A pantheon of heroes and heroines can be found in the history of the American human services moment. These individuals dedicated their lives to help and care for their fellow human beings. However, rarely in this group is there an equal partnership of a husband and wife - a couple working lovingly together, sharing ideas, responsibilities, and efforts for the benefit of mankind. But there is at least one such partnership. It existed in the union of Maud and Ballington Booth, the founders of Volunteers of America.
As the 19th century drew to a close, the United States was in the midst of extraordinary upheaval. Since 1776, farming communities had dominated the American landscape. This rural culture became dwarfed by modern industry, altering the patterns of how Americans lived and worked. Industrialization brought with it ease of transportation with railroads, trolleys and automobiles and greater comfort in the home with electricity. But the downside of these advances included the sooty city air, homeless street urchins and the inhumanity of the poorhouse. There was a need for organizations to help the poor and destitute.
Maud and Ballington Booth came to America from England to organize and raise money for the New York office of the Salvation Army. In 1896, they brroke away from the Army and formed a new organization, the Volunteers of America. Their mission was to "reach and uplift all people and bring them to the immediate knowledge and active service of God." In a 1948 radio broadcast celebrating the 50th anniversary of Volunteers of America, the organization pledged to go "wherever there are hoeless and helpless, sick and destitute, aged and indigent. It will make no difference what an unfortunate's race, religion or creed happens to be. If he is in need, he is qualified to receive our help, both spiritual and material."