by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Especially during the holiday season, many of us have been very accustomed to seeing the famous red kettles of The Salvation Army as their “soldiers” stood outside stores and other public locations soliciting donations for the organization’s work helping the most needy in society. Founded in London in 1865 by minister William Booth, who, about a dozen years earlier, forsook working in a church and took his messages of salvation and assistance to the poorest of the teeming millions of London, The Salvation Army, known originally as The Christian Mission, grew rapidly and had over 1,000 evangelists and volunteers by the mid-Seventies.
In an 1878 organizational report, Booth noticed the phrase “The Christian Mission is a volunteer army,” but he penciled the word “salvation” over “volunteer” and the new moniker was launched. Despite significant opposition and animosity, The Salvation Army reportedly converted a quarter million people to Christianity in the first half of 1880s and the movement rapidly spread beyond Britain to Europe and the United States.
Booth was joined in his work by his wife Catherine, known as the “Army Mother” and by their daughter, Evangeline, who moved to America and became national commander for three decades. The Los Angeles church, or “corps,” was formed in 1887 as the Angel City was in the full ferment of its famous “Boom of the Eighties.” With all of the new people, new housing, new business and other accoutrements of growth came the dark underbelly of poverty, crime, and abuse.
Among those needing ministration were young women, many from broken or troubled homes and quite a few pregnant or with small children. By the end of the nineteenth century, the corps, which was headquartered on Spring Street south of 4th street, had its “Rescue and Maternity Department” including a home in what was then known as East Los Angeles and soon became Lincoln Heights.
The driving force in the establishment of the facility in a roomy two-story home was Nellie Truelove, whose propitious surname became proverbial among many in Los Angeles during her short tenure as a Salvation Army leader of note and founder of the home. Born in August 1863 in the West Midlands county of Warwickshire, near Birmingham, England, Truelove was an Episcopalian and a nurse in the seaside resort town of Eastbourne, south of London.
In the late Eighties, however, she attended a Salvation Army meeting led by Evangeline Booth and abandoned her career and faced family disapproval to enlist. She worked in Glasgow and London before migrating to New York in 1894 to continue her work with downtrodden women there, as well as in Cleveland and Chicago. Within two years, she was working with “fallen angels” in Los Angeles’ most sordid “red light district” brothels, taverns and other places of disrepute.
It was in 1899 when Truelove and her assistant Alice Duzan took over operation of the rescue home and, when the federal census was taken the following spring, the pair, with two other Salvation Army officers, were responsible for the care of fifteen “inmates,” all females, including four with young children. One of the small families was 30-year old Ruth Yee and her ten-year old daughter Marie, both natives of China, while the other three were California natives.
The remainder of the residents included two girls, aged 11 and 10, two widows who were 64, a fifteen year-old and a 28-year old. Judging by some of the stories found about how women and children got to the home, often by referral by humane societies and other organizations, it is likely that some of these women were prostitutes or came from homes where alcohol and drugs were abused, as well as had husbands and boyfriends who were abusive in a variety of ways.
After fewer than five years of intense work as the superintendent, or matron, Truelove was said to have had a physical and mental breakdown and also developed a cancerous tumor, for which treatment in those first years of the 20th century, was very limited. A last-ditch effort to remove the growth failed to stop the progress of the disease and, on 7 January 1904, Truelove died at age 40.
Newspaper accounts were fulsome in their praise of this remarkable woman, whose selflessness and self-sacrifice were especially espoused in encomiums. Services held and the passage of the funeral cortege from both the corps headquarters downtown and at the East Los Angeles Home were attended by thousands and she was laid to rest in Evergreen Cemetery in Boyle Heights, where a simple stone marks her grave with no mention of her vital and pioneering work.
Upon her death, the Los Angeles Times, in a lengthy tribute to Truelove, published a poetic paean to her by Russell H. Marling, and here a few lines from the opening section:
Rest, uncomplaining heart, so patient and so tender,
The heavy burden of oppressive years
Thou hast relinquished by the flowing river,
And its crystal flood resolved thy tears.
Raising the fallen all along life’s highway,
Thy faith hath conquered every glooming wrong.
The sad overture of sad and weary waiting
Breaks forth at length into exulting song
O give the crown of life to this our fair Evangel
From fragile tenement of clay at length set free,
And may our love, by heavenly love transfigured,
Rise hence to her and thence ascend to Thee.
Truelove was fully immersed in fundraising to garner $8,000 to buy the home and then launched a drive for another $6,000 for a two-story addition to the facility. Though there were delays in continuing the expansion, it was completed, with a major contribution made by the prominent banker and real estate developer Jonathan S. Slauson, a key figure at Azusa, and who was once a partner with William Workman and F.P.F. Temple in the planned Centinela townsite in the mid-1870s before the collapse of the economy, including the failure of the Temple and Workman bank, sunk that project.
To honor the founder of the home, the corps renamed the facility the Truelove Home, by which it was known for decades. Later, the home was renamed the Booth Memorial Center and it operated at the Lincoln Heights site for over eighty years, closing in 1992 as the delivery of social services was undergoing terrible financial challenges and dramatic changes to the delivery of services to young women, including unwed mothers. Today, the site is operated as the Los Angeles Leadership Academy.
As noted above, there were regular accounts of the rescue of young single women, some with small children, who were taken to and cared for by the home and another of its major patrons was the family of Joseph and Louise Dabney, with Joseph being a prominent figure in the development of the region’s oil industry and who was said to be the largest independent oil operator (this was a status aspired to, but not reached, by Walter P. Temple in the late 1910s through late 1920s) in California. The Dabneys were also generous supporters of the McKinley Home for Boys in San Fernando and the California Institute of Technology.
With The Salvation Army, Joseph served on its advisory board and “gave the funds for the erection of the Army’s home for women on Griffin Avenue which is known as Truelove Home,” this being a Spanish Colonial Revival style complex that replaced the original late 19th century structure and its addition. The Dabneys also provided the funds for The Salvation Army’s seaside camp at Redondo Beach. In 2021, we’ll hear more about that family through their nephew, Clifford Dabney, and his ill-advised support of a strange cult, The Divine Order of the Royal Arms of the Great Eleven, run by a woman and daughter, and which was featured in a recent post here—so look for more information soon on the museum’s website at http://www.homesteadmuseum.org about that.
The highlighted artifact from the museum’s collection for this post is a letter from Major M. Louise Cogeshall, the superintendent of the Truelove Home, to Eyler M. Fillmore, resident of what is now an industrial areas of downtown Los Angeles, thanking him for his $1 donation to the home. Likely given as a Christmas season gift, the donation was modest, but the work of the home was anything but and it was thanks to the leadership, initiative and drive of Nellie Truelove that the facility that bore her name provided meaningful and important work to troubled women in the Angel City for some eight decades.