William Booth embarked upon his ministerial career in 1852, desiring to win the lost multitudes of England to Christ. He
walked the streets of London to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to the poor, the homeless, the hungry, and the destitute.
Booth abandoned the conventional concept of a church and a pulpit and took his message to the people. His fervor led to disagreement with the leaders of the church in London. They preferred traditional measures. As a result, he withdrew from the church and traveled throughout England conducting evangelistic meetings. His wife, Catherine, was a major force in The Salvation Army movement.
In February 1889, four “hallelujah lassies,” among them Staff Captain Rees, were appointed to Austin, Texas by the Provincial Headquarters. The first meeting was conducted in the old, temporary Capitol building on the corner of Congress and 11th Street. A few nights later, the first street meeting was held in front of the old Iron Front Saloon located on Congress and 6th Street where the Littlefield Building now stands.
These early workers were quite surprised at the good reception given them in Austin, as most of the other cities in the early days of its organization greeted The Salvation Army with sticks, mud and other missiles. In Austin, however, great crowds attended the outdoor meetings and cooperation was given them by the people of the city.
The popularity of this unusual organization was not universal, however, according to the following excerpt from The Austin Statesman:
“It is rumored that The Salvation Army is going to fight the city ordinance which was passed last Monday prohibiting the banging of their big drum. The law will go into effect in a couple of days and some lively times may be expected if the vociferous promulgators of salvation persist in their drum beating” [September 13, 1891].
Years later, the Mayor of Austin recalled that members of his family were among the first contacted upon the arrival of The Army. He also recalled Army marching down the streets carrying out the Founder’s command, “Go for souls and go for the worst.” He and his family remained staunch supporters.
From this small beginning The Salvation Army has grown. In 1928 construction began on a new $12,000 home on 2nd Street. In 1938 the Social Service and Family Relief Center moved to Red River Street, where clients raised vegetables and fruit to help keep the center in operation. The corps remained at the 2nd Street location. In 1962 a new social service center rose next to the corps building. In 1974 a new corps community center was built at 1001 Cumberland Road. The Adult Rehabilitation Center, which now serves 120 men at a time, began in the 1980s with 3 men. The Social Service Center at 8th Street and Red River opened in April 1988. This 65,000 square foot facility has sleeping accommodations for 374 men, women and children, along with a dining room, shower, locker and laundry facilities, and case work and job development programs. In 2001 The Army began operating the Austin Women’s and Children’s Shelter.
As of 2011 The Salvation Army’s outreach has been expanded to include 120 countries, and the Gospel is preached by its Officers in more than 160 languages.