The Commissioner Elsie Busby Memorial Collection
By: Lt. Colonel Allen Satterlee
Commissioner John Busby has been an avid collector of Salvation Army memorabilia since he was a young man. Born of an Army family that spans generations, many of the items were passed along to him by parents, grandparents and other relatives. Other items he sought and found himself. It is not only impressive in quantity but in the quality of artifacts and documents that have come into his possession.
In a loving tribute to his late wife, Commissioner Elsie Busby, in her memory Busby decided to donate a substantial part of his collection to the Evangeline Booth College. The collection is impressive, now on display in the Powell Administration Building lobby. The dedication ceremony was held in connection with the welcome weekend for the Reflectors of Holiness Session (2021-2023) on September 9, 2021. Because of pandemic restrictions, the crowd was restricted to family and invited guests from THQ and the Evangeline Booth College (EBC).
Most, but not all, the collection centers on General Evangeline Booth whose life and service in The Salvation Army was legendary. Beginning as a youth in The Salvation Army, Booth’s legacy began on the streets of London. She was a corps officer for a short time but her gifts demanded a wider sphere. In 1896, when only 30 years old, she was appointed as the national commander of Canada, an appointment she held until 1904. Then, what was undoubtedly her most important and fruitful ministry, she was appointed in charge of the work in the United States. She commanded the USA forces for 30 years during which time The Salvation Army prospered in ways that could not have been imagined when she first took the reins. Among the accomplishments was the incredibly successful deployment of Salvation Army personnel to the front lines during the First World War and the creation of the USA Southern Territory. She only left the USA when she was elected as the first woman General in 1934, her final appointment before retiring in 1939. Moving back to the United States, she lived in retirement in upstate New York until her Promotion to Glory in 1950.
Among the most intriguing items in the collection are three worthy of special note.
The Private Papers of E. Booth. Actually not her papers, but a small metal box (see photo), it represents a bit of detective work by Commissioner Busby. While serving as the Chief Secretary in Canada, he was perusing an antique shop in eastern Ontario. There, to his utter surprise, was this small cabinet. Could it have belonged to Evangeline Booth from her time in Canada? It certainly could have been. Upon closer inspection, he found a small metal label inside that said, “Chubb & Sons, Lock & Safe Company United.” Looking closer he found that the next line said, “Queen Victoria Street, London.” The company that made the cabinet was located within a city block of International Headquarters! The chances are extremely high of this being a former possession of Evangeline Booth. It is likely that, as her private papers collection grew, she retired this little box, giving it to a close associate as she often did over the years.
Evangeline Booth’s chair. When it came time to clean out her retirement home following her death, Commissioner Elsie’s brother, James, bought it from Evangeline Booth’s home. It has been a treasured possession of first the Henderson, then the Busby family over the years.
Commission as National Commander (USA). Leading up to the first High Council in 1929, Evangeline Booth was the leading voice for reform of how the appointment of the General was to take place. (For more on this, read General John Larsson’s excellent book, 1929). In direct opposition to her brother, the General, Evangeline Booth felt her continued service as national commander might be in jeopardy. One of her trusted aides was William Arnold, grandfather of Commissioner John Busby and who later served as the USA Southern Territory’s longest serving territorial commander. As Booth was preparing to sail to London for the first High Council, she was concerned that her brother might demand the return of her commission as national commander. She instructed Arnold, “I have no idea what my brother is going to do because of this High Council that I and the other commissioners have called. If he asks me to surrender my commission, I want to tell them I don’t know where it is.” So, Arnold took the commission and hid it, not telling her where. Amid the excitement stirred by the High Council, the commission was forgotten, safely hidden away until rediscovered many years later. This rare document now resides in the collection.
There are quite a number of other treasures, all of this a fitting tribute to an outstanding officer, Commissioner Elsie Busby. Take time to go to the Evangeline Booth College to not only view the collection but see the Southern Historical Center Museum as well. Every Southern Salvationist should!