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Printed Collections: Josephine Butler Society Library

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 106 PC/03
Held at: Women's Library
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Full title: Printed Collections: Josephine Butler Society Library
Date(s): [1860-2008]
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: c. 84.5 linear metres
Name of creator(s): Josephine Butler Society
Detailed catalogue: Click here to view repository detailed catalogue


Administrative/Biographical history:

The Josephine Butler Society (1962-fl.2007) was formed in 1962 when the Association for Moral and Social Hygiene was renamed. Its objectives were: To promote a high and equal standard of morality and sexual responsibility for men and women in public opinion, law and practice; To promote the principles of the International Abolitionist Federation in order to secure the abolition of state regulation of prostitution, to combat the traffic in persons and to expose and prevent any form of exploitation of prostitution by third parties; To examine any existing or proposed legislation on matters associated with prostitution or related aspects of public order and to promote social, legal and administrative reforms in furtherance of the above objectives. Its basic principles were: social justice; equality of all citizens before the law; a single moral standard for men and women. (Taken from membership and donation form 1990). The Josephine Butler Society was a pressure group not a rescue organisation. It wished to prevent the exploitation of prostitutes and marginalisation of those who could be forced into this activity by poverty and abuse, and it believed these problems should be addressed by changes in the law. It believed that more should be done to prevent young people from drifting into prostitution, to help those who wished to leave it, and to rehabilitate its victims. Its work in the early 21st century took two main forms: to make representation to various departments of the UK Government on prostitution and related issues an; to liase and network with other agencies both statutory and voluntary who worked in related areas. As at 2008 it was still active.

The origins of the Josephine Butler Society are based in the campaigns against the Contagious Diseases Acts of 1864-1869. The Acts were a series of measures aimed at reducing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases in the armed forces and applied to a number of ports and garrison towns. Police forces were granted powers to identify and register prostitutes who were then forced to undergo compulsory medical examinations. Women who refused to submit willingly could be arrested and brought before a magistrate. The campaign against the Contagious Diseases Acts brought together moralists, feminists and libertarians and included campaigners such as the parliamentarian James Stansfeld, the Sheffield radical Henry J. Wilson and the writer Harriet Martineau. It proved to be one of the largest cross-party political campaigns of the nineteenth century, comparable only to the Corn Laws agitation. The campaign was successful; the Contagious Diseases Acts were suspended in 1883 and finally repealed in 1886.

Josephine Butler (ne Grey 1828-1906) was a leading feminist, prolific writer and tireless campaigner. She was appointed President of the North of England Council for the Higher Education of Women 1867-1869 and edited the influential collection of essays Woman's work and woman's culture in 1869. Having been involved in 'rescue work' with Liverpool prostitutes she became leader of the campaign to repeal the Contagious Diseases Acts in 1869. She later campaigned with WT Stead against child prostitution in London and from 1886 was involved in opposing measures in India, under the Cantonement Acts, to establish military brothels.


Scope and content/abstract:

The Josephine Butler Society Library is an unrivalled resource for the study of sexuality and public morality from the late nineteenth to the mid twentieth century. This unique collection of books, pamphlets, periodicals, leaflets and, campaigning documents, covers subjects ranging from the regulation of prostitution, venereal disease, social purity, sexuality and public health to criminology, penology, eugenics and population control. Although a small number of individual items continue to be added to the collection by the Josephine Butler Society, the bulk of the printed materials date from the late nineteenth and early to mid twentieth centuries.

The Josephine Butler Society Library is particularly important because it brings together the Library of the organisation alongside its campaigning literature and business papers. In addition to sources for the study of prostitution and attitudes to sexuality in Britain the collection includes significant amounts of material on slavery, procuring, public health and the armed forces in India. It contains late nineteenth century works on sexology by Havelock Ellis, Bloch, Forel and Krafft-Ebing and psychology by Freud, Jung and Ellis, as well as works on marriage, the family and sex education. Although most material in the collection is in English there are small but significant numbers of works in European languages. The geographic scope of the collection extends beyond Britain and the Commonwealth; papers of the International Bureau for the Suppression of Traffic in Persons 1899-1968, for example, relate to the Bureau's work with the League of Nations.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:
English, French, German and Russian

System of arrangement:

Conditions governing access:

This collection is available for research. Readers are advised to contact The Women's Library in advance of their first visit. The collection is stored in closed stacks and items can be ordered for consultation in the Reading Room by completing a collections order slip.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Due to the age and fragility of most of the material in the Josephine Butler Society Library no photocopying from this collection is permitted.

Finding aids:

The Printed Collections can be consulted via an online catalogue available at Additional guides in the form of Source Notes are available online. The majority of books, pamphlets and periodicals from the Josephine Butler Society Library collection are catalogued on The Women's Library's online catalogue, and most of the archives can be found in Strand 3 and are catalogued on The Women's Library Special Collections catalogue.

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

The society deposited its library on permanent loan at the Fawcett Library (now The Women's Library) in 1956, and gifted it to The Women's Library in 1998.

Allied Materials

Related material:

The Women's Library also the Records of the Association for Moral and Social Hygiene the organisation founded by Butler and later renamed the Josephine Butler Society (3AMS). Additionally, The Women's Library holds the Josephine Butler Autograph Letter Collection which can be consulted in microfilm format (3JBL).

Closely related papers held at The Women's Library include: Records of the British Committee of the Continental and General Federation for Abolition of Government Regulation of Prostitution (3BGF); Papers of Henry Joseph Wilson (3HJW); Records of the James Stansfeld Memorial Trust (3JSM); Records of the Lancashire and Cheshire Association for the Abolition of the State Regulation of Vice (3LCA); the records of the Ladies National Association for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts (ref: 3LNA); the records of the National Association for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts (ref: 3NAR); Records of the International Bureau for the Suppression of Traffic in Persons: British National Committee (4BNC); Records of the British Vigilance Association (4BVA); the Records of the International Bureau for Suppression of Traffic in Persons (4IBS); the Records of the National Vigilance Association (4NVA); the papers of Richard F Russell, the general secretary of the International Bureau from 1957-1971 (4RFR); and Records of the Travellers' Aid Society (4TAS).

Papers related to Josephine Butler are also held in the following repositories: correspondence and diaries (1851-1905) are in Northumberland Record Office (ref: NRO.229); correspondence and papers (c1853-1906) are in Liverpool University: Special Collections and Archives; papers related to Benjamin Jowett and correspondence are in Oxford University: Balliol College Library; letters to Edith Rhoda and Arthur Stanley Butler etc (c1882-1906) are in the Royal Institute of British Architects Library (ref: BuFam/1/4, 2/4, 3/2, 4/2); further family correspondence is in St Andrews University Library and letters (c.1860-65) to Hannah and Emily Ford etc are in Leeds University, Brotherton Library. Details of related material held in other collections can also be located on Genesis.

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Updated Collection Description by Teresa Doherty, based on web resources Feb 2009. Edited for AIM25 by Sarah Drewery.

Rules or conventions:
General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal Place and Corporate Names 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
Feb 2009.

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