Josephine Butler

21 February 2012


I work in a library headquarters, this means that we process the new stock [1] . Part of this processing means that we have to write the accession number and the call number, or collection code on the new books. We do this in three places. Back of the title page, on page 19, and on the date label. And this process means that I often end up reading snippets of page 19. Today at work some Jennifer Worth books came in.

Worth was a midwife in the East End of London in the 1950’s. The BBC’s Call the Midwife is based on her memoirs[2] . And, on page 19 of one of the four titles by her that we got in today I read about Josephine Butler.

Josephine Butler

Josephine Butler

Born in 1828 Butler was an early feminist, and one of her causes became the abolishment of the Contagious Diseases Act. This horrible bit of legislation meant that any policeman could stop any woman walking the streets by herself and examine her to check if she was infected with veneral disease. Supposedly this was to stop men from visiting infected prostitutes and spreading the disease further.

Why not instead examine the men? Well

Some regiments were already experimenting with regular examination of all their men for VD, but this was so unpopular with both soldiers and medical officers that it was abandoned in 1859 on the grounds that it destroyed the men’s self-respect.

She also campaigned against child prostitution

A fascinating woman, why have I never heard of her before?

You can read more about her on Wikipedia, or on the Josephine Butler Memorial Trust site, and why not take a look at the Josephine Butler Society Library which is an unrivalled resource for the study of sexuality and public morality from the late nineteenth to the mid twentieth century.


  1. among other things.
  2. Guardian – her obituary in the Guardian

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3 Responses

  1. A very interesting bit of history there. I will check out the links.
    Sean the Bookonaut´s last blog post ..Wonder Women the Untold Story of American Super heroines

  2. Kailana says:

    How interesting. I have never heard of her before, either.
    Kailana´s last blog post ..What Are You Listening to Wednesday – Week 12

  3. Kathleen says:

    I've never heard of her before either. What a crazy law that was!
    Kathleen´s last blog post ..Review: Before I go to Sleep by S.J. Watson