William Booth’s In Darkest England and the Way Out (1890) “aroused more public interest than any other book since Henry George’s Progress and Poverty,” according to social historian Victor Bailey. Booth set out to end unemployment in Britain by moving the unemployed from city workshops to farm colonies, and then to overseas colonies. His scheme provides the foundation for Salvation Army social services today.

Change of Mind

Before the mid 1880s, Booth had little interest in social reform. He was an evangelist who saw soul-salvation as the only hope for society’s redemption. Social services only diverted from revivalist endeavors. For example, Booth had quarreled with social programs proposed by Andrew Mearns’s Bitter Cry of Outcast London. Booth argued that only soul-salvation will “clothe the naked” and “change their miserable hearts and make them happy.”

Early Salvationists had, of course, begun urban home mission practices of temporary, hand-out charity. But the Darkest England scheme attempted to change the very nature of the urban environment. Why did Booth change his mind?

Influence of “Social” Salvationists

First, certain Salvationists interested in social reform pushed him in new directions. Social reform was in the air when Salvationist slum sisters living in London established refuges for unfortunate women in Soho and Picadilly areas. When the Salvationists discovered that slum dwellers, mostly Irish and southern and eastern European immigrants, opposed their Wesleyan/holiness salvation message as foreign to their culture, they opened homes for “fallen women” and orphaned “waifs and strays,” hunted down drunkards, and met released prisoners in “Red Mariahs” at prison gates. The example of these women led the Booths ...

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