Catherine Booth was a preacher, leader, and social reformer in nineteenth-century England. Born Catherine Mumford in Ashbourne, Derbyshire in 1829, she married William Booth, a Methodist preacher, in 1855. Catherine was convinced that a woman could preach in church, and began to exercise her own gifts. She was soon recognised as a powerful and effective preacher whose ministry led many to faith in Jesus Christ. She filled the pulpit of their church in William’s stead for a time when he was ill.
The Booths left their local church ministry to become travelling evangelists, and were both in demand and noticeably successful. They moved to the East End of London to start mission work amongst the poorest people in the land in 1865 – they moved to London after Catherine was invited to lead the preaching at an evangelistic campaign. Catherine’s preaching was instrumental not just in the mission but in gaining financial support for it from wealthy Christians. Catherine and William realised that they needed to do church very differently to appeal to the people of the East End; together they designed something new, an organisation which looked after people’s physical needs as well as their spiritual needs, and which used symbols and music which would appeal to the people there. So the Salvation Army began.
From the beginning, no doubt because of Catherine’s influence, the Army regarded its female officers (ministers) as equal in every way to its male officers. Female preaching was and is normal in Salvationist congregations.
Catherine had been concerned about social evils before she ever met William, and being in the middle of the problems of the city only intensified her concern. She led campaigns for better wages for workers, and for safer working practices, particularly in the match-making industry. She was a powerful preacher, an effective evangelist, and a successful social reformer.
Catherine’s first published writing was a pamphlet defending a woman’s right to preach if called and gifted on Biblical grounds. The full text is here. She continued to write books through her life, focusing often on the every Christian’s duty to pursue holiness and to be committed to evangelism. (One of her books was called Aggressive Christianity (1880), which gives the flavour of her general message!)
Catherine’s influence was widely recognised after her death. Tens of thousands lined the streets for her funeral; there is a statue in her memory in a park in South London (photo here).
Some academic background on Catherine Booth can be found here.