Major Barbara‘s plot centres around the titular character who has dedicated her life to working with the Salvation Army.
However, the Salvation Army does not begin with Shaw’s character Barbara Undershaft. Its foundation began with William Booth, a young man who began his professional career working as an apprentice in a pawnbroker’s shop. There he learned about humiliation and the degradation of poverty which eventually prompted him to become a minister. As a travelling minister, his goal was to attempt to educate the public of their “selfish and sinful” ways and begin a movement to eradicate the issues. He gained enough attention to be invited to hold religious meetings in London, England. There Booth founded an organization called “The Christian Mission“, which unfortunately, garnered little attention from the public. It wasn’t until 1878, when he changed the name to the “Salvation Army” that people started to join.
The idea of an army fighting to end sin and striving towards redemption signified the beginning of an important movement for the English people. Booth’s powerful sermons were finally gaining the attention they deserved.
Newly recruited soldiers of the Salvation Army were obligated to swear to the “Soldiers Covenant“.
After the name was changed, a uniform was introduced to the “army”. Different styled uniforms designated a different military rank. Specifically, trimmings worn on the uniform signified rank, seniority and responsibility in accordance with traditional military rankings.
In 1880, a standard navy blue serge uniform was worn by both men and women Salvationists. Men wore a high neck tunic with a stiff collar over a red jersey. Their uniform was accompanied by a military cap with a red band, emblazoned with the words The Salvation Army in gold. Women, on the other hand, wore long navy skirts, and fitted neck tunics with a lace collar. This was accompanied by a large black straw bonnet, with a red band and huge red ribbon bow on top.
Male Salvationists continued for a while to express their individuality through an assortment of headgear such as, pith helmets, toppers, derbies, sailor hats, and discarded military band helmets until 1891 when the soldiers were issued one hatband for officers, another for soldiers.
Many Salvation Army soldiers would also sport their uniforms to formal events such as, funerals, weddings, family portraits, visiting relatives and town hall meetings. This was not only because of the pride the uniform instilled in the soldier, but also because economic reasons: soldiers were obligated to purchase their own uniforms, and the clothing cost on average three weeks’ salary.
Recently, women soldiers have upgraded their headgear to smaller version of the Victorian bonnet. However, many countries have opted to purchase cheaper felt versions of the felt bowler-hat style. The high necked tunics are also being replaced by open-neck jackets.
Uniforms also vary depending on the country involved. According to the climate and culture of the country, white, grey, beige, safari sari has been adopted as well as a Salvation Army sash. Read here to find out more about what the Salvation Army stands for.