Records of the National Association for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The archive consists of Minutes of the Executive Committee (1871-1890) and letterbook (1883-1886).

Administrative / Biographical History

The National Association for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts (1869-1886) was established in 1869. In the 1840s there was an upsurge in concern with prostitution in the United Kingdom. Evangelical Christians, socialists and chartists all condemned the industry and moral campaigns were established to suppress vice. However, only after 1857's Royal Commission report on the health of the army and a follow-up report on the level of venereal disease in the military five years later did official tolerance of prostitution came to an end as the question became fused with contemporary concerns over public health. The result was three successive decrees in 1864, 1866 and 1869 known as the Contagious Diseases (referred to as the CD) Acts. By these, in certain towns containing military bases, any woman suspected of being a prostitute could be stopped and forced to undergo a genital inspection to discover if she had a venereal disease. If she did not submit willingly, she could be arrested and brought before a magistrate. If she was found to be infected, she could be effectively imprisoned in a 'lock' hospital. After the 1869 Social Sciences congress where the CD Acts were raised and condemned, a number of individuals established the National Association for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Act, originally under the title of the National Anti-Contagious Diseases Act Extension Association. An Executive Committee was elected which included Mr Robert Charlton as Treasurer and Frederick Banks as secretary with the Rev. Dr. Hoopell and Dr Worth as honorary secretaries. No women were originally included in the organisation, and though many later joined, this initial omission led to the formation of the Ladies National Association for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Act under Josephine Butler. Local branches were rapidly set up, particularly in the north of England and the Midlands. The following year, the NARCDA set up the journal 'The Shield' to promote their work. In the summer of 1870, the organisation merged with the Metropolitan Anti-Contagious Diseases Acts Association after a joint conference to form a London-based group better placed to influence parliamentary opinion. The new body continued under the name of the National Association for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Act and by 1886 had around five hundred branches. In 1887 the decision was taken to dissolve the group, a year after the 1886 repeal of the acts, though it was not finally wound up until 1890.

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is available for research. Readers are advised to contact The Women's Library in advance of their first visit.

Other Finding Aids

Fawcett Library Catalogue

Custodial History

This archive, together with the archives that make up Strand 3, was originally deposited by the Josephine Butler Society Library in 1957.

Related Material

Copies of 'The Shield', the journal of the National Association for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts, are also held by The Women's Library in the Printed Collections, class number 345.0253405. Please note the originals are very fragile so The Shield is available on microfilm only.