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Fearless Women of Faith

A look at a few women in The Salvation Army who, by faith, dedicated themselves to sacrificial service and the advancement of what is pure and good and true.

Brigadier Elizabeth Earl was one of thousands of Salvation Army women who have served faithfully and sacrificially from its inception until today.

The vibrating sound rose eerily above the congregational singing. What was that noise? As I glanced around the chapel, I saw an older woman with a carpenter’s saw tucked between her legs, striking it with a mallet. Nearly 40 years ago, that strange reverberation was my first introduction to Brigadier Elizabeth Earl, who to this day epitomizes for me the passion and sacrifice of women within The Salvation Army.

Like the unique sound of her musical saw, Brigadier Earl tended to stick out in a crowd. She was larger—and louder—than life, with a booming voice and general disregard for social decorum. Prior to retirement, she served in The Salvation Army’s Women’s Social, running rescue homes for unwed mothers called the Door of Hope. How I wish I had listened more carefully to her stories and had asked more questions about her ministry, for I can only imagine how this woman of God moved among “her girls,” with equal measures of compassion, comfort, correction and conviction.

When 17-year-old Eliza Shirley immigrated to Philadelphia in 1879, her family ministered out of an abandoned chair factory.

Brigadier Earl was one of thousands of Salvation Army women who have served faithfully and sacrificially from its inception until today. When 17-year-old Eliza Shirley, her mother Annie and her father Amos immigrated to Philadelphia in 1879 they brought their Christian Mission affiliation to their neighborhood, ministering out of an abandoned chair factory in Kensington.

A year later, Captain Emma Westbrook and six female companions accompanied George Scott Railton to officially “invade” the United States under the banner of the now re-branded Salvation Army. The example of these fearless women paved the way for women like Brigadier Earl and me.  

Some lived and died in relative obscurity, modeling a life of faithfulness. Others, like Evangeline Booth, served in leadership roles.

Some, like Brigadier Earl, lived and died in relative obscurity, known only within a small circle. Some are single all their lives, while others work side by side with their husbands in small towns and great cities, preaching of salvation and modeling a life of faithfulness. Others serve in leadership roles within The Salvation Army, as did Evangeline Booth, daughter of Salvation Army Founders Catherine and William Booth, first as National Commander in the United States and then in international leadership as the fourth General.

The glimpse of their sacrificial service is beautiful and poignant. Many children of the 1930s remembered how their mothers shared the meager family meal with those who knocked at the Army door as they wandered across our country during the Great Depression. Those same officer homes became unofficial foster placements for children who needed a stable place to live for a time, and the women were often called away to sit with a dying saint. When the call comes, Salvation Army women do what needs to be done for a suffering world or a hurting neighbor.

"By faith, Major Molly Shotzberger gently washed the feet of the first responders at ground zero."
Major JoAnn Shade

Here’s what I’ve observed. By faith, Lt. Colonel Judy LaMarr carried blankets and socks in her car, and often pulled over without warning to offer those necessities to men and women sleeping on the grates of New York City. By faith, Major Molly Shotzberger gently washed the feet of the first responders at ground zero. By faith, Major Mary West helped families in crisis relocate to a new community. By faith, Major Dorothy Lykes became “Major Mom” to hundreds of men and women in recovery.

By faith, Major Donna Peterson travels the northeast, preaching and singing of God’s redemptive love. By faith, Major Nancy Townsend said yes when a ministry position five hundred miles from her retirement home needed to be filled temporarily. By faith, Major Danielle Strickland speaks out against injustice and Major Pamm McKee has returned to live and minister in Liberia after her retirement.  

Major Pamm McKee in Liberia. 

As the writer of Hebrews 11:32 recognized, “And what more shall I say?” I do not have time or words enough to tell fully how Salvation Army women nurse their children, study theology, preach the gospel, cook for hundreds, prayer-walk the streets of their neighborhood, or sing in the darkest of nights. What I can testify to is that since its beginning days Salvation Army women have claimed the words of Hebrews 10:22-23, “draw[ing] near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith … hold[ing] unswervingly to the hope we possess, for he who promised is faithful.”

Forty years ago, when Brigadier Earl would struggle to climb into the big Salvation Army van, she’d invariably tell my husband, “Fix your eyes on the Lord, son.” I may have failed to record her ministry stories, but I will never forget the lesson of faith that sustained her “through many dangers, toils and snares,” and continues to resonate in me. So a final word from Hebrews 12:1-2, “[We] run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” For indeed, he who promised is faithful.

Major JoAnn Shade is a retired major in The Salvation Army Eastern Territory.

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