Josephine Grey Butler

(b. 1828-d. 1906)

Josephine Butler grew up in a wealthy and politically prominent family in England. Her father John Grey was an advocate of social reform. Josephine shared her father's views, principles and hatred of injustice. She voiced her opinions on inequality and injustice no matter the price her reputation would take. She was an argued for the improvement of women's employment, women's education and campaigned for reform of the Contagious Diseases Act.

In 1863, Josephine decided to get involved in charity work as a way to deal with the death of her young daughter. She visited local workhouses and began to rescue young prostitutes. Josephine felt that many young women were forced into prostitution because of low wage earnings and unemployment in the country. She also became involved in improving women's education and employment. Josephine became the president of the North of England Council for the Higher Education of Women. She also persuaded Cambridge University into offering more courses and opportunities for women. The result was the establishment of Newnham College, an all-women college.

Josephine wrote two works: The Education and Employment of Women and Women's Work and Women's Culture. In the first work, she argued for opportunities in education and employment for single women. In the second work she angered many feminists because she warned women not to rival men since women had a different part to play in society. Josephine felt that women were different from men. A woman's role was to protect and care for the weak. A woman should be able to vote because their needs and abilities are different from men. Feminists felt that women should be rivals with men and are able to compete with men in every way.

She became the leader of the Ladies National Association for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Act of 1870. The act was to prevent contagious diseases in the armed forces. The bill meant that any woman who was said to be a prostitute could be forcibly examined and imprisoned if she resisted. If she had a venereal disease, she could be kept in the 'Lock Hospital' for three months. Instead of being innocent until proven guilty, the women were defined as guilty and had to prove their innocence. The examinations were conducted by men and often times painful and humiliating. There was no pressure on men to be treated for venereal disease. Josephine campaigned against these Acts to educate middle class women of the hypocrisy of male dominated morality toward women of their own class and the cruelty of other women. The campaigned attacked sex and class dominance within one of the most taboo areas of Victorian sexual culture. Also, it was led by a woman who insisted that upper class men be subject to their own moral code.

Josephine went all over the country giving speeches about the Contagious Diseases Act. She was an excellent orator, who attracted a large audience. Many were shocked that a woman was giving explicit speeches about sexual matters. Her husband stood by her side although he was criticized and told that his support would hurt his academic standing in the country. Parliament finally repealed the Acts in 1886; this was considered a major feminist triumph.

Josephine Butler was a revolutionary feminist. She forced the Parliament to change the legal age of prostitutes from 13 to 16 years of age, helped advance the opportunities of women in education and brought forth the hypocrisy of male morality on women through the Contagious Diseases Act. Josephine used her standing in society to help the less fortunate women of her country. She died in 1906.

Annotated Bibliography

Bartley, Paula. Prostitution: Prevention and Reform in England, 1860-1914. Journal of Social History 36.4 (2003) 1081-1083.
The author of this journal examines the emergence and causes of prostitution. It also examines the reformation of acts such as the Contagious Diseases Act and its impact on prostitution and women. The author examines ways to keep girls from turning to prostitution and ways to reform those who are already prostituting. The journal is good but a bit lengthy.

BBC. "Historic Figures: Josephine Butler" British Broadcasting Company. <> (19 December 2005).
This website is a great site for information on Josephine Butler and other Victorian women. It has a short but good biography and many links to British history. I would recommend this site for anyone interested in British history.

Brittain, Vera. Lady Into Woman. New York, N.Y.: MacMillan, 1953.
This book follows the history of women from the Victorian days to the 1950s. The book is easy to read and the chapters are clearly defined. The source contains many women, including Josephine Butler and their accomplishments. Although the book is dated, I would recommend this book as a starting point for research on women's history.

DiCaprio, Lisa and Wiesner, Merry. Lives and Voices: Sources in European Women's History. Boston, MA.: Houghton Mifflin, 2001.
This book is great for use in the classroom. It utilizes primary sources to learn about women's history starting from the Bible to present day. The book contains an article, "Letter to My Countrywomen, Dwelling in the Farmsteads and Cottages of England." The purpose of this article was to stir up support against the Contagious Diseases Act by the working class and religious organizations. The book is a great read because it gives a summary of the time period, a summary of the work and the primary source itself. I strongly suggest this book for any professor to use in college.

Hooper, Katy. "The Josephine Butler Collections" University of Liverpool. ( 30 September 2004) <> (19 December 2005).
I found this to be a very useful source. It includes many links to information about Josephine Butler including personal letters to and from her husband and public figures and also, her diary. The site has a detailed biography and includes a few pictures of Josephine. There is also a link for the Women's Library at the London Metropolitan University. The Women's library has many collections with an abundance of information on Josephine Butler.

Norton, Katie. "Josephine Butler" Virginia Tech. <> (19 December 2005).
The webpage was written by an English Major at Virginia Tech. The Biography is good and easy to read. There is not much to this site. There are no further external links. I would recommend this page if someone is interested in a short biography of Josephine Butler but would not recommend this site for anyone who needs in-depth research material.

Petrie, Glen. A Singular Iniquity: The Campaigns of Josephine Butler. New York, N.Y.: Viking Press, 1971.
This is a great book for information on Josephine Butler since it is dedicated to her history and life's work. Included in the book are excerpts of personal letters to and from her children and her husband George. It also explains the campaigns against her by Parliament and the upper class men of Victorian society. The book is a bit lengthy but I would still recommend this book to any level reader.

Rowbotham, Sheila. Hidden from History. New York, N.Y.: Pantheon, 1974.
This book studies women's history from the Puritan Revolution to the 1930s. It investigates how sex, work, family and societal demands have shaped and hindered the woman's struggle from equality. This source explains the campaign of Josephine Butler against the Contagious Diseases Act and her work with prostitutes. She examines the effect of Josephine Butler had on class domination and sexual taboos in Victorian society. The author uses primary documents such as letters to reveal the real history of women. This was an excellent book even though the book is slightly difficult to read. I would recommend this book for upper level readers.

Wohl, Anthony S. "The Contagious Disease Act" (13, May 2004). <> (19 December 2005).
This is the best website to access information about history, literature and culture of the Victorian Era. The site explains the Contagious Diseases Act in detail. The information on this site is easy to read. The site is easy to navigate also. The website includes information about gender matters, politics, religion, science and much more. This is highly recommended for the study of the Victorian Era.

Anonymous. "Josephine Butler" ( 10 November 2005) <> (19 December 2005).
This site was an excellent source to find information about Josephine Butler. It includes a great biography and many links to information such as the Contagious Diseases Act. The site also includes excerpts from her books. I highly recommend this site for people of all ages.


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Originally written by Enrica Bellucci 2005
Last Revision 18 December 2005
Copyright MMV Prof. Pavlac's Women's History Site
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