Norway; Commissioner Adelaide Cox has direction of the Women's Social Work in Great Britain. Commissioner Mildred Duff is editor of The Salvation Army literature for Young People. Commissioner Hannah Ouchterlony pioneered our work in her native land, Sweden, and now in a cloudless eventide looks with joy upon a glorious work, the foundations of which she laid in the face of fierce opposition. Lieut.-Commissioner Clara Case represents The Salvation Army woman missionary, having just retired from active service after twenty-seven years in India, during the greater part of which time she commanded the work in Southern India. Lieut-Colonel Catherine Booth, as International Secretary at Headquarters, is the General's representative for Salvation Army work in European countries.
There are women Divisional Commanders, financiers, training officers, editors, teachers, and social, medical and nursing officers; and, by no means least, a host of efficient and devoted Corps Commanders of which Kate Lee was so worthy a representative.
Upon the woman officer of The Army rests no less responsibility than that carried by a man occupying a similar position, and she is expected to 'deliver the goods' as her male comrade in like circumstances would be required to do. And she does it.
The Salvation Army affords an unrivalled field of usefulness to young women who wish to devote their lives to the service of God. No organization offers a wider, if so wide a door. As one of its songs has it, 'There's a place in The Army for all': for the educated and cultured, whose hearts are free from selfishness and fired with holy passion to seek and save the lost, and equally for the young woman of moderate gifts and elementary education, whose heart is also pure and whose soul is illuminated by Divine love.
The Army is by no means 'a happy hunting ground' for faddists or sentimentalists who think religious service consists in 'sailing round' singing songs, and whispering sweet nothings or shouting declarations. It is an Army out to fight another army; to wrestle; to conquer; to take prisoners, and to establish and govern territories. The Salvation fight demands the best a man and woman can give of heart and mind, of sacrifice and service. But, as one exuberant Salvationist has expressed, 'There's stacks of fun in The Army!' There are excitement, adventure, tragedy, and comedy, joy and sorrow, the like of which is found in few, if any other callings. Men and women who have gone out of its ranks or its commands, weary of the endless sacrifice and strain its service entails, and who are to-day well placed and full of the good things of this life, still sigh at the remembrance of the days of their warfare, and declare that the joy of a Salvation Army officer's life is without compare in spiritual work.
The spirit of comradeship which exists between superior and junior officers is a real and beautiful thing. While Kate Lee as a girl captain was wrestling with the problems of her first corps in the villages of England, the writer of her memoir, then also a girl captain, was leading a village corps in her native Australian mountains. Since Kate cannot tell of the kindness of her Divisional Commanders, I may, for the sake of illustration, be permitted to mention my own experience in this relation, incidentally also showing The Army spirit in operation at the other end of the world from The Army hub.
At that time I was stationed at a mining township eighty miles from a railway. The distances between towns in that part of Australia being so great, my Divisional Commander, Major Jonah Evans, now retired, was able to visit my corps only once during my term of nine months there, but he kept in constant touch with his young officers by correspondence. Next to my mother's weekly letter, I looked forward to one from my Divisional Commander. In my weekly dispatch I gave him a full account of everything that concerned my corps, which he was patient enough to read and to reply to carefully, giving such advice as he thought would help me in my work. Also, occasionally, a letter would arrive from his late sweet wife, who, as Captain Helen Morrell, had seen remarkable revivals amongst the Welsh miners. Passing on to city corps, where conditions were entirely different and responsibilities pressed heavily, Major William Hunter, now in Heaven, was my true friend as well as an able leader. The help and direction which such experienced officers are able to give to young men and women who are full of earnestness and desire to reach and bless the souls of the people, minimize the weight of responsibility sometimes thrown upon young shoulders.
Thirty years ago, when Kate Lee began her career as a field officer, The Army had not reached that place in public esteem which it enjoys to-day. The worst days of rioting and persecution had passed, and right of public speech in the streets had been gained in many countries after a long struggle. But The Army was still regarded as something of a nuisance by the majority of educated people, a good thing for the very worst by a few, with indifference or hostility by the mass. To wear the uniform was to bring upon one contumely, often persecution. Salvation Army officers were sometimes perhaps ill fed and poorly clad; nevertheless, because of the opportunity their position afforded to seek and find the lost, Kate Lee counted herself blessed above millions when she sewed the insignia of a lieutenant upon her collar.