Its original name was the Christian Mission. To increase effectiveness, William Booth designed uniforms and imposed a military style of leadership. It has long been recognized for its extremely low overhead in delivering services to the poor.
The Salvation Army has an active presence in 113 countries and territories worldwide, the most notable exceptions being Islamic states. Its tightly-organized hierarchy has its headquarters in London, England, and is currently led by General Linda Bond. Among The Salvation Army's 19 international leaders since William Booth have been three women (Evangeline Booth, 1934-1939, born in the United Kingdom and a naturalized US citizen, and Eva Burrows, 1986-1993, Australian). General Linda Bond (Canadian) took office in 2011. One American, Paul A. Rader, has served as international leader (1994-1999).
Among The Salvation Army's denominational distinctives are its elevation of women to equal leadership positions as men, considered radical when the organization was founded in the late 19th century. Mrs. General Catherine Booth is credited as a co-founder of the organization, having been a powerful evangelist and gifted writer. Her book, "Female Ministry," was one of the earliest Biblical defenses of a woman's right to preach.
While best known for its social services and disaster work, The Salvation Army is a religious denomination with Sunday worship in roughly 50,000 locations worldwide. Denominational membership is about 1,500,000. The organization's theological heritage is Wesleyan-Arminian (William Booth was a Methodist), and The Salvation Army considers itself part of the Holiness Movement.
Clergy are given military ranks (Lieutenant, Captain, Major) based on their years of service. Individuals with regional or national leadership may hold ranks of Lt-Colonel, Colonel, or Commissioner. Only one person at a time holds the rank of General, the international leader. Church members are known as soldiers; those with local lay leadership positions may be given "enlisted" ranks such as Sergeant-Major.
For a century now, the Salvation Army has offered food to the hungry and shelter to the homeless-in clinics and children's homes, through disaster relief, in prison and welfare work, and a thousand other endeavors. In that century you have proved time and again the power of a handshake, a meal, and a song. But you have not stopped there. You have demonstrated also the power of a great idea. ... The voice of the Salvation Army has reminded men that physical well-being is just not enough; that spiritual rebirth is the most pressing need of our time and of every time; that the world cannot be changed unless men change. That voice has been clear and courageous-and it has been heard. Even when other armies have disbanded, I hope that this one will still be on the firing line.
In his last public speech, "General" William Booth said:
While women weep, as they do now, I'll fight; while little children go hungry, as they do now, I'll fight; while men go to prison, in and out, in and out, I'll fight; while there is a drunkard left, while there is a poor girl lost upon the streets, while there remains one dark soul without the light of God, I'll fight to the very end!
It is best known, however, for its social work, and its annual Christmas fundraising via "red kettles". The kettles, however, have been banned from many retailers due to the Army's generally conservative religious views.
- Smith, J. Evan (1949), Booth the Beloved, Geoffrey Cumberledge, Melbourne, as cited in What Price the Poor?: William Booth, Karl Marx and the London Residuum," Anne M. Woodall, 2005
- Traditionally the campaign starts during the halftime show of the Thanksgiving football game of the Dallas Cowboys.