The prisoners eyed the beautiful woman with interest. How short she was! But it was obvious she cared about them. Not many other people did.
Maud Booth was is Sing Sing Prison, New York, on this day, May 24, 1896, because she had received a letter from a prisoner. He asked her to provide relief for his family, left destitute when he was locked up. On the envelope, the Warden scrawled an invitation for Maud to speak. Maud, a fiery speaker and ardent evangelist, took him up on it.
Now she told an assembly of prisoners: "I do not come here to prevent you from paying the just penalty of your crimes; take your medicine like men. When you have paid the penalty, I will help you. I will nurse you back to health. I will get you work. Above all, I will trust you. It depends on you whether I keep doing so or not."
Five Sing Sing prisoners made up their minds to follow Christ. By year's end, the Volunteer Prison League was formed. By 1923, over 100,000 prisoners had signed up for its programs. Maud championed prison reform to the end of her life. She set up Houses of Hope around the country to help ease ex-cons back into society. In one form or another these halfway houses remain to this day. Volunteers of America did as much to bring about twentieth century prison reform as any other organization--and probably more.
The Volunteers of America had emerged out of the Salvation Army. Ballington Booth, the son of General William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, came to America to reorganize the Salvation Army work. General Booth didn't like the way Ballington "Americanized" the Army.
Following a sharp disagreement, Ballington and his beautiful wife Maud left the Army. On March 8, 1896, they announced they were setting up a new organization, God's American Volunteers (afterwards known as Volunteers of America).
The volunteers not only engaged in prison work. Wherever its leaders saw a need, they stepped forward to meet it. VOA sponsored disaster relief, helped found the Parent and Teacher Association (PTA), set up food pantries, provided lodgings for working men, affordable housing for the working classes, and even offered day nurseries for working mothers. Eventually it offered housing programs for the mentally ill and medical services to the poor.
When we total up the impact for good that Christianity has had on American society, we must not forget the important role of the Volunteers of America.
- Chesham, Sallie. Born to Battle, The Salvation Army in America. New York, New York: Salvation Army, 1965.
- Foster, Warren Dunham. Heroines of Modern Religion. New York: Sturgis and Walton, 1913.
- Volunteers of America. http://www.voa.org/