The Salvation Army was founded by William Booth. His goal was to create an international religious and charitable organization, dedicated to the propagation of the Christian faith and to the furnishing of various forms of assistance to persons in need of spiritual solace and material aid. William Booth was an English Methodist minister. It was originally founded as the Christian Mission, with the aim of carrying on evangelical and social-welfare work among the inhabitants of the slum areas of London.
Thieves, prostitutes, gamblers, and drunkards were among Booth’s first converts to Christianity. His congregations were desperately poor. He preached hope and salvation. His aim was to lead them to Christ and link them to a church for continued spiritual guidance. Even though Booth’s followers were converted, churches did not accept them because of what they had been. However, Booth gave their lives direction in both a spiritual and practical manner and put them to work to save others who were like themselves.
They, too, preached and sang in the streets as a living testimony to the power of God. Members of the army, equipped with uniforms and flags, drums and cornets, were greeted with riotous demonstrations on their first appearances in the streets and were frequently arrested for disturbing the peace. The work progressed, however, and branches of the army were established in all parts of the world, with international headquarters in London. The mission rapidly expanded its activities. In 1878 it was reorganized along its present quasi-military lines and was renamed the Salvation Army.
Booth was accorded the title of general, and the officers and members of the organization were given military ranks and titles in accordance with their duties. The organization was later organized into territories, each of which had jurisdiction over a specified country or other major geographical area. The international character of the Salvation Army dates from 1880, when a group of its members went to the United States and established an American branch in New York City. The movement subsequently spread to all parts of the world.
The Salvation Army was particularly active during World War I, and World War II, rendering a wide variety of services to Allied soldiers. In World War II its American branch operated more than 3000 War Service Units, including 1000 mobile canteens, on 26 battlefronts. In the postwar period the Salvation Army promulgated a program called Marching Forward, the main objectives of which included the promotion of evangelism, the prevention of juvenile delinquency, aid to veterans and their families, extensions of services in police courts and prisons, and programs to end human suffering in countries devastated by war.
As of 1993 the Salvation Army operated in 99 countries, using more than 125 languages and dialects to preach the gospel. World membership of the group totals more than 3 million people, of whom about 25,000 are officers, graduates of some 30 schools maintained by the Salvation Army in many parts of the world. The facilities operated by organization members throughout the world include schools, maternity homes, children’s homes, and hotels, which give free lodging and serve free meals.
The institutions operated by members in the United States include adult rehabilitation centers that enroll homeless people in a program of work and rehabilitation, children’s camps, general hospitals, maternity homes and hospitals, children’s homes and foster-care centers, residences for senior citizens and young working women, senior citizen centers, and centers for alcoholics. Salvation Army members preach on sidewalks and other outdoor areas, holding thousands of street meetings, or open air meetings, annually in the United States.
The doctrines of the group, based on the teachings of the Bible, are considered fundamentally Christian. Social services are offered without discrimination as to race or creed. The activities of the Salvation Army are financed by voluntary contributions. Its official publication is The War Cry. The International headquarters is in London. The U. S. headquarters is in Alexandria, Virginia.