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Meanwhile, 125 years earlier. . .

02 May 2014

As part of her Open University research into the Salvation Army, Geraldine Kew uncovered the stories of some women pioneers


IT TOOK the Reformation in England to break the male stranglehold on ministry. Sects that separated from the Church of England claimed "the priesthoodof all believers," and worshipped together without a priestly intermediary, and with the Bible as their supreme authority.

Growing numbers of women preachers emerged, flourishing particularly among the Quakers and Methodists; but while women could preach the gospel, they were generally excluded from the Church's government.

But this was to change in the second half of the 19th century. On 15 November 1870, a group of evangelists - six of them women - met in a room off Whitechapel Road, east London, under the chairmanship of the former Methodist minister William Booth.

The occasion marked the first annual conference of the East London Christian Mission, an Evangelical endeavour that had had its beginnings in a tent mission on the nearby Mile End Waste in 1865, which was to become the Salvation Army. It had already outgrown its east-London boundaries with the opening of a station at Croydon, Surrey.

The purpose of the meeting was to form the new mission's first constitution. This included "Section XII - Female Preachers". It read: "Godly women possessing the necessary gift and qualifications shall be employed as preachers . . . and they shall be eligible for any office, and to speak and vote at all official meetings."

This statement opened the door to a new generation of female Christian leaders, many years before women were given positions of senior responsibility elsewhere in the Church. Among the first of these were Pamela Shepherd, Mildred Duff, and Martha Chippendale.

Dr Geraldine Kew, was inspired by her grandmother Hannah Slater Reardon, one of the early Salvation Army women officers.



AT NINE years old, in 1845, Pamela Shepherd and her family left their native Talywain, in Monmouthshire, to go to London, where her father, Benjamin Morgan, worked as a blacksmith.

Welsh continued to be spoken in the home, particularly under the influence of her mother, Margaret, a deeply religious woman who had to shoulder the burden of supporting the family. Benjamin Morgan's alcoholism claimed the lion's share of his good wages as a skilled craftsman, and it was left to his wife to support her children by taking in washing.

Pamela's formative years were influenced as much by her mother's deep religious faith asby the ravages caused by her father's drunkenness.

She married young, in 1860, but suffered years of poverty and degradation, abandoned by her husband and cut off from her parents, who had returned to Wales. She, too, descended into drunkenness and depression.

One evening, in the winter of 1864, she sewed two heavy flat irons into the corners of her apron. Taking her two-year-old daughter Kate, and her baby, Pamela, she walked along Roman Road, in Bow, towards the canal, resolved to end her own life and that of her children.

They were saved that night when Mrs Evans, an old friend of her mother, caught sight of her and opened the window of her home, "Pamela! Pamela Shepherd! Whatever are you doing down here?"

Filled with remorse, she later that night woke her sleeping children, urging them to pray to God to help her be a "true mother, instead of training them for the devil".

In 1867, she was converted at the Christian Mission hall in Poplar, east London - an experience followed a few weeks later by "a baptism of fire, while alone in a Stepney basement cellar where she was employed as a rag sorter". She was later employed for two years as hall-keeper and cook with the Booths at the Christian Mission headquarters in Whitechapel.

It was while she was there, nine years after her penitence in Poplar, that she received an unexpected summons to new evangelistic service in the Salvation Army. She was 42 years old, and the mother of four daughters.

When George Railton, an early Salvationist leader, told Pamela in September 1878 that William Booth wanted her to open the Salvation Army's work in Aberdare, South Wales, her immediate reply was "But I can't preach."

He reassured her. "Just tell people what the Lord has done for you. He's cured you. Tell people about that."

Standing alone in the marketplace of Aberdare, with her three oldest children around her, she began to speak in English to the Saturday-evening crowds. A confession of her own deliverance added power to the gospel of salvation which she was preaching, clothing its message with an immediate relevance that made sense to her listeners.

She subsequently worked for 11 years in London, in the work of the Drunkards' Rescue Society. She also befriended prostitutes, personally offering them shelter and protection. Her practical compassion stemmed from a unique rapport established during her darkest years.



MILDRED DUFF's birthright was one of social privilege, leavened by high religious and moral principles. She was born in 1860 to Colonel James Duff and the Hon. Mary Petre, into the lifestyle of the Norfolk landed gentry.

Mildred and her sister Lilian were initiated early into the extensive welfare work that their mother undertook for the tenants and villagers of Westwick Park, no doubt absorbing her strong views on "the influence of good women in society".

At the age of 14, Mildred heard C. M. Spurgeon preach in the Metropolitan Tabernacle, in London. She wrote in her diary: "I expect to be a missionary when I grow up, and hope to go to China."

Despite drawing-room gossip at Westwick Place about the "vulgar, noisy, and irreverent" Salvation Army, Mildred heard one of Catherine Booth's West End lectures, and noted: "Her voice, soft but penetrating, dealt faithfully, terrifyingly, with social sins and easy piety."

In her early twenties, she attended all-day Salvation Army meetings in Exeter Hall, London, and evening holiness meetings at Clapton Congress. These were "balanced" by undertaking deaconess training with her sister at the Mildmay Mission.

She was commissioned as a Salvation Army officer before the Army's first International Congress in London in 1886, attended by delegates from the 19 countries and colonies in which the Army's flag had been unfurled.

At the head of the Swedish contingent was Major Hanna Ouchterlony, who, since 1882, had pioneered the Salvation Army in her native country. Mildred, who was an accomplished liguist, acted as translator on Major Ouchterlony's subsequent ten-day campaign, afterwards accompanying her back to Sweden.

Besides her main appointment as "Training Home Mother", Mildred became the Swedish correspondent for The War Cry.

Her recall to London in 1888, to take charge of the women officers' training - after Emma Booth's marriage and departure for India -placed her at the very heart of the Army's hopes for its future mission.

With the abruptness characteristic of military orders, she was removed, after five years, from her sphere of influence at the Training College, and placed at the head of the Slum Division.

In 1894, she embarked on what would be her final commission as a Salvation Army officer, when she was appointed editor of the monthly Salvation Army international magazine All the World.



KNOWN as "Mart the Mill Girl", born in Yeadon, near Leeds, in 1872, Martha Chippendale followed in the traditional mill-town pattern of becoming a "half-timer" at the age of ten - working from 5.30 a.m. to 6 p.m. three days a week, earning half-a-crown as a "piecer", joining broken wool and resettling the bobbins.

Her father forbade her to attend nightly Salvation Army meetings at the town hall: "I'll hammer you every time you go," he threatened. In defiance, she continued to attend, often returning home to blows and beatings.

But this did not prevent her conversion when - kneeling at the penitent form between two drunken men in 1887 - she found herself repeating the Lord's Prayer, the only prayer she knew.

Her father was killed by a stroke in the late 1880s, after which Martha - as eldest daughter - felt it her duty to support her mother, even though this meant postponing her now firm resolution to train as a Salvation Army officer.

Her eventual commission led her to Nuneaton in the mid-1880s. There she suffered persecution, poverty, and a lack of discernible response from those she thought to serve, which led to a crisis of faith.

Having confronted and overcome this, Martha continued the work in which she felt both equipped and fulfilled. With a natural empathy with men and women alike, skills in pastoral counselling, and natural authority in public meetings, she had every reason to believe that the life of a field officer was to be her sphere of Salvation Army ministry.

But her appointment, in 1901, to assist Adjutant Mary Murray in command of the Naval and Military League - a section of the Salvation Army which had been launched by William Booth five years earlier, to support and energise Salvationists in the Armed Forces - put an end to those expectations, and charted the course of her ministry for the rest of her life.

She learned on the job how to administer the work of the league, providing a solid foundation of experience by the time of the outbreak of war, in 1914.

During the war, Martha succeeded in providing support for the predominantly very young fighting men who passed into her sphere of care and influence. She would be at the quayside to meet ships returning from foreign waters "the moment the gangway was lowered on board, gripping hands in glad welcome", her biographer wrote. "She mothered the souls of thousands. . . reward for her faithful care of the lads who were not of her own."

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