As widely admired and respected for the work it does in Boise and around the world, it may be surprising to readers to know that the Salvation Army met with strong opposition and prejudice here in its early years.
The Idaho Statesman reported on Sept. 10, 1887, The Salvation Army has come to stay. Capt. Lizzie Kiefert and Lt. Ella Hollcraft had arrived by train on one of the Idaho Central Railroads first trips into Boise from the Oregon Short Line main line at Nampa. The women rented a hall at the corner of 7th and Idaho streets and in a few days were joined by a male officer of the Army who helped them preach the Gospel at nightly meetings. These were preceded by music and singing on street corners that attracted crowds of curious spectators. The Statesman said that the Hideous stories about their raiding saloons and places of business in other towns is not carried out here, but on the other hand they are conducting their meetings in a very orderly manner.
By the end of the month the regular nightly meetings had produced 15 converts to Christianity.
By the beginning of October, however, the Idaho Statesmans editorial accounts of the Salvation Armys street corner meetings began to take on a hostile tone: Two women pounded upon the tambourine and muttered some gibberish which it was impossible for us to understand, and then repeated the performance time after time. From our standpoint we can see nothing of religion in this form of proceeding. It is devoid of all solemnity and impressiveness and when we consider what the unspeakable sublimity and majesty of a supreme being must be, to worship Him with negro show instruments and strange mutterings and wild cries would seem to be blasphemous were it not for the ignorance of the worshippers. It reminds one of the howling and spinning dervishes of Asia. We have no ill feeling against these poor people. Perhaps they are honest, perhaps not, and are working for the dimes they pick up. We will charitably presume the former.
Despite this negative and decidedly uncharitable reaction of the writer, the Salvation Army clearly filled a need in the community, despite its unorthodox approach to saving souls. The same reporter noted, Their meetings have been well attended some 200 to 250 being present each night, inspired in great measure by curiosity. However, whoever attends their meetings should possess decency sufficient not to insult the women. This, we are sorry to say, has been done, and no boy or man fit to live in a civilized community will insult a woman particularly where they are engaged in what they, it may be possible, esteem to be a conscientious duty.
The paper offered its readers a bit of history and more negative opinion: The form of worship practiced by this Salvation Army had its origin in the low slums of London, where it was intended to reach a class of ignorant wretches who had never seen the inside of a church. Possibly it may have accomplished some good there. No necessity exists in enlightened America where it can only bring religion into contempt and the devotees of the army into objects of persecution which, will surely come, however unjust it may be.
A week later: The Salvation Army gives out that they will soon obtain reinforcements. ... They say the tambourine does not sufficiently enthuse the boys and they have sent for a fife and drum. On Nov. 1 the paper admitted, There are some respectable people who frequent the Salvation Army barracks, but for the most part the room is filled with hoodlum boys and girls, and two days later the marshal ordered the Salvationists out of the streets because he did not think it proper, with all the talk about contagion, that children of all kinds, and from all parts of the city should be huddled together. When one boy resisted the order to move along he was arrested and taken before a justice of the peace, who fined him $1 and costs.
After businessmen complained to the city council that the crowds that gathered in front of their stores for meetings of the Salvationists were a nuisance, the marshal was told to make them keep moving. In the Statesmans opinion, The best way is for the people to stop giving them anything. Money is what they are playing for and their contributions come principally from drunken men.
Next week well describe how attitudes changed and how the Salvation Army won acceptance by the community.
Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.