The “new” Salvation Army Lassies. [Click on image to enlarge it.]

The Salvation Army in the late Victorian period was unique for the employment of women in its ranks and among its highest officers. Although William Booth introduced autocratic leadership in the Salvation Army, he did not object to women playing active roles in evangelical and social work. For the first time in Victorian England men and women were engaged in religious and social work on almost an equal footing. In 1878, nearly half of the Salvationist officers were women. The Hallelujah lasses, described as Booth's 'shock troops', became indispensable assets to the Salvation Army.

Gender Equality

The Army's first manual, entitled Orders and Regulations for The Salvation Army, contains an important proclamation regarding gender equality: “[T]he Army refuses to make any difference between men and women as to rank, authority and duties, but opens the highest positions to women as well as to men.” (Eason 47)

In the early 1880s, the Army recruited a growing number of young female officers, known as Hallelujah lasses, who preached in the streets and provided social work to the poor. Although women's activism did not go well with many Victorians, the naturalness and commitment of the Hallelujah lasses, combined with unconventional methods of attracting the attention of the public, won them popularity. The Hallelujah lasses contested the traditional women's roles and contributed to changes in gender relations in late Victorian England.

The Salvation Army disrupted and refashioned gender relations in many facets of its work. The Hallelujah Lasses, as Salvationist women were known, embraced the opportunity the Army provided to challenge and resist the conventions of femininity and enhance women's spiritual authority. Their claiming the “right to preach” disrupted a powerful source of masculine privilege and authority. The Hallelujah Lasses preached, gave communion, and handled all the spiritual and practical demands of a corps. Virtually no other secular or religious organization in this period offered working-class women such extensive authority. [Walker 2]

Female Ministry

As Pamela J. Walker has written, “Catherine Booth was the decisive intellectual and practical influence on the unique status Salvationist women enjoyed. ” (8) Thanks to her strong conviction about the absolute equality of men and women before God, she objected to her husband calling women the 'weaker sex', and persuaded him to recruit and allow them to preach alongside with men. Hallelujah lasses were generally single, devout lower middle- or working-class women between the age of twenty and thirty, who visited slum areas, where no respectable woman was expected to be seen. They carried the Salvationist message marching through the streets with tambourines, sang religious songs, and often reached the vilest areas of London's East End, where prevailed gambling, prostitution, deprivation, and hunger. The Hallelujah lasses did not have a proper training of social workers, but thanks to their commitment and devotion they dared to enter a gutter or brothel from which they could rescue persons who wanted help.

Hallelujah lasses attracted the attention of the public by their spectacular conduct and characteristic attire. They wore black woolen capes over plain black dresses and Quaker-like bonnets. Sometimes they were accompanied by ragtag people singing, banging tambourines and carrying posters: “Hell or Heaven, Which do you choose?&rdquo.; They conducted religious services and maintained refuges for destitute women and children from urban slums. At the Wesleyan Conference in 1880, William Booth affirmed that “female ministry was one of the key reasons for the Salvation Army's progress. ” (Eason 47)

Happy Eliza

Early in 1879, William Booth sent his Hallelujah lasses to Gateshead and Newcastle with an evangelistic mission. The women hired theatres and music halls in both towns where they conducted their service for the poorest members of the working classes. The meetings were packed with people, and although there were some disruptions, large numbers claimed that they had been returned to Lord by the lasses.

Eliza Haynes, known as Happy Eliza, was an easy-going Hallelujah lass, who had earlier been employed in a Nottingham mill. As a Hallelujah lass she gained many converts by unconventional street proselytising. When the Salvation Army advertisements failed to attract the attention of the public, she paraded through the streets of Nottingham and London with unbraided hair and in a nightgown with a placard on her back which read “I am Happy Eliza.” She also sang religious songs to a popular tune:

Shout aloud Salvation, boys! We’ll have another song! Sing it with a spirit that will move the world along, Sing it as our fathers sang it many a million strong, As they went marching to glory! (Booth-Tucker 169)

Happy Eliza skilfully manipulated the double image of woman as sinner and saint. She provoked “rough men” by exposing her sensuality, but simultaneously she acted as a “slum saviour” trying to convert and reform them. Happy Eliza became so popular among people that certain sweets and dolls were called after her name, and satiric music hall songs were composed about her and other Hallelujah lasses.

Happy Eliza, or another working-class girl called Converted Jenny, saw the “holy light” in the Salvation Army and joined enthusiastically the organisation. They were valuable assets because they could propagate the Salvation message in the idiom of the working classes.


Hallelujah lasses were often treated as objects of public sexualised ridicule. They were intimidated by abusive language, obscene gestures and mocking. Their processions became targets of garbage and dead rats. The lasses also upset some church dignitaries. Pamela J. Walter writes that the “bishops of Oxford and Hereford asserted in 1883 that Army meetings encouraged immorality and resulted in many illegitimate births among Salvationist women.“ (Mayne Kienzle 297)

Halllujah Lasses Conquer America

When William Booth ordered his Army to “invade” America in 1880, his “expeditionary force” consisted of only one man and seven Hallelujah lasses. They dropped on their knees outside the immigration office in New York and claimed another continent for Jesus. The man, George Scott Railton wrote to Catherine Booth:

Those English may stick to their men as hard as they like, but I am certain it is the women who are going to burst up the world, especially the American women. [Winston 22]

When six years later William Booth arrived in the United States, he felt that he had captured the imagination of Americans, although at first the Salvation Army's parades were met with unfriendly actions. In 1883, Salvationists established their local headquarters in California, Connecticut, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Booths' youngest daughter Evangeline played an important role in the expansion of the Salvation Army in America in the early 20th century as the Territorial Commander of the United States, and later the Territorial Commander of Canada. In 1934, she was appointed the first female Army's General.


The Salvation Army gave Victorian women an unprecedented opportunity to enter the public sphere and was among the first denominations to proclaim women's right to preach and conduct religious and social services. The Hallelujah lasses played a vital role in the religious revival movement and women's involvement in social work in the late Victorian period. In spite of the fact that young women in uniform, playing the tambourine and singing religious songs, looked very unusual in the public space, their contribution to the development of social welfare services and women's activism was outstanding.

Related Material


Barnes, Cyril J. William Booth and His Army of Peace. Amersham, England: Hulton Educational, 1975.

Bartley, Paula. Prostitution: Prevention and Reform in England, 1860- 1914. London: Routledge, 2002.

Begbie, Harold. The Life of General William Booth: The Founder of the Salvation Army. New York: Macmillan, 1920.

Benge, Janet, Geoff Benge. William Booth: Soup, Soap, and Salvation. Seattle: YWAM Publishing, 2002.

Bennett, David Malcolm. The General: William Booth. Vol. 2. Maitland, FL: Xulon Press, 2003.

Berwinkle, Molly A. Greatness In Lace. Mustang: Oklahoma, Tate Publishing, 2011.

Booth-Tucker, Frederick St. George. The Short Life of Catherine Booth, the Mother of the Salvation Army. Whitefish, MO: Kessinger Publishing, 2005.

Collier, R. The General Next to God. New York: Dutton, 1965.

Duff, Mildred. Catherine Booth A Sketch. Whitefish, MO: Kessinger Publishing, 2004.

Eason, Andrew Mark. Women in God's Army: Gender and Equality in the Early Salvation Army. Waterloo, Ont.: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2003.

Gariepy, Henry. Christianity in Action: The International History of The Salvation Army. Grand Rapids, MI.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2009.

Haggard, Rider Henry. Regeneration. Gillette, NJ: Wildside Press LLC, 2000.

Horridge, Glenn K. The Salvation Army, Origins and Early Days: 1865–1900. Godalming: Ammonite Books, 1993.

Inglis, K.S. Churches and the Working Classes in Victorian England. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1963.

Mayne Kienzle, Beverly, Pamela J. Walker, eds. Women Preachers and Prophets Through Two Millennia of Christianity. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1998.

Merritt, John G., ed. Historical Dictionary of The Salvation Army. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2006.

Murdoch, Norman H. Origins of the Salvation Army. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1996.

Pollard, Arthur. English Hymns. London: Longmans, 1960.

Prochaska, F. G. Women and Philanthropy in Nineteen Century England. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980.

Rappaport, Helen. Encyclopedia of Women Social Reformers. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, Inc. 2001.

Schwartz, Hans. Theology in a Global Context: The Last Two Hundred Years. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2005.

Skinner Keller, Rosemary, Rosemary Radford Ruether, Marie Cantlon, eds. Encyclopedia of Women and Religion in North America, Vol. 1. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006.

Stead, W. T. General Booth: A Biographical Sketch. London: Isbister and Company, 1891.

Taiz, Lillian. Hallelujah Lads & Lasses: Remaking the Salvation Army in America, 1880-1930. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2001.

Walker, Pamela J. Pulling the Devil's Kingdom Down: The Salvation Army in Victorian Britain. Berkeley, CA.: University of California Press, 2001.

Walsh, Walter. The Religious Life And Influence Of Queen Victoria. Whitefish, MO: The Kessinger Publishing, 2006.

Winston, Diane.Red–Hot and Righteous: The Urban Religion of The Salvation Army. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1999),

Yaxley, Trevor. William and Catherine: The Life and Legacy of the Booths. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers, 2003 .

Online Sources

The Salvation Army International Heritage Centre, London

Last modified 27 September 2012