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Josephine Butler

Josephine Elizabeth Butler nee Grey (1828-1906) was a British social reformer and campaigner for women’s rights. Although she herself came from a privileged background with aristocratic connections, Butler spent her life fighting for the rights of the marginalised and underprivileged. In 1853 she married George Butler and they lived first in Oxford and later in Liverpool, where Josephine Butler began to undertake social work, in particular amongst prostitutes and so-called ‘ruined women’. During the 1860s Butler became increasingly involved in the emerging women’s rights movement, and in 1869 she published Woman’s Work and Woman’s Culture, in which she set out her ideas about women’s political exclusion, their economic dependence, the double standard concerning expectations about men and women’s sexual morality, and the social ills this produced. 

Also in 1869, Butler became the honorary secretary of the Ladies National Association for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts, and until 1886, when the Acts were finally repealed, she campaigned for their abolition. The Contagious Diseases Acts allowed the police to undertake physical examinations of women who were suspected of being prostitutes in ports and garrison towns. It is primarily for her key role in leading the repeal campaign that Butler is now remembered. Schreiner refers to Josephine Butler and her work in a number of letters, and in an 1889 letter to Mary Drew she describes Butler as “a rare beautiful soul”. It is possible that some letters were exchanged between Schreiner and Butler, although none have been traced.

For further information see:
Nancy Boyd (1982) Three Victorian Women who Changed their World: Josephine Butler, Octavia Hill, Florence Nightingale Oxford: Oxford University Press
Josephine Butler (1896) Personal Reminiscences of a Great Crusade London: H. Marshall & Son
Judith R. Walkowitz (1980) Prostitution and Victorian Society: Women, Class and the State Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Judith R. Walkowitz (1992) City of Dreadful Delight: Narratives of Sexual Danger in Late-Victorian London Chicago: University of Chicago Press
Judith R. Walkowitz (2004) ‘Butler, Josephine Elizabeth (1828-1906)’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Oxford University Press http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/32214
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