Florence Eleanor Soper was born in the mining town of Blaina in the South Wales valleys in September 1861, the eldest daughter of an English doctor and his wife.
Her mother died when she was only nine years old, and she went to live with two aunts until her father’s remarriage. She was a gifted girl and harboured an ambition to follow her father into medicine. Much of her childhood was spent roaming the mountains around Blaina, riding ponies and skating.
Florence had passed her last school examination and was visiting her aunts in London when she was converted at a Salvation Army meeting. She made a decision to follow Christ and to learn more about The Salvation Army, but neither her aunts nor her father were too pleased that she had taken up with the relatively unknown movement, associating with converted drunkards and others who had led a life of vice. They felt that it was just not respectable.
She became friendly with the Booth family including their son Bramwell, and after making the decision to become an officer in the Salvation Army she went with the Booth's eldest daughter Catherine to begin the Army's work in France. It was at this time that Bramwell asked her to marry him, but her father was against the marriage.
Finally, shortly after her twenty-first birthday, Captain Florence Soper married Chief of the Staff Commissioner Bramwell Booth at Clapton Congress Hall. A congregation of six thousand were charged a shilling each to attend, the money being used to purchase the notorious 'Eagle Tavern' public house and the neighbouring ‘Grecian Theatre’, on City Road, later to be used as a Salvation Army hall. The wedding ceremony was performed by General Booth.
Florence and Bramwell were married for forty-seven years and had seven children.
Women's Social Work
Poverty and hardship were rife in the east end of London; jobs were scarce, and many women turned to prostitution as a way of surviving. Girls as young as twelve were selling themselves or being sold for money. In 1881, Mrs Elizabeth Cottrill, a Salvationist at Whitechapel Corps, opened her home in Christian Street to young women who had been working as prostitutes. The women were coming to meetings and finding salvation but then had no-where to live but the brothel. This marked the unofficial beginning of The Salvation Army’s rescue work.
Three years later the Women's Social Work (WSW) of The Salvation Army started, with a small house in Hanbury Street, Whitechapel. The Founder said “Flo had better go down and see what she can do in her spare time. Let her superintend.” This was just two days before her first child turned one, and by the time she relinquished leadership of the WSW in 1912, this ‘spare time’ ministry of a single rescue home had expanded to more than forty social work centres, of varying types, spread across the country.
Florence continued to lead this pioneering aspect of The Salvation Army's work for the next 28 years, when William Booth died and Bramwell became General. Now, as Mrs General Booth, Florence had to move on to other duties.
When she died, in 1957, Florence was buried alongside Bramwell at Abney Park Cemetery in Stoke Newington.
Catherine Booth was born in 1829 in Derbyshire, to Sarah and John Mumford.
Frederick Booth-Tucker pioneered work in India and together with Emma Booth-Tucker, revitalised the American Salvation Army
William Booth was born in Nottingham on 10 April 1829, the son of Samuel Booth and his second wife Mary.
Find out more about The Salvation Army’s founders, leaders and early pioneers.