This Day in History
On this day in history, March 10, 1880, Salvation Army founder General William Booth sent the first official group to pioneer the Army’s work in the United States. Booth founded the organization in London, England in 1865 with a mission to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to the poor, the homeless, the hungry, and the destitute.
Salvation Army Lieutenant Eliza Shirley was actually already in the United States in 1879 after leaving England to join her parents, who had migrated to America earlier in search for work. Shirley held the first meeting of The Salvation Army in America, in Philadelphia. The Salvationists were received enthusiastically. Shirley wrote to General Booth, begging for reinforcements, but none were available at first. Glowing reports of the work in Philadelphia, however, eventually convinced Booth, in 1880, to send an official group to establish the work in America.
On March 10, 1880, Salvation Army Commissioner George Scott Railton and seven women survived the long journey from England and arrived in Battery Park in New York City. They knelt on the dockside to give thanks for their safe arrival.
At their first official street meeting, these pioneers were met with unfriendly actions, as had happened in Great Britain. They were ridiculed, arrested, and attacked. Several officers and soldiers even gave their lives. Three years later, Railton and other Salvationists had expanded their operation into California, Connecticut, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. President Grover Cleveland received a delegation of Salvation Army officers in 1886 and gave the organization a warm personal endorsement. This was the first recognition from the White House and would be followed by similar receptions from succeeding presidents.
The Salvation Army movement expanded rapidly to Canada, Australia, France, Switzerland, India, South Africa, Iceland, and local neighborhood units. Today, The Salvation Army is active in virtually every corner of the world, providing a variety of social services in 119 countries.