Booth, Maud Ballington

Booth (1865-1948) is best known as the cofounder of the Volunteers of America, an organization with the mission to reach and uplift all people. Coupled with her husband, Ballington Booth, Maud dedicated her life's work to helping others. She was also significant in the area of prison reform.

Biographical Highlights

Maud Ballington Booth, born Maud Elizabeth Charlesworth, was the youngest daughter of a prominent lawyer.  She was born on September 13, 1865, in Limpsfield, Surrey, England and grew up in London, England. The example set by her parents in England greatly impacted Maud’s adult life: her father gave up practicing law to become an Anglican priest due to his religious convictions.  Her parent’s work with social issues led to Maud’s great interest and concern for social welfare and social service.   In 1882, Maud joined the Salvation Army where her first assignment was to organize efforts in France and Switzerland.  She then went on to perform social service work in the London slums until her marriage in 1886 (Welty 1961).

Booth is best known as the cofounder of the Volunteers of America, an organization with the mission to reach and uplift all people.  Coupled with her husband, Ballington Booth, Maud dedicated her life’s work to helping others.  The Booths created an organization that cares for the whole person including mind, body and spirit (ibid.). 

Maud Ballington Booth was equally known for her work on prison reform efforts in the late 1800s and early 1900s, working to improve the conditions of prisons.  The parole and release process were revolutionary in her day and worked as catalysts to many of the modern regulations and standards required of our prison systems.  Maud’s work to improve parole procedures and to incorporate social skill development into the parole process was instrumental in changing the entire prison system of her day.   Due to Maud’s work, prisons began to look at modifying criminal behavior in prisoners as opposed to merely housing prisonersm, as was done in the past.  Maud recognized the value in providing social skills training and acclimation courses, both before and immediately following parole, in order to avoid recidivism in criminals (ibid.).

Today, Volunteers of America lives on with the same mission. It continues, in the spirit of the Booths, as a compassionate, energetic and dedicated organization that reaches out to those less fortunate.  Volunteers of America provides services to the less fortunate by reaching children, the homeless, people with disabilities and the elderly alike.  The organization strives to build healthy people mentally, physically and spiritually (McMahon 1972).  Additionally, Maud’s impact on the parole system and prison conditions is still present today.  The work that she performed led to a total transformation of the prison and parole systems of her day. 

Historic Roots

While residing in England during her preparation for religious confirmation, Maud accompanied her mother to a Salvation Army Holiness Meeting. It was at this meeting that Maud first met Ballington Booth.  Captivated by his speech, Maud felt a calling in life to serve the homeless, mentally ill, children and others in need.  Ballington’s passionate speech about serving and saving the impoverished profoundly moved the idealistic young Maud. Ballington and Maud later married and immediately set sail for the United States where they would get their start with the Salvation Army under the direction of Ballington’s father, General William Booth (Welty 1961).

Upon arrival in New York, the Booths began reorganizing and re-energizing the American Salvation Army. Their efforts made the American Unit of the Salvation Army one of the most organized and fiscally sound units within the organization. They used exceptional coordination skills with the volunteers and the donors by persuading influential people to get involved.  The Booths were able to greatly improve the American Unit making it one of the best branches of the Salvation Army.  A disagreement between Ballington Booth and his father, over the "Americanization" of the Salvation Army, led to the resignation of Ballington and Maud Booth from their roles with the Salvation Army (ibid.).

Detached from their posts, but unable to turn their backs on their recently adopted country, Ballington and Maud Booth announced that they would start a new socially involved organization. With the backing of several prominent politicians and influential religious figures, "God's American Volunteers" made its debut on March 8, 1896.  It soon became known as the Volunteers of America, and it grew quickly in both mission and members. The mission was to "go wherever it was needed and do whatever work came to hand" (Volunteers of America).

Within six months, 140 posts had been established with 450 employees and volunteers. From the outset, Volunteers of America did not organize as a rival to any other organization, particularly the Salvation Army, but instead went to those places where a need was not being met. The organization looked for gaps in services.  For instance, during the great depression, Volunteers of America assisted millions of unemployed, hungry, and homeless people by providing them with food, shelter and other needed resources (McMahon 1972). 

After the reign of the Booth family, Volunteers of America redirected its focus and found its niche in the social nonprofit community focusing their efforts on housing issues and assisting people with disabilities.  Today, the Volunteers of America is the largest nonprofit provider of affordable housing for the elderly, low-income families, and persons with mental or physical disabilities in the United States. More than 30,000 people live in Volunteers of America housing nationwide (Volunteers of America).


Maud was significant in shaping and changing the status quo of American society in her day.  The majority of American society believed that prisoners, people with disabilities or mental illness, and the homeless were already being properly managed by warehousing them in facilities isolated from the general population.  There was little concern for the condition in which these people were kept.  Furthermore, there were no systems in place to assist these less fortunate groups of people in dealing with their problems and becoming a productive member of society.  Maud failed to accept these existing beliefs and she worked throughout her life to change these standards in order to reach these people.  

Maud was not only the co-founder of the Volunteers of America, but she also contributed greatly to changing other major societal issues such as prison reform.  She worked on prison reform, focusing efforts on the rehabilitation of prisoners.  Maud contributed to the development of the modern parole system and preparing prisoners for release back into society.  She also published a number of books on mission work and prison labor, as well as several books for children. After her husband died in 1940, Maud was elected to serve as the General of the Volunteers of America, a post she held for the remainder of her life. She died in Long Island, New York, on August 26, 1948, but her spirit, ideas and compassion are survived in the non-profit community of today (Menninger 1968).

Ties to the Philanthropic Sector

Maud and Ballington Booth founded and successfully cultivated the Volunteers of America organization into a successful nonprofit organization that works to address societal problems. Their efforts had monumental results and have affected the society in which we live today.  Now there are many organizations available to help the homeless, disabled, and children.  Maud acted as a catalyst to the view of prison life, parole processes and philanthropic focus for similar organizations.  Her commitment to the betterment of the prison system is seen in modern American society.  Today, prisons offer educational, spiritual and physical training opportunities to prisoners.  These opportunities allow prisoners the chance to turn their lives around while in prison and more importantly to be prepared for parole and life after prison (Lawes 1932). 

Maud focused much of her effort on prison reform as a means to positively impact communities.  She became an infamous pioneer in the prison reform movement and was nicknamed the "Little Mother" of the prisoners because of her deep commitment to caring for and providing rights to prisoners.  Maud made a famous speech in the Sing Sing Prison in 1896 which led to the development of the Volunteer Prison League, a group that focused on turning the lives of prisoners around during their period of imprisonment.  The group worked to train prisoners and to prepare them for life in the free world. Maud helped develop alternative sentencing programs for both men and women as part of this group. She also established the first halfway houses, known as Hope Halls, which helped former convicts readjust to civilization and avoid criminal recidivism. To this day, Volunteers of America maintains similar programs based on Maud’s ideas and programs (Welty 1961).  Her work continues in the hundreds of halfway houses and special facilities for incarcerated Americans run by Volunteers of America and other similar agencies.

Key Related Ideas

Halfway Houses are rehabilitation centers where people who have left an institution, such as a hospital or prison, are helped to readjust to the outside world (Welty 1962).

Hope Halls is the name given to the first halfway houses formed by Maud Ballington Booth in order to meet the needs of the Volunteer Prison League members.  Hope Halls managed to help several ex-prisoners adjust to life outside prison walls and to avoid further problems with the law (Welty 1962). 

Parole System is the sector of law enforcement that manages the release of a prisoner whose term has not expired on condition of sustained lawful behavior that is subject to regular monitoring by an officer of the law for a set period of time.  Today this process often prepares ex-prisoners for release by offering educational options, social skill development and religious counseling (Reid 1981).

Prison Reform can be defined as a means to improve by alteration, correction of error, or removal of defects; to put into a better form or condition the prison system which is defined as a place for the confinement of persons in lawful detention, especially persons convicted of crimes (Reid 1981).

Volunteer Prison League is an organization formed on Christmas Eve 1896 by Maud and a group of five imprisoned men interested in turning their lives around while serving their terms.  The league focused on preparation for parole through education and skill training.  The league grew quickly due to its nearly 80 percent success rate, and by 1923, had over 100,000 inmates enlisted  (Welty 1962).

Important People Related to the Topic

  • Ballington Booth (1857-1940):  Ballington Booth was the husband of Maud Booth.  Together they founded the Volunteers of America, a spiritual organization committed to meeting the needs of people, by providing services that were not offered by other similar organizations.  Their work spanned from 1896 into the 1940s. The focus of Volunteers of America was to fill gaps in the services offered by existing similar organizations (Volunteers of America).

  • Charles Brandon Booth:  Charles Booth was the only son of Ballington and Maud Booth.  He replaced Maud in the role of General in 1948 where he served for 10 years. During Maud and Charles Booth’s tenures, the organization was poorly managed and it experienced a period of decline.  This decline was largely due to the fact that Maud was focused on prison reform work and Charles was not well versed in solid management practices.  After Charles’ reigned as the General, no other Booths served in that capacity or with the organization. 

  • William Booth (1829-1912): William Booth, the founder and first General of The Salvation Army, was born in Nottingham, England in 1829.  Converted completely to the purpose of Christ, as a young man he was eventually ordained a minister in the Methodist New Connexion Church.  With his wife, Catherine, Booth found fulfillment in evangelism and mission work.  His views on society and mission work were passed on to his son.  William Booth’s influence on his son led ultimately to the founding of the Volunteers of America (Volunteers of America).

  • Susan Elizabeth Fulton Welty (1905-2003):  Welty wrote the most notable and detailed biography of the life and works of Maud Ballington Booth.  Suitably titled, Look Up and Hope-The Life of Maud Ballington Booth, provides information for those interested in learning of the accomplishments of Maud’s life and the principles behind her work.

Related Nonprofit Organizations

  • The American Correctional Association, formerly the National Prison Association, was unsuccessful in their efforts to reform prisons. Until Maud Ballington Booth got involved, the much-needed changes did not occur (

  • Maud Booth Academy is an extension of Volunteers of America and a national non-profit organization.  The Maud Booth Academy is a charter school program that aims to bring an intensive program of academics, physical activity and guidance in life skills to children in poorer neighborhoods.   The target population for Booth Academy is low-income children who live in one of the neighborhoods designated as part of the Federal Empowerment zones in Cincinnati, Ohio (

  • The Salvation Army, an international movement, is an evangelical part of the      universal Christian Church.  Its mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet  human needs in his name without discrimination  (

  • The United Way is an organization with the mission to improve people's lives by mobilizing the caring power of communities.  United Way of America is the national organization dedicated to leading the organization’s movement in making a measurable impact in every community in America. The United Way serves approximately 1,400 community-based organizations. Each is independent, separately incorporated, and governed by local volunteers (

Related Web Sites

The Points of Light Foundation Web site, at, provides over 150 resources including tips, articles and worksheets relating to volunteer management.  The site also offers ePractices, an online source of practices that strengthen volunteer programs and organizations. 

The Volunteers of America Web Site, at, provides The Gazette newsletter as well as opportunities of how users can become involved in various programs.  Also, information is provided on public policy including Advocacy Action Center, Issue Briefs, Advocacy News, and Position Statements.

The VolunteerMatch Web Site, at, offers a free service for both organizations and volunteers to post and find positions by city, state, zip code and keyword.  It is one of the largest volunteer matching services achieving over one million volunteer referrals with over 29,000 organizations throughout the United States.

Bibliography and Internet Sources

Lawes, Lewis E. Twenty Thousand Years in Sing Sing. New York, New York: A.L. Burt, 1932. ISBN:  0-405-06150-1.

McMahon, J.F. The Volunteers of America. New York: Newcomen Society in North America, 1972.  ASIN: B0006C0Y9Y.

Menninger, Karl. The Crime of Punishment. New York, New York: Viking Press, 1968. ISBN:  0-670-00274-7.

Reid, Sue Titus. The Correctional System an Introduction. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1981. ISBN  0-030-42331-7.

Volunteers of America. Volunteers of America Homepage. (Accessed October 4, 2004)

Welty, Susan F. Look Up and Hope! The Life of Maud Ballington Booth. New York : Thomas Nelson, 1961.

This paper was developed by a student taking a Philanthropic Studies course taught at Grand Valley State University. It is offered by Learning To Give and Grand Valley State University.