Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Catherine Booth

I am the mother of a sixteen year old daughter and an eighteen year old son. I remembered recently that when I was 16 one of my older sisters gave me a biography of Catherine Booth, who with her husband William, started the Salvation Army. It had a strong influence on my beliefs about the role of women. I cannot find my copy of this book and am looking for where to buy another. In the meantime I thought I would post a few links and quotes about Catherine Booth.

From Spartacus.schoolnet,

"It was not until 1860 that Catherine Booth first started to preach. One day in Gateshead Bethseda Chapel, a strange compulsion seized her and she felt she must rise and speak. Later she recalled how an inner voice taunted her: "You will look like a fool and have nothing to say". Catherine decided that this was the Devil's voice: "That's just the point," she retorted, "I have never yet been willing to be a fool for Christ. Now I will be one."

Catherine's sermon was so impressive that William changed his mind about women's preachers. Catherine Booth soon developed a reputation as an outstanding speaker but many Christians were outraged by the idea. As Catherine pointed out at that time it was believed that a woman's place was in the home and "any respectable woman who raised her voice in public risked grave censure."

In 1864 the couple began in London's East End the Christian Mission which later developed into the Salvation Army. Catherine Booth took a leading role in these revival services and could often be seen preaching in the dockland parishes of Rotherhithe and Bermondsey. Though often imprisoned for preaching in the open air, members of the Salvation Army fought on, waging war on poverty and injustice....

It was while working with the poor in London that Catherine found out about what was known as "sweated labour". That is, women and children working long hours for low wages in very poor conditions. In the tenements of London, Catherine discovered red-eyed women hemming and stitching for eleven hours a day. These women were only paid 9d. a day, whereas men doing the same work in a factory were receiving over 3s. 6d. Catherine and fellow members of the Salvation Army attempted to shame employers into paying better wages. They also attempted to improve the working conditions of these women.

Catherine was particularly concerned about women making matches. Not only were these women only earning 1s. 4d. for a sixteen hour day, they were also risking their health when they dipped their match-heads in the yellow phosphorus supplied by manufacturers such as Bryant & May. A large number of these women suffered from 'Phossy Jaw' (necrosis of the bone) caused by the toxic fumes of the yellow phosphorus. The whole side of the face turned green and then black, discharging foul-smelling pus and finally death."

A biography of Catherine Booth is online here although this is not the same book that I was given so many years ago.

Here is a copy of her own book FEMALE MINISTRY; OR, Woman's Right to Preach the Gospel.


Peter Kirk said...

I am glad to hear that by 1860 Britain had already moved on from Samuel Johnson's comment a century earlier: "Sir, a woman's preaching is like a dog's walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all." But it is sad that some other countries, and I don't just mean Middle Eastern ones, do not seem to have moved on.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

Some countries and some churches too, are going around in circles on this. IMHO