Sue Young Histories

Josephine Elizabeth Butler 1828 – 1906

November 07, 2008

Josephine Elizabeth Butler 1828 –
1906Josephine Elizabeth Butler 1828 – 1906 was an indomitable English feminist, who fought tirelessly to protect the welfare of prostitutes, and to shame men into facing the unpleasant side of their own sexual behaviour. This great labour was fully supported by homeopaths in Britain and in America.

Josephine Butler’s ‘house’  in Hope Street, Liverpool was located just next door to the Liverpool Homeopathic Dispensary based in Hope Street, Liverpool in 1861. In 1861, Josephine Butler started the Liverpool Clinic, based firmly on the homeopathic model (Kathleen Barry, The Prostitution of Sexuality, (NYU Press, 1 Jun 1996). Page 93) of the Liverpool Homeopathic Dispensary which was founded in 1841 by homeopaths John James Drysdale and John Chapman with their emphasis of providing health care to the poor and destitute.

In 1867, Josephine Elizabeth Butler was instrumental in establishing the North of England Council for Promoting the Higher Education of Women.

Josephine Elizabeth Butler led the long campaign for the repeal of the Contagious Diseases (Women) Act (1864) from 1869 to 1886. Josephine Elizabeth Butler’s campaign was supported by homeopaths in Britain and in America (Anon, The North American Journal of Homeopathy, Volume 63, (American Medical Union, 1915). Page 558). James John Garth Wilkinson would be steadfast in support of his friend Josephine Elizabeth Butler in her campaigns to repeal the many Contagious Diseases (Women) Acts (1864, 1866, 1869), and he wrote ‘… white with anger and indignation…’ an open letter sixteen pages long entitled The Forcible Introspection of Women for the Army and Navy by the Oligarchy: Considered Physically, to support of the campaign against the practice of the compulsory examination of prostitutes in naval and military towns (James John Garth WilkinsonThe Forcible Introspection of Women for the Army and Navy by the Oligarchy: Considered Physically, (F. Pitman, 1870).  See also Josephine E Butler, Letter to James John Garth Wilkinson, on the publication of The Forcible introspection of women for the Army and Navy, by the oligarchy, considered physically. _See also Clement John Wilkinson, *James John Garth Wilkinson; A Memoir of His Life, with a Selection of His Letters, (Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co, 1911, reprinted by General Books page 45*)_. This protest essay by James John Garth Wilkinson was addressed to Henry Austin Bruce 1st Baron Aberdare, who was Home Secretary at this time. James John Garth Wilkinson must have thought him a supportive ally due to his staunch defence of John Ozanne in 1862. James John Garth Wilkinson’s friend and colleague Francis William Newman also joined in this campaign alongside very many others.

In 1870, Josephine Elizabeth Butler became the leader (** **(The Josephine Butler Memorial Trust) of the Ladies National Association for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Act, and subsequently, she spent many years touring between countries to protest against the presumption of guilt of women, and astonishing her audiences when she directly addressed the unspoken and deeply difficult subject of prostitution. She even carried her campaign to India. Josephine Elizabeth Butler argued forcibly that the morality of men was deeply questionable. She argued with great passion that the men involved should accept their responsibility and account for their atrocious behaviour, and lectured with great energy and passion, often putting herself in risky and dangerous situations. This campaign would target the double standards of Victorian ‘gentlemen’ who casually sexually abused under aged children, a problem that unfortunately still plagues our so called ‘modern age’. Her husband, disregarding warnings that it would damage his academic career, supported and protected her throughout this period.

The passage of The Contagious Diseases Act 1886, finally and fully supported Josephine Elizabeth Butler’s long national and international campaign to amend this unfair and forcible legislation.

Josephine Elizabeth Butler also supported James John Garth Wilkinson, and she joined the Committee of the Mothers’ Anti-Compulsory Vaccination League, a project extremely close to James John Garth Wilkinson’s heart.

Josephine Elizabeth Butler was also a friend of William Thomas Stead, and Josephine’s close friend Anne Jemima Clough’s brother Arthur Hugh Clough was an advocate and patient of homeopathy. Another close friend, Florence Booth was married to Bramwell Booth, a member of the staunchly homeopathic family of Catherine and William Booth. Josephine also corresponded with William Ewart Gladstone. Josephine’s letters on abolitionism found their way into the Garrison Family archive alongside letters from homeopaths and homeopathic supporters (William Lloyd Garrison).

From  The fourth subseries, Friends and associates, consists of the same type of materials as subseries three with the addition of published writings and memorabilia… Although most of the material included here concerns friends of the Garrisons, there is also information about others that that the family collected. They include Susan B Anthony; Alice Stone Blackwell (homeopath and daughter of Lucy Stone) ; Josephine Butler; Frederick Douglass; Henry George; Thomas Wentworth Higginson; the May, Lucy McKim Garrison, and Pankhurst families; Harriet Martineau; Theodore Parker; Wendell Phillips; Parker Pillsbury; Joseph Linden Smith (including drawings and sketches); Harriet Tubman; Booker T. Washington; Theodore Dwight Weld; and Marie Zakrzewska.

Josephine’s mother was the cousin of the reformist British Prime Minister Charles Grey 2nd Earl Grey and a slavery abolitionist himself. Their only daughter, Evangeline died in 1863. This led Josephine to seek solace by ministering to people with greater pain than her own. Against her friends’ and family’s advice, she began visiting Liverpool’s Brownlow Hill workhouse which led to her first involvement with prostitutes.

From Josephine was, from her 20s on, very active in feminist movements. This was particularly spurred by the accidental death of her six-year-old daughter Eva in 1863 when the Butlers were living in Cheltenham, where George served as vice principal at Cheltenham College.

In 1866 George Butler was appointed headmaster of Liverpool College, and the family moved to Liverpool. Josephine now became involved in the campaign for higher education for women, and in 1867 together with Anne Jemima Clough, later principal of Newnham College, Cambridge, she was instrumental in establishing the North of England Council for Promoting the Higher Education of Women…

In 1885 she was drawn into another related campaign led by the campaigning editor of the Pall Mall Gazette, William Thomas Stead. He had published a series of articles entitled The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon exposing the extent of child prostitution in London. As a result of this campaign, the age of consent in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was raised from 13 to 16 that same year.

From** With thanks to the Josephine Butler Memorial Trust**: Josephine Elizabeth Grey was born in Northumberland in 1828, to a wealthy and prominent family.

Educated at home in English and Italian literature and the works of the Church Fathers, she was also strongly influenced by her father’s passion for social reform and hatred of injustice.

When she married George Butler, then a tutor at Oxford, in 1852, she found a like mind, and together over the course of their lives they supported the abolition of slavery, showed concern for the socially disadvantaged, and argued for better rights for marginalized women.

Living first at Oxford, then at Cheltenham College, the Butlers had four children, the youngest of whom, Eva, died at the age of six after falling from the banisters at the top of their stairs. Her daughter’s death left a deep scar in Josephine Butler, and it was particularly in the aftermath of this tragedy that she appears to have turned more to social campaigning on behalf of prostitutes, and promoting education and moral reform.

The family moved to Liverpool in 1866 when George, who was by then ordained in the Church of England, was invited to become the new headmaster of Liverpool College. Still suffering from grief and from the depression which would recur throughout her life, Josephine threw herself into working with women in the local workhouse, hoping, as she wrote, to “find some pain keener than my own – to meet with people more unhappy than myself.”

She had no clear plan, other than to help: “my sole wish,” she explained, “was to plunge into the heart of some human misery, and to say (as I now knew I could) to afflicted people, “I understand. I, too, have suffered.”

As a result of rescuing many young girls from the workhouse, and either finding them homes or taking them into her own household, Josephine worked to set up her own refuge, believing it to be a divine calling.

Josephine Butler’s practical work fed into her own writing, and her first published article, The Education and Employment of Women, was followed by Women’s Work and Women’s Culture.

In 1867, having met Anne Jemima Clough, sister of the poet Arthur Hugh Clough, she began campaigning for better educational provision for women, becoming president of the North of England Council for the Higher Education of Women.

Despite her own ill-health, she also travelled to Cambridge to persuade the University to allow women’s admission to study there, and to set up a college (Newnham College) exclusively for women.

After a tour of Switzerland in 1869, intended to improve her health, Josephine became aware of European policies designed to regulate prostitution, and of Britain’s own recently passed Contagious Diseases Acts of 1864, 1866, and 1869. These laws, which effectively legalized the sex trade, sought to control the spread of sexually transmitted diseases in the army and navy and required all women living near garrison towns and naval ports to submit to registration and regular internal examination.

In 1870 Josephine became leader of the Ladies National Association for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Act, arguing against the presumption of guilt on the part of the women, and seeking instead both to question the morality of the men involved and to bring them to account for their behaviour.

She travelled the country, speaking with incredible force and passion, sometimes putting herself in danger, surprising many with her candour on the taboo subjects of prostitution and sexual morality. Her husband supported her campaigns, despite warnings that it would damage his academic career.

George and Josephine moved to Winchester in 1882 where he took up a canonry at the cathedral. Josephine had soon opened up a new House of Rest for women who temporarily needed care and shelter, and continued her campaigning work, offending both Church of England members by her outspokenness, and atheists among the repeal movement by her strong faith.

But Parliament did finally repeal the contagious Diseases Acts in 1886, and laws which in effect also enslaved women into prostitution in Switzerland, Holland, Norway, France, and Italy were similarly repealed or reformed because of her influence.

In March 1890, after a few years of ill health, during which he was faithfully cared for by his wife, George Butler died. Josephine, herself still in poor health, settled in London, but continued travelling to see family, and to campaign in Switzerland and Italy.

She also wrote a biography of George, a Life of St Catherine of Siena (1898), various tracts, and her own memoirs, Personal Reminiscences of a Great Crusade (1896).

Unsettled and often lonely, struggling with the deaths of her sister, brother in law, and others close to her, as well as with her own weakness and insomnia, she moved to live with her son George on his estate at Galewood in Northumberland, where, on Sunday 30th December 1906, she died. She was buried nearby at the little church in Kirknewton on January 3rd 1907.


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