Clothed and in Their Right Minds: A Study of the Salvation Army's Developing Social Work, 1865-1890
Dr. Marc Baer
In 1865, William and Catherine Booth, both of whom came from poor, working class families, founded the East London Christian Mission, a revivalist organization meant to convert the destitute population of London's East End. The Mission became the Salvation Army in 1878, and then underwent a distinctive change around 1890. What began as an evangelistic movement became a largely social work organization, the latter defining the Army’s reputation to this day. Understanding The Salvation Army's changing conception of what the poorest Victorians most needed can give a clearer picture of the organization's transition.
In its early days, the Christian Mission viewed ignorance of the gospel as society's greatest problem, and implied that if the unsaved only knew the good news, they would seek God and better material conditions would inevitably result. By 1890, however, the Salvation Army mostly conceptualized those it was trying to save in terms of their inability to find work, and when the diagnosis changed, the Army followed a different course of action to remedy the problem. Interestingly, the Salvation Army was doing its religious and social work among the poorest of the poor at the same time that the British state was beginning to reconsider its role in the well-being of its citizens. As a prominent voice in the social welfare debate heating up in late Victorian Britain at this time, the Army is worthy of study in its own right, as well as having significance for questions of welfare that are still debated today.
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