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This month Nel Shallow, from Sheffield, tells us what she learnt from the life of Amy Carmichael – who was a very inspirational woman. She says:
I first discovered Amy Carmichael during a time of illness - I needed to rest up and dwell in quietness as I journeyed a long, sometimes dark, road of healing and recovery. My first experience of Amy Carmichael was through her poetry & letter writing;
‘Fold our souls in silence deep’
Her words, often written from her own sick bed where she spent many years ministering despite infirmity, found a place in my heart and soul; a soothing and healing balm to my dis-ease;
‘Come in the stillness, O Thou heavenly Dew, Come Thou to us – to me – Revive, renew’
Amy Carmichael, born in Ireland and served as a missionary to India in the late 19th and early 20th Century. She ministered particularly to women and young girls, taking a radical stand against temple prostitution, founding the Dohnavur Fellowship, a home and sanctuary for over one thousand children, giving them a ‘hope and a future’.
‘My heart is singing, singing all day long, In quiet joy to Thee who art my song’
Known as Amma, the Tamil for Mother, her incarnational ministry, wearing Indian dress and darkening her skin with coffee, was marked by love and a deep desire to share the good news of Jesus amongst those she felt called to serve;
‘Missionary life is simply a chance to die’
Over the course of my own ministry and service within the church I have found Amy Carmichael to be a
constant companion. Her zeal to share words of salvation have both challenged and discomforted me whilst her gentle poetic verses have led me beside quiet refreshing waters many, many times;
‘Then, like a wind blowing from Paradise, Falleth a healing word upon mine ear’
Amy Carmichael is one of my ‘cloud of witnesses’, a soul sister whose voice echoes over the years with a prodding persistence and a disarming grace. She is a Kingdom mentor from another time who today still guides my own walk with Jesus ‘the Master’ and shapes my contemporary discipleship. One day I will say “Thank you” to her just as I now say thank you to God for her;
‘Upon a life I did not live, Upon a death I did not die, Another's life, another's death, I stake my whole eternity’
We thank Nel for this thoughtful devotion on Amy Carmichael – as I was reading this is raised various questions for me:
Perhaps you might reflect on these questions too.
Claire Rush explores the life of Isabella M S Tod, a nineteenth-century social justice campaigner and a woman of faith.
Do you ever pause and think about the women who walked and fought before us for equality? The women from a different time with its own challenges who refused to be silent, but spoke out against gender injustice? The women who now largely remain forgotten by a male-dominated history? As I stroll through the leafy grounds of my old university, Queen’s University Belfast, I often remember that it was because of the persistence and tenacity of past women like Isabella M S Tod, that I had the privilege and right to gain my degrees regardless of my gender.
Isabella, arguably one of Belfast’s first proto-feminists, was a catalyst for social, legal and educational reform in the late nineteenth-century Ireland. Isabella was secretary of the educational reform group, the Belfast Ladies’ Institute (founded in 1867) which advocated for women to be able to attend university. As a result of the collective pressure and advocacy of Isabella and the Belfast Ladies’ Institute, women were admitted into the lecture halls of a university in Ireland for the first time in 1882.
Being an historian, I naturally love exploring the past as I gleam encouragement from it and get challenged by it. So what can we learn from our late nineteenth-century British sisters like Isabella who walked before us and in her own words, fought to see women freed from the ‘bondage of ignorance’?
1. A woman’s right to equal education is worth fighting for.
Education has and always will be a feminist issue as it is the key to economic independence and unlocks access to social and cultural capital. This is the same today as it was yesterday.
Isabella firmly believed that it was unfair for girls to be denied a university education. Born in 1836, Isabella herself was denied a formal academic education in a school simply because of her gender; she was most likely educated by her mother at home. At that time, society strongly perpetuated the Victorian ideal of womanhood which restricted girls like Isabella to the private domestic sphere. In contrast to her brother who would enter the frantic public world of commerce and politics, a middle-class Victorian girl like Isabella was expected to remain in the home to provide decoration and a noiseless influence. However this was an ideal which was shattered by the changing socio-economic reality.
A new piece of property legislation in 1848 had reduced the wealth of many families and caused a decline in marriage rates – many women were remaining unmarried and had to earn an income now. This included Isabella herself and she acknowledged in an article in 1874: ‘...if it be the duty of men to earn women’s bread for them, they don’t fulfil it.’ The structure of girls’ education had not improved in Belfast by the 1860s when Isabella’s campaigns started to gain momentum. Most middle-class girls received tuition by governesses in ‘showy artificial accomplishments’ like drawing and music, which were to be displayed in the drawing room rather than in ‘solid learning’ like arithmetic and English grammar. Third-level education for women was unheard of! When the Belfast Ladies’ Institute was founded in 1867, the lecture hall doors of the Irish universities remained firmly closed to women for fifteen years.
Unfortunately the global battle for equal education for boys and girls across the world has not yet been won. International charity, Plan, assert that 1 in 5 adolescent girls across the world are denied a formal education because of conflict, discrimination and poverty. We still need to speak out for equal educational access for all girls and boys.
2. The importance of being bold
On many occasions for me, the subtle sexist, misogynist and objectifying nature of contemporary UK culture can seem suffocating. For Isabella, the oppression of her sex was ingrained in late nineteenth-century legislation which was reinforced by a patriarchal culture. During the late nineteenth century, public discourse objected to academic education for girls on the grounds of religious, moral and physiological reasons - academic education was believed to be injurious to the health of the ‘fairer sex’ even causing their teeth to fall out!
Isabella was even attacked for her convictions by some circles of her own Presbyterian church community who believed that women’s religious and moral duties, their most important God-sanctioned obligations, would be threatened if they chased intellectual pursuits. For example, an editorial in the Presbyterian Witness newspaper in 1885 stated:
By all means let the intellectual culture go forward... but let not the higher, the spiritual culture be forgotten or dwarfed... But save us and save society still more from the growth of young girls who had lost the true glory and beauty of womanhood, and had become mere mathematicians, scanners of Greek and patterers of German.’
Isabella, although she was a devout Presbyterian herself, stood up against the patriarchal assumption of her church without losing her own faith. In fact Isabella challenged it head on when she criticised the prevailing religious attitude in a public speech in Dublin:
‘We are told that women don’t need a high education; their hearts are of more consequence than their minds. We are told that even if they should have a high education, it ought to be different from that of men, because their work in life will be different... And we are told that it is very presumptuous for them to wish for any good thing they have not got already.’
Isabella was one of a number of women who subverted traditional gender norms in late Victorian Britain by boldly arguing that women’s minds were just as important as their hearts. Although not a founding member of the Belfast Ladies’ Institute, she joined in 1869 as secretary helping to engineer it from an educational body into an agent of change in the evolution of girls’ education in late nineteenth-century Ireland. She was a motivating force in the publication of pamphlets, articulation of speeches, the creation of memorials, the organisation of conferences and the fostering of links with English female activists on the issue of female education. In the late nineteenth-century, it was a huge step for women like Isabella to publish and speak on platforms as they were planting their feet firmly in the ‘male’ public sphere. Isabella was being bold. Her example demonstrates that a social borderland existed where the frontiers of the separate spheres of gendered social organisation were not fixed and could be manipulated by women aiming for social change.
3. We are better together.
Isabella was not a ‘lone ranger’. She understood the necessity of collective pressure and working together with others from similar organisations. She travelled annually to London during the parliamentary session to develop alliances with other British associations, to engage the support of prominent people and to ‘watch the interests of Irish women.’ The immense influence which Isabella possessed was described by a pupil from a progressive girls’ school in Belfast in 1889 when she wrote in the school magazine: ‘just all of you become Miss Tod’s private secretary and go over to London with her, where her name seems to open all doors.’ Isabella ensured that the Belfast Ladies’ Institute was connected with the network of educational reformers across the British Isles and co-ordinated sending memorials with other groups; thus applying collective pressure.
Isabella’s success at networking and harnessing support from diverse groups of people is clearly seen in 1878. The government had introduced a new piece of legislation to create the first national secondary school examinations run by a state-run board. However in order to placate the powerful traditional lobby of the Catholic Church, girls were to be excluded. Isabella motivated the Belfast Ladies’ Institute into action and organised a memorial and deputation to the Lord Chancellor convinced that secondary education was a right, not a privilege, for girls. If girls had been excluded from state secondary education provision, it would have proved disastrous for the campaign for higher education access. Isabella’s skill as a networker is evident as a Belfast newspaper reported that the successful deputation was of an ‘usually representative character’ as it included men, women, Protestants and Roman Catholics from the north and south of Ireland; this was no mean feat as Ireland was a hot bed of politics at the time.
Today, does the feminist community in the UK work together for the greater good?
4. Never giving up.
Reformers like Isabella who campaigned for women’s access to universities were committed for the long-haul. This was an arduous struggle full of disappointments and the reformers helped to achieve step-by-step incremental change. It was an evolution rather than a revolution. Yet their persistency never died.
What were the steps on the road to success? In 1869, Isabella encouraged the Belfast Ladies’ Institute to successfully petition Queen’s University of Ireland (QUI) to create examinations for women. These certificates were the first solid qualification for women in Ireland and ten years later, 500 young women had been awarded a certificate. The certificates also encouraged girls’ schools to offer academic subjects and indirectly improved teaching standards as schools specified it as a requirement for teachers.
However, these certificates were soon dismissed by others as simply ‘girls’ qualifications. To coincide with the introduction of new university legislation in 1873, Isabella orchestrated a failed memorial to the House of Commons and two petitions to (QUI) urging them ‘to admit ladies to share the best teaching, that of the universities themselves.’ They failed but the fire of persistency in Isabella remained.
The reformers had something to celebrate in 1879. The University Education Act provided the opportunity for women to gain degrees, but it was only an examining body – women could graduate wherever they attended classes (mainly female colleges) but they were still denied the privilege of attending lectures at established universities. The Belfast Ladies’ Institute was the first to instigate action by petitioning Queen’s College Belfast successfully in 1882. In November 1882, it approved the first admission of women to physics, Greek and mathematics degrees. This was a significant achievement – the first university in Ireland to permit women to attend lectures and study for degrees. In contrast, Trinity College Dublin did not let women grace its lecture halls until 1904.
Isabella did not view improvement in female educational rights in isolation. She campaigned for gender equality in a myriad of spheres. She was involved in a number of campaigns including advocating for the Married Women Property Act (protecting women’s right to own property), repealing the Contagious Diseases Act (which legislated that any woman suspected of prostitution could be subject to an intrusive internal examination for venereal diseases – an infringement on civil liberties) and for women’s suffrage (she created the North of Ireland Women’s Suffrage Society).
However, Isabella’s view of reform was limited by her middle-class background. Isabella failed to challenge the class stratification of society and was very much campaigning for improvements which would only affect middle-class girls. For example, lower class girls would never have been able to afford the fees of secondary and third-level education. In this sense, Isabella was very much a product of her time.
Without a doubt, Isabella’s example inspires and challenges me. Isabella was one of a group of localised women, now largely forgotten, who helped to redefine the cultural construction of femininity. Isabella actively challenged the assumption that ‘...women don’t need an education; their hearts are of more consequence than their minds.’ Even though Isabella never attended university herself, she ensured that many others, myself included could. Her legacy lives on in us.
Who are the women in your local region who fought for equal rights and who have now largely been forgotten by history? Share and remember them in the comments box.
Dr Claire Rush is the Esther Generation Project Co-ordinator with The Girls’ Brigade England
& Wales and she is also co-author of Have Women Made a Difference? Women in Irish Universities, 1850 – 2010?
As I was thinking about which woman we should feature this month on the Sophia Network update, I saw this on the Internet and thought it was ideal for us to celebrate the life of Marie Daly. Many of you may never of heard of her, but she was a pioneer of her time, who overcame gender and racial bias to achieve so much. She was instrumental in discovering the relationship between high cholesterol and clogged arteries. Enjoy reading about this remarkable woman.
‘THE FIRST BLACK WOMAN TO EARN A PhD. Marie Maynard Daly, born in Queens, New York to Helen and Ivan Daly, was the first black woman to earn a Ph.D. in Chemistry. Her father, an immigrant from the West Indies, had hoped to earn a degree in Chemistry at Cornell University but was unable to continue because of financial constraints.
Marie Daly’s parents were committed to her education and encouraged her interest in science. She attended Hunter College High School where her teachers persuaded her that she could do well in chemistry. Daly enrolled in Queens College so that she could live at home. She earned her B.Sc. in 1942 with honors. A fellowship and part-time job at Queens College allowed her to work on her master’s degree at New York University, which she completed in 1943. Because of the shortage of male scientists during World War Two, Daly was awarded funding for her Ph.D. program at Columbia University where she studied under a white female chemist, Mary L. Caldwell.
She completed her dissertation in 1947 and earned an apprenticeship with Dr. A.E. Mirsky at the Rockefeller Institute but she was required to find her own funding source. She applied for and won a grant from the American Cancer Society and began working with Dr. Mirsky in 1948. The two worked together for seven years studying how proteins are built inside the body. In 1955, she moved back to Columbia and worked with Dr. Quentin B. Deming researching the chemical mechanics of heart attacks.
In 1960, the two moved to Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University where she taught biochemistry courses and studied the effects of age on the circulatory system. Daly was awarded tenure in 1971. In 1961 Marie Daly married Vincent Clark. At Albert Einstein College, Clark became a champion for diversity, working to increase the representation of minorities in science. She retired in 1986. Dr. Clark (nee Daly) was made a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and was named one of the Top 50 Women in Science, Engineering, and Technology by the National Technical Association in 1999. Marie Maynard Daly Clark died in New York in 2003’.
For more years than I care to remember there has sat on my desk a framed photograph of the 1930’s American missionary to China, Betty Stam. As soon as I notice her picture each day as I sit down to work, a prayer that she wrote as a child immediately comes to mind and my lips begin to form its words: “Lord, I give up all my own plans and purposes, all my own desires and hopes and accept Thy will for my life. I give myself, my life, my all utterly to Thee to be Thine forever. Fill me and seal me with thy Holy Spirit. Use me as Thou wilt, send me where Thou wilt and work out Thy whole will in my life, at any cost, now and forever.”
I never knew Betty Stam.
I have never known anyone else who knew her either.
Her story was one that I simply found on the pages of an old fashioned book as a child.
I was 10 years old when I first heard the ‘Old, Old, Story’ as though it was being spoken directly to me. Convinced that one day I would be a missionary I devoured books of those who had taken this story, ‘of Jesus and his love’, far and wide. Gladys Aylward, Isobel Kuhn, Catherine Booth, Amy Carmichael, Corrie ten Boom. Those who had said ‘Yes’ to God and allowed Him to propel them into some of the darkest situations that our world has known and bring Emmanuel’s light.
But Betty Stam was always my favourite. And the pages of the old worn book that I found her on brought her to life.
Although many years separate us, her story inspires in me three daily thoughts:
When Betty was in her early thirties, she and her husband, John, went with their 3-month-old baby to China with the China Inland Mission. They set up home in the small eastern town of Tsingteh (today known as Jingde, in Anhui Province). The year was 1934 and they had been in Tsingteh for 5 months when they heard rumours that Communist soldiers intended to come to the town in order to stop their Christian witness. The townspeople were concerned for the young couple’s safety and asked them to leave their home immediately and hide from the soldiers. It is reported that Betty addressed their fears with the words; “Don’t be afraid. We trust in God. There is nothing to fear.”
The hours that followed must have tested even the bravest resolve though.
On December 6th 1934 the soldiers took the Stam’s from their home and imprisoned them. That night John wrote a letter to the China Inland Mission:
My wife, baby and myself are today in the hands of the Communists, in the city of Tsingteh. Their demand is twenty thousand dollars for our release.
All our possessions and stores are in their hands, but we praise God for peace in our hearts and a meal tonight. God grant you wisdom in what you do, and us fortitude, courage and peace of heart. He is able and a wonderful friend in such a time.
Things happened so quickly this morning. They were in the city just a few hours after the ever-persistent rumours really became alarming, so that we could not prepare to leave in time. We were just too late.
The Lord bless and guide you, and as for us, may God be glorified whether by life or death.
John C. Stam
At 4 o’ clock on the morning of December 7th, the soldiers led the Stams out of the city of Tsingteh. They then marched them 12 miles over the mountains to a town called Miaosheo. As the soldiers pillaged the town, they left the missionaries under the supervision of the local postmaster.
‘Where are they taking you?’ the postmaster asked, ‘Where are you going?’
‘We don’t know where they are going, ‘ John replied, ‘but we are going to heaven.’
John gave the man the letter that he had written to the China Inland Mission and the man promised that he would make sure that it was delivered.
That night the young family were taken to a deserted home and were placed under guard.
Shortly before 10 o’clock Saturday morning, December 8th, the Communist soldiers having decided that they were going to execute John and Betty, came and ordered them to strip down to their underwear. After tying the missionaries’ hands tightly behind their backs, they marched the couple out into the street. Their baby was left behind, on her own, in the empty house.
The couple were marched down the high street of Miaosheo. At the end of the street, just outside of the town, stood Eagle Hill. There, in order to justify the executions that were about to take place, the soldiers told the townspeople of the evil of the foreigners and their influence. John and Betty Stam were then killed.
In China today, the longest revival in Christian history is taking place. Tertullian certainly had a point when he said that ‘the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church.’ There have been many Christians killed on China’s soil. It seems after the deaths of the Stam’s hundreds of people signed up – in lots of different ways – for the mission field. At one of the many memorial services that were held for them – this one at Moody Bible Institute – 700 students stood to their feet to signify their desire to give their lives to the mission field wherever the Lord might send them.
Today, 79 years after John and Betty’s deaths, their names are still the byword for courage and faith. As one of the biographies written about them concludes:
‘...no-one would dispute John and Betty Stam’s right to be included in the roll call of those whom the writer to the Hebrews describes as “of whom the world was not worthy” (Heb 11:38) ‘
And so the old fashioned, grainy black and white image of Betty Stam stands on my desk and each day as I sit down to work, I pray that my life will tell of my Saviour as boldly and as clearly as hers.
Josephine Butler is little known nowadays, but in Victorian Britain she was a powerful force for social change, particularly for women. She is best known for her campaign against the Contagious Diseases Acts, which allowed for the ill treatment of women who were suspected prostitutes. Josephine fought tirelessly for the equal treatment of men and women, and her personal life also reflected her compassion for destitute women as she took them into her home to care for them. Her achievements were considerable and she played an important role in the journey towards equality for women.
Josephine’s early life
Josephine Elizabeth Grey was born in Northumberland on 13th April 1828, and was one of ten children. The Grey family were well known and prominent in the area. Her father, John Grey, was a supporter of social reform with strong religious and moral principles, and he encouraged his family to engage in the political events of the day. He had a strong influence over Josephine’s Christian faith and keen sense of justice. Josephine and her sisters were treated as intellectual equals to their father and brothers. In 1847 Josephine visited Ireland, at the height of the potato famine, and witnessed painful suffering amongst the poor for the first time.
Josephine married George Butler sin 1852, and they lived initially in Oxford, and then Cheltenham. They had four children: three boys and then a girl, Eva, born in 1859. Sadly Eva died at the age of five after falling from a balcony in the family’s home. This devastated Josephine for many years, and she became deeply depressed, but the event was also a catalyst for her to seek out those who were suffering, who she felt she could identify with. She wrote: ‘I only knew that my heart ached night and day, and that the only solace possible would be to find other hearts which ached night and day, and with more reason than mine. I had no clear idea beyond that, no plan for helping others; my sole wish was to plunge into the heart of some human misery, and to say (as I now knew I could) to afflicted people, “I understand. I, too, have suffered.”’
The beginnings of her ministry
Josephine began visiting women in the workhouse in Liverpool, where the family had now moved so that George could take up the post of headmaster at Liverpool College. The women of the workhouse were regarded as the lowest of the low, with no hope of restitution. To their amusement, Josephine joined with them in their arduous and physically demanding work. This was a dramatic gesture for a woman like Josephine, but she defied convention in order to show kindness and compassion to those who had no other source. This led to a mission among the prostitutes of Liverpool, and after a while Josephine began taking destitute women into the family home to care for them. She then established a refuge for women, where they could earn sixpence a day making clothes. Josephine also began to write about women’s education and work, and had the first of her books published in 1868, The Education and Employment of Women.
The Contagious Diseases Acts
In the late 1860s Josephine began to get involved in political campaigning for the rights of women. The first of the Contagious Diseases Acts was passed in 1864. The aim of the Act was to limit the spread of venereal disease, which was a problem particularly among men in the army and navy. Under the Act, women believed to be prostitutes and found in proximity to an army camp or navy port, could be arrested, forced to undergo an internal examination, and then detained if they were found to have a disease. In 1869 a third Act was passed, extending the legislation to cover 18 towns and to allow detention of infected women for up to nine months.
Josephine was appalled by the Act. She believed that it was a gross inequality, which allowed men to act with impunity whilst criminalising women, Women were arrested by plain clothes policemen, and were treated with no respect. The police frequently arrested those who were not prostitutes: the Act made no specific distinction but simply applied to any women suspected of prostitution. Arrested women had to sign a Voluntary Submission Form to allow the physical examination to take place, and if they did not, they faced imprisonment. Many poor women were illiterate and it was not explained to them what they were signing. They would then be subjected to a violent and degrading physical examination, carried out by a man, and often resulting in health problems. Many preferred to refuse the examination in favour of several months in prison.
Josephine became the leader of the Ladies’ National Association for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Act in 1869, and with a number of other women, a campaign was launched. Josephine was not a confident public speaker, and it was not usual at the time for women to be in the public eye, but her anger and sense of injustice over the treatment of these women drove her to action. Meetings were held, petitions signed and letters written. A number of men were in support of the campaign as well. After much debate and discussion, along with changes of government, in April 1883 a majority in the House of Commons backed the motion that ‘This House disapproves of the compulsory examination of women under the Contagious Diseases Act’. Josephine watched the debate and the final vote from the Ladies’ Gallery. The laws were finally repealed in 1886, and similar laws were also repealed in other countries in Europe where Josephine had visited and had some influence.
In 1885, Josephine turned her attention towards the issue of child prostitution. A trip to Europe in 1884-85 had highlighted to her the problem of child abduction and forced prostitution in continental brothels. The low age of consent in England – just 13 years of age – accounted for the demand for English girls. There was an organised trade in child prostitutes, and Josephine assisted in the campaign to prove this as well as to get the age of consent raised from 13 to 16.
Josephine’s work was affected considerably by health problems. She suffered periods of depression as well as a number of physical health problems, but often concealed these from her family in order to continue with her travelling and campaigning. Her husband George had a high regard for Josephine and respected her opinion. He was extremely supportive of her and used his own networks and contacts to further her campaigns. He also suffered with health problems, and died in March 1890, when Josephine was 62 years old. She died in December 1906, aged 78. A college was later founded in her memory in Liverpool, providing training to social workers. The college closed in 1972 and the funds invested to form the Josephine Butler Memorial Trust, which seeks to award grants to projects in accordance with Josephine’s aims and ideals.
Josephine Butler’s determination to change the treatment of women grew from her compassion for the poor and suffering, and this was perhaps prompted by her own experience of grief. The message she has passed on to the generations that followed is that it is possible to achieve change and that injustice should be addressed and fought. She had a strong faith in God and a sense of mission, which kept her focused on her campaigns. She took action despite the limitations of the social norms of the time. It is impossible to say how many lives were affected by her work but certainly hundreds of Victorian women were directly impacted by her actions.
It is remarkable to reflect on the fact that forced prostitution and trafficking are still huge issues, over a
century later. Women are still working as prostitutes – not all out of choice - and suffer enormous abuses as a result. Women and girls are still trafficked around the UK and abroad, and forced into labour or sex work. Whilst there has been huge progress politically, and women have long been able to vote and become MPs, there are still inequalities in the numbers of women involved in politics, business and public life. If we were to take a leaf from Josephine’s book, how would we respond to these issues? What actions can we take to begin to address some of these inequalities?
Josephine Butler by Jane Jordan (John Murray, 2001).
The Josephine Butler Memorial Trust: www.josephinebutler.org.uk
‘A heroine for our age’, Julie Bindel in the Guardian, 21st September 2006. http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2006/sep/21/art1
Further resources/information on prostitution and trafficking:
Stop the Traffik: www.stopthetraffik.org
Hope for Justice: www.hopeforjustice.org.uk
Beyond the Streets: www.beyondthestreets.org.uk
By Stephanie Smith.
Married to William Booth, the founder of The Salvation Army, Catherine Booth was a woman who inspired the hearts of so many young girls to take courage, be bold in speaking out and not to be afraid of having their thoughts heard. She challenged the ‘norm’ and became a figurehead for women to look up to as a role model and mentor.
Born in 1829, Catherine grew up in a devoutly religious and sheltered world in a small Victorian town with her parents. By the age of twelve Catherine had read her Bible 8 times. A devout Christian, Catherine was keen and eager to learn more and more about her God and who he was. Her solid knowledge of the Bible would play a key role in ministering into people’s lives much later in her life when she was preaching to large audiences.
It is apparent, when looking at Catherine’s life, that she did not let much come between her and God. When she was young she became seriously ill and was forced to stay in bed for a long time as a result of Spinal Curvature. For most people this may have led them to doubt the power and love of God, but for Catherine, she spent her time in bed writing articles to magazines, expressing her concern for those with alcohol problems; something she felt was a big concern and should not be ignored. Her concerns for others did not go away and when she was older she played an active role in helping those in poverty or suffering from an injustice in society.
One of the biggest things of note about Catherine Booth was her courage to speak out about the inequalities between men and women. When she met William Booth in 1852, he was strongly against women preachers, but even after they were married, Catherine did not let her husband’s opinions discourage her. She knew what God had called her to do and the gifts she had been given and was not ashamed of them. Catherine acknowledged that ‘The Fall’ in Genesis had put women into subjection, as a consequence of sin, but she argued that to leave them there would be to reject the gospel, which proclaims that the grace of Christ had restored what sin had taken away. She argued that men and women are all one in Christ. Even though it was unheard of for women to speak publicly, Catherine stood up in front of a crowd at Gateshead Bethesda Chapel after being suddenly prompted to speak. When debating about women preachers Catherine was quoted as saying, “If the Word of God forbids female ministry, we would ask how it happens that so many of the most devoted handmaidens of the Lord have felt constrained by the Holy Ghost to exercise it? The word and the spirit cannot contradict each other!”
For so many women alive at this time, Catherine would have been a role model and encourager, as so many would have felt it not right to use their gifting and felt the pressures of society. Catherine was able to give so many of these girls and women the freedom to feel they could speak out and use their gifts as God intended. After hearing her speak and understanding the gifting God had given his wife, William Booth changed his mind and understood Catherine’s right and yearning to speak. Many others also joined William and as they listened to her message realising the power of God working through her.
It is evident that Catherine felt strongly about women preachers, but she was also willing to submit to her husband, William Booth. She knew, going into her marriage that preaching would take up a lot of their time and even on their honeymoon it has been said that William spent some time preaching. She was a woman of great integrity and understood what it meant to ‘practice what you preach’! When the couple began The Salvation Army, originally named the Christian Mission, Catherine took on a lead role in helping at the forefront of the mission. Catherine and William both agreed that they wanted men and women to have equal rights within the Salvation Army, something that was uncommon and a rare sight for many people. The churches soon realised that the Salvation Army were doing something right though, with 17,000 people worshiping with them on one weeknight compared to the 11,000 in ordinary churches.
Although it was common for people speaking in the open air to be imprisoned, Catherine and her fellow speakers carried on, leading revival services and wanting to see an end to poverty and injustice. Catherine understood the importance of meeting people where they were and often went to people’s homes, especially the homes of alcoholics, who she had felt a calling to help since she was a little girl. Her yearning to help the oppressed led Catherine to set up Food-for-the-Million shops, where the poor could buy hot soup and a 3-course meal for very little money. This went on throughout the year and one year Catherine served over 300 people on Christmas day. The act of service is clear throughout Catherine’s life, with her continuing to serve people in need when she may have wanted to be at home with her family. Catherine raised 8 children in total and longed to provide a loving, caring environment for her children to grow up in. Alongside this she still preached and served the poor.
Whilst working with the poor Catherine discovered what was known as ‘Sweated labour’, where women and children were working in awful conditions for long hours with very little pay, and immediately felt compassion towards them. Her compassion drove her to action and, along with her fellow Salvation Army members, tried to shame the employers into giving the workers better pay and working conditions. It was not long before Catherine also found out that some of the workers were risking their health as they were producing matches with harmful chemicals. This drove her to campaign against this situation, but Catherine sadly died of cancer during the campaign in 1890. William Booth understood the importance of the campaign and carried it forward until justice was served.
Throughout her life Catherine Booth gave herself to other people, constantly willing to help and care for others. She understood the importance and significance of praying and listening to God and sought wisdom and guidance from spending time with him. She had a heart for the poor and oppressed and did anything in her power to fight against poverty and injustice. She empowered and inspired other women by being the woman God wanted her to be and not what the World wanted her to be.
It is encouraging and inspiring to read and research this incredible woman. Her persistence has encouraged me, as I am sure so many have been encouraged before. The courage she showed through many of life’s tough situations and believing in herself and God when others doubted her beliefs is truly remarkable. It is ironic how Catherine fought for so long against the inequalities of her world when we today are ourselves dealing with the same battles and trials against the same injustices. I think we can all learn from Catherine Booth, her determination and fortitude meant so many others were able to live the life God intended. She is known to have said‘If we are to better the future we must disturb the present.’ Are we prepared to follow in her footsteps and stand up for the injustices in our world?