Josephine Butler Letters Collection

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 106 3JBL
  • Dates of Creation
  • Physical Description
      12 A boxes (2,488 items)

Scope and Content

This archive consists of letters primarily by Josephine Butler, but also by key members of her family (such as her husband) and by colleagues and friends (such as Henry Wilson). Josephine Butler was a Victorian social reformer who campaigned against prostitution and the Contagious Diseases Acts (1864,1866 and 1869). In addition to the original letters held by The Women's Library, this archive includes photocopies of correspondence held at the University of Liverpool Special Collections.

At some point (probably in the 1960s) the correspondence held at The Women's Library was placed in chronological order. Prior to the collection being copied to microfiche (possibly in the 1980s), the photocopies from Liverpool were interleaved. Also interleaved and copied to microfiches were abstracts and administrative history notes made by Miss Burton, a member of the Fawcett Library.

The online catalogue includes the index of who the letters were to and from; the date of the letter; abstracts of each individual letter; and the administrative history and biographical notes made by Miss Burton.

The catalogue supercedes the original finding aid, a card index of correspondents that was available in The Women's Library Reading Room. The collection is available on microfiche in the Reading Room.

Henry J Wilson was Honorary Secretary of the Northern Counties Electoral League For The Repeal Of The Contagious Diseases Acts. There are a number of letters in the Josephine Butler Letters Collection which relate to the Northern Counties Electoral League. These letters bear Henry J Wilson's usual stamp for those files and his reference numbers (marked in blue pencil). At some stage his copies of letters were removed from his personal archive and placed in the Josephine Butler Letters Collection. Readers should also look at 3HJW for further records re the Northern Counties League.

Some of the copy letters are very faint, both on the microfiche and in the original. These are primarily letters that were copied using a 'wet' process. A thin sheet of tissue paper was damped and blotted over the original letter. This took a pale, often fuzzy copy of the letter, which was read 'through' the tissue. As well as being very faint these copies are very fragile.


CD / CDA Contagious Diseases Act

'RR' in the notes refers to 'Rough Record' a copy of which is available in the library, [search Printed Collections Catalogue for 'Keyword' for 'Rough Record'.]

Administrative / Biographical History

Josephine Elizabeth Butler [née Grey] (1828-1906) was born on 13 Apr 1828 (7th of 10 children of John Grey and Hannah née Annett). In 1835 the Grey family moved to Dilston near Corbridge, Northumberland after her father's appointment in 1833 as agent for the Greenwich Estates in the north. On 8 Jan 1852 Josephine married George Butler at Corbridge, Northumberland. He had been a tutor at Durham University, and then a Public Examiner at Oxford University. In 1857 they moved to Cheltenham following husband's appointment as Vice-Principal of Cheltenham College. In 1866 they moved to Liverpool following husband's appointment as Head of Liverpool College. Josephine took up plight of girls in the Brownlow Hill workhouse and established a Home of Rest for girls in need. In 1868 Josephine became President of North England Council for Promoting Higher Education of Women, and in the following year she was Secretary of Ladies' National Association for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts (extended by legislation in 1866 and 1869). In 1875 she established the International Abolitionist Federation in Liverpool. In 1883 the Contagious Diseases Acts were suspended. In 1885 the age of consent was raised to 16 which Josephine fought for. The Contagious Diseases Acts were repealed in 1886. From 1888 until Oct 1896, Josephine edited 'Dawn' a quarterly journal. From 1882-1890 Josephine lived in Winchester where Rev George Butler was appointed canon. In 1890 George Butler died. Josephine moved to London and continued campaigning against state regulation abroad. In 1894 she moved to her son's home in Galewood within Ewart Park near Milfield. In 1898-1900 Josephine edited and wrote 'Storm Bell'. In 1906 Josephine moved to Wooler where she died on 30 Dec and was buried at Kirknewton.


The majority of these letters were originally part of the Association of Moral & Social Hygiene Archive and the Henry Wilson files. The letters were then removed from these archives. At some point (probably in the 1960s) the correspondence was interleaved with the photocopies in chronological order. This was then copied to microfiche (possibly in the 1980s). Also interleaved and copied to microfiches were abstracts and administrative history notes made by Miss Burton, a member of the Fawcett Library.

Additional letters were later acquired by both donation and purchase.

The letters are arranged in chronological order. The letters have not been physically numbered with the hierarchical number, as they retain the original Fawcett Library number (e.g. 3288). If retrieving original letters, please be careful to retain the chronological order as the Fawcett Library numbers are not sequencial. The Fawcett Library number was probably the Fawcett Library Accession number given at the time of acquisition (this needs to be checked against the original accession registers).

The AltRefNo gives the Fawcett Library number (e.g. 3288). It is sometimes followed by a three digit number (e.g. 363 which is the Henry J Wilson blue manuscript reference number.

Access Information

This collection is available for research. Readers are advised to contact The Women's Library in advance of their first visit. 3JBL/01-53 is available on microfiche. In 2007 additional letters, 3JBL/54-59, were identified and catalogued; these are not available on microfiche and the originals must be retrieved.

Other Finding Aids

The Women's Library Catalogue 2007, superceded the index by correspondent which was available in the Reading Room.

Alternative Form Available

A copy of this archive is available on microfiche in The Women's Library Reading Room and in the Liverpool University Library Special Collections. Please note: In 2007 additional letters, 3JBL/54-59, were identified and catalogued and are not available on microfiche.

The Women's Library uses Mary Evans Picture Library (MEPL) to provide images from its collections, see For a copy of the attached image please contact MEPL, quoting the MEPL image reference 10086398 [Original is held at The Women's Library TWL.]

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

Please note: the originals of the photocopied letters held in this archive are held at Liverpool University Library Special Collections.

The Women's Library also holds the Josephine Butler Library Collection of printed and published materials. This was formerly the library of the Josephine Butler Society and was deposited with The Fawcett Library through the then librarian's long involvement with the organisation.

Additionally, The Women's Library holds the Records of the Association for Moral and Social Hygiene, later the Josephine Butler Society (3AMS).

Closely related papers held at The Women's Library include:

Records of the British Committee of the Continental & 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 & 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 held in the following repositories: Northumberland Record Office (ref: NRO.229) - correspondence and diaries (1851-1905); Liverpool University : Special Collections and Archives - correspondence and papers (c1853-1906) includes a further 155 letters, and other material from Josephine Butler Memorial House; Oxford University: Balliol College Library - papers related to Benjamin Jowett and correspondence; Royal Institute of British Architects Library (ref: BuFam/1/4, 2/4, 3/2, 4/2) - letters to Edith Rhoda and Arthur Stanley Butler etc (c1882-1906); further family correspondence is held at St Andrews University Library; letters (c.1860-65) to Hannah and Emily Ford etc are in Leeds University, Brotherton Library.

Location of Originals

Original letters are held at The Women's Library and in the Liverpool University Library Special Collections.

Personal Names

Geographical Names