Lt. Colonel Dorothy Purser
Last year on her 100th birthday, General André Cox, international leader of The Salvation Army, sent Lt. Colonel Dorothy Purser a framed letter, acknowledging her legacy as a minister in The Salvation Army.
Purser’s ministry has spanned 7 decades, 3 continents, and 4 nations.
As a licensed pharmacologist and a registered nurse, Purser was the first woman appointed as a Booth Hospital administrator in 1972. In 1974, she was the first woman to hold the appointment of chief secretary, or second in command, of the Caribbean & Central American Territory for the Army, making her the highest–ranking woman officer in territorial leadership at that time.
Advocate for mothers
Teen pregnancy has long been a challenge in society, taking an emotional and physical toll on young women and their families. And in the early part of the 20th century, there was a social stigma attached to being an unwed mother.
As founder and director of the Mary B. Talbert Clinic and Day Care Center in Cleveland, Ohio, Purser helped save the lives of many children born to these mothers. Under duress from family and society and frequently in poverty, many mothers were tempted to abort their babies.
Purser gave hope and love to those mothers and inspired and mentored them to become competent, caring, and committed individuals.
As a Jamaican–born woman of color, Purser struggled against and triumphed over the barriers of her day such as nationalism, sexism, and racism. In Nigeria, Africa, she learned the Yoruba language in just months. In London, England, she braved the perils of WW2. And in Cleveland, Ohio, she ministered during the tumultuous riots of the 1960s civil rights revolution.
Viola Newell, a friend and retired officer, remembers, “We were stationed together at the Cleveland unwed mother’s clinic during the summer of the riots. While our place was never touched, it was frightening to see the U.S. Army soldiers standing guard (with rifles at the ready) on every street corner!”
Nonetheless, Purser’s clinic served 150 women a month, providing education, vocational training, medical care, and a nursery for children and infants.
For Purser’s intrepid leadership at the clinic, she received a citation for community service from the city’s mayor.
As a passionate advocate for education, Purser earned degrees in nursing from the University of Cincinnati Nursing College and from Case Western Reserve University’s School for Social Restoration.
One young mother named Linda wrote to Purser on the back of her high school graduation photo, “Without you accepting me into the Booth/Talbert School and accepting my children into the Booth/Talbert daycare, I don’t think I would have made it this far.”
by Warren L. Maye