Josephine Butler


Josephine Butler

Men have imposed on women a stricter rule in morality than they have imposed on themselves, or are willing themselves to obey. . . .  Remembering how the Holiest could say to one such erring woman, "neither do I condemn thee, go and sin no more,"  I would, if I were a man, (with my hand on my heart, I say it) take off my hat and stand bareheaded before the most degraded of these women, before I would dare to speak of them as greater sinners than myself, even if I were myself blameless; for, as a man, I should feel ashamed and penitent on behalf of other men, for whom and by whom these helpless ones have been cast forth and branded.

--Josephine Butler


Josephine Butler is visiting in the garden. She was not a prostitute, but she was surely one of the best friends a working girl ever had.  Butler was a British advocate for women's rights, and along the way found herself advocating changes to protect women working as prostitutes. In 1869, she began a vigorous campaign to overturn the Contagious Diseases Acts that had been passed in the 1860's; intended to prevent the spread of venereal diseases in the military. According to the acts, any woman suspected of being a prostitute could be picked up off the street and subjected to an involuntary pelvic exam to ascertain whether she was disease free (disease free women could presumably go back to work).  Of course, any woman out on the street alone in the wrong part of town was automatically a prostitute; there was at least one case where the "medical examiner" deflowered a virgin arrested mistakenly.  Butler recognized these Acts as a violation of these women's rights under the British Constitution. She believed all women deserved protection under the law, especially women who were victimized by poverty and forced into virtual slavery. Butler was a skilled writer, and her essays were excellent arguments defending the Constitutional rights of women. She helped win the day and the acts were repealed in 1886. She also campaigned against child prostitution and the setting up of military brothels in India (fine with us; prostitution should be a voluntary profession).  As a  result, she has earned the right to stop by the house for tea any time.

flower vine

buttonRead an essay by Mrs. Butler

buttonJosephine Butler on the BBC biography page.

buttonThe Josephine Butler Collection at the University of Liverpool


    Wait! Who's that in  the alley?



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