The founder of the Salvation Army, he was born on 10 April 1829 at Sneinton, Nottingham into a family struggling against poverty. His birthplace at Notintone Place, Sneinton now houses a museum (firstname.lastname@example.org). He was apprenticed to a pawnbroker and had first-hand experience of urban destitution which attracted him to the Chartists. He became a WM local preacher, but under the influence of the American evangelist James Caughey resigned in order to give himself to open-air evangelism. In the Spalding Circuit and then in London he was associated with Wesleyan Reform, but in 1854 joined the MNC and was ordained in 1858.
His wife Catherine Booth, née Mumford (1829-1890), was born at Ashbourne, Derbys. on 17 January 1829. Her father was a coach builder and a WM local preacher. After moving to London, the family was connected with Brixton WM church until they were caught up in the Reform movement of the 1840s.
William and Catherine were married at Stockwell MNC chapel in 1855 and she gave him vigorous support and co-operation in his work. During his time as a MNC evangelist, disagreement over where he should be stationed and how he should be used came to a head at the MNC Conference of 1861 and he left the ministry. (That same year both the WM and PM Conferences debarred the Booths from their chapels.) Their work in East London led to the formation in 1865 of the Christian Mission, which eventually became the Salvation Army, and his account of conditions in the East End, In Darkest England and the Way Out (1890), had a widespread influence on urban mission. Catherine became a strong feminist advocate and wrote a book reprinted in a revised form as Female Ministry, or Women's Right to Preach the Gospel in 1870. Her other books included Practical Religion (1878), Aggressive Christianity (1880) and Popular Christianity (1887).
Catherine died in Clacton of breast cancer on 4 October 1890. William died at Hadley Wood, Middx. on 20 August 1912, following a cataract operation.