Records of the National Vigilance Association

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 106 4NVA
  • Dates of Creation
  • Language of Material
      English , French
  • Physical Description
      27 A boxes

Scope and Content

The archive consists of minutes (including those of the British Vigilance Association (BVA)), annual reports, and publications. Correspondence and campaigning files on issues of public morality, sexual morality, traffic in women, the armed forces, obscenity, prostitution, entertainment and employment. Case files (including some individuals) including regional cases from Wales and North-East England. Administration in connection with British National Council, International Bureau, Travellers' Aid Society (TAS); also the Public Morality Council; and miscellaneous papers including campaign, resource and administrative files about various issues connected with social morality and public morality.

Administrative / Biographical History

The National Vigilance Association (1885-1953) was founded at a time when the debate over the Contagious Diseases Acts and the regulation of prostitution had drawn public attention to the more general issue of the traffic of women and children. Investigations into child prostitution by WT Stead published in the Pall Mall Gazette increased pressure to pass a Criminal Law Amendment Bill. In order to achieve this immediate aim and support any future changes to the law deemed necessary, the National Vigilance Association was formed in Aug 1885 'for the enforcement and improvement of the laws for the repression of criminal vice and public immorality'. All local Vigilance Committees, and any other organisations with congruent aims, were to affiliate to this new body while in turn the central body was to stimulate the formation of new vigilance committees. The General Council consisted of delegates from the affiliated groups and other appointed members and early members included Mrs Fawcett, Mrs Percy Bunting, J Stansfeld MP, Mr WT Stead, Miss Ellice Hopkins, Mrs Mitchell, Mrs Lynch, Miss Bewicke, Mrs Bradley and Mrs Josephine Butler. At the initial meeting, an Executive Committee was appointed to manage the organisation's business and subcommittees were set up to deal with preventive, legal, organisational, parliamentary and municipal matters, as well as with registries, enquiries, the suppression of foreign traffic, finance and literature. The group grew rapidly at a local level and soon there were five branches of the association organised at a regional level: South Wales and Monmouthshire, Sunderland and North Eastern, Manchester and Northern Counties, Birmingham and Midland Counties and Bristol and South Western Counties. The new Association soon amalgamated with a number of other organisations working in the same field. The Minors' Protection Society merged with them in 1885, as did the Society for the Suppression of Vice, with the National Vigilance Association taking over responsibility for the work of the Belgian Traffic Committee. Discussions on a merger took place with the Central Vigilance Society from 1887 to 1891. The Association's activities also widened during this period. In 1899 the National Vigilance Association founded an international organisation, the International Bureau for the Suppression of Traffic in Persons. The Executive of the National Vigilance Association acted as the national committee for Britain within the framework of the International Bureau and in this context was known as the British National Committee though the personnel were identical at the time. Later, however, the British National Committee took on an extended role and became a separate, more broadly-based organisation in its own right which comprised representatives of all the major and some minor organisations for the protection of women and children. Subsequently, in 1917 the aims of the National Vigilance Association itself broadened once more to embrace the protection of women, minors (including young men) and children. To achieve this, they worked not only for the suppression of prostitution but also of 'obscene' publications and public behaviour. A Special Council was established concerned with 'the Suppression of the White Slave Traffic'. However, in the 1920s and 1930s the National Vigilance Association was constantly plagued with financial difficulties despite its merger with the Travellers' Aid Society in 1939. Rising costs and a diminishing income brought a financial crisis in 1951. In 1952 National Vigilance Association and British National Committee amalgamated once more, ending both their independent existences. Consequently, a new group emerged in 1953 which was named as the British Vigilance Association.

Access Information


This collection is available for research, except the case files which remain closed in accordance with the Data Protection Act. Readers are advised to contact The Women's Library in advance of their first visit.

4NVA/6 CASE FILES, 3 A boxes (128 folders) are closed in accordance with DPA. Files will be opened individually between 1/01/2028 - 1/01/2035.

Acquisition Information

All the archives in Strand 4 came to The Fawcett Library from the offices of the British Vigilance Association and International Bureau for the Suppression of Traffic in Persons, some directly in 1972 and the remainder in 1973 via the Anti-Slavery Society, who had been given the more recent records to use in their own work.

Other Finding Aids

Fawcett Library Catalogue.

Related Material

The Women's Library holds the archives of 6 organisations in Strand 4 all of which are closely related. By the end of their existence the organisations operated from the same address, often by the same people. The organisations aimed to aid and protect women, minors (including young men) and children in the areas of sexual and social morality. They operated on a regional, national and international basis, finally ceasing activities in the early 1970s when the British Vigilance Association and the Anti-Slavery Society passed the archives to The Fawcett Library. National activity is also represented by the National Vigilance Association archive, whilst the International Bureau for Suppression of Traffic in Persons tells the international story. Strand 4 is particularly closely related to the Strand 3, also held at The Women's Library, because the issues of prostitution and trafficking of women are so closely interrelated. Many of the activists and organisations have integral links and together they form a history of a subject that even now is rarely discussed.

Strand 4 comprises the following archives:

* 4BNC International Bureau for the Suppression of Traffic in Persons: British National Committee

* 4BVA British Vigilance Association

* 4IBS International Bureau for Suppression of Traffic in Persons

* 4NVA National Vigilance Association

* 4RFR Richard F Russell

* 4TAS Travellers' Aid Society

Strand 3 comprises the following related archives:

* 3AMS Association for Moral and Social Hygiene

* 3BGF British Committee of the Continental & General Federation for Abolition of Government Regulation of Prostitution

* 3HJW Henry Joseph Wilson

* 3JBL Josephine Butler Letters Collection

* 3JSM James Stansfeld Memorial Trust

* 3LCA Lancashire & Cheshire Association for the Abolition of the State Regulation of Vice

* 3LNA Ladies National Association for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts

* 3NAR National Association for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts

The British Library of Political and Economic Science holds British and Foreign Anti Slavery Society records c1873-c1900 (ref. COLL MISC 0101) whilst Oxford University: Bodleian Library of Commonwealth and African Studies at Rhodes House holds the records of Anti Slavery International records dating from 1957-1972 (ref. MSS Brit Emp s 16-24 ). As at 2008 a large number of books and archives were still held by the organisation Anti-Slavery International (HQ).