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

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The archive consists of seven volumes of minutes of the Executive Committee (1875-1880) including 2 copies of loose minutes of a meeting at Bristol 1875 and one in 1879; loose leaves of minute books, printed report of conference of Committee and branch representatives (1907), press cuttings, minutes of the conference on amalgamation with the British Branch and joint meeting of their subscribers (1915); 1 volume of Special Sub-committee minute book (1912, 1915), minutes of the council of the London branch (1883-1895).

Administrative / Biographical History

Ladies National Association for the Abolition of the State Regulation of Vice & for the Promotion of Social Purity (1869-1915) (LNA) was established in 1869. In the 1840s there was an upsurge in concern about 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' 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 at which the CD Acts were raised and condemned, a number of individuals established the National Association for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Act. No women were originally included in the organisation though many later joined. The result of this omission was that by the end of Dec 1869, the Ladies National Association for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts was formed. On New Year' Day 1870, one of their first actions was to publish in the Daily News a protest against the Acts. This was signed by 124 women including Florence Nightingale, Josephine Butler, Mary Carpenter, Lydia Becker and drafted by Harriet Martineau and became known as the Ladies' Protest. This manifesto document opposed the acts on several grounds: they gave unbounded powers over women to the police; they identified and penalised the wrong sex as the source of vice; they withdrew moral restraints on conduct without tackling the moral causes of disease; they posed a serious danger to civil liberties; and finally, the group claimed, they were incapable of diminishing disease. The group' treasurer was Mrs Jacob Bright and Butler acted as the honorary secretary. By Oct 1871, they had gathered 1400 members and by 1871 57 branches had been formed. At the end of that year the Executive Committee comprised: Mrs Jacob Bright, Lydia Becker, Mrs Blackburn, Miss Estlin, Mrs McLaren, Mrs E. Backhouse, Miss Merryweather, Mrs Nichol, Miss L Marche-Phillipps, Mrs Reid and Miss Wigham; Mrs Arthur Tanner had become its head and Josephine Butler remained secretary. Its main bases of support were in the North and Bristol: until 1873, the organisation had no London offices and support in this area remained weak until the 1880s. However, throughout its existence, it maintained ties with the National Association for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Act though maintaining its independence as a female organisation focused on moral rather than statistical arguments. Therefore, when the CD Acts were repealed in 1886, the organisation did not end as NARCDA did, but went on to fight for equal moral standards between the sexes as the Ladies National Association for the Abolition of the State Regulation of Vice and for the Promotion of Social Purity. In this incarnation, the body campaigned for the repeal of the Acts remaining in force in India. In 1915, they amalgamated with the British Branch of the British, Continental and General Federation for the Abolition of Government Regulation of Prostitution to become the Association for Moral & Social Hygiene.

Conditions Governing Access

Gift

This collection is available for research. Readers are advised to contact The Women' 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

The organisation' annual reports are held in The Women' Library collection 3BGF/B/1; its periodical Storm Bell (1898-1900) is held in the The Women' Library printed collections class number 345.0253405 (Please note: this publication is very fragile so is available to consult on microfilm).

Geographical Names