Josephine Butler Archive

Scope and Content

There are two original copies of published works, however, the majority of the collection are duplicated, reproduction facsimiles from the University of Liverpool's Special Collections & Archives.

Administrative / Biographical History

On her death in 1906, the Victorian social reformer, Josephine Butler, was described in the leading obituaries as one of the 10 most significant persons of the previous century. She was an early feminist with a commitment to the rights and dignity of women and a fierce opponent of injustice and inequality. Her campaigns and compassion were fuelled by her Christian faith. In the face of sustained opposition, hypocrisy, and mockery, she insisted on truth above everything and resolved that she would be heard. She lived a remarkable and courageous life and her achievements brought comfort, hope and new freedoms to abused women and trafficked children.

Josephine Elizabeth Butler, nee Grey (13 Apr 1828-30 Dec 1906), was born at Milfield Hill, Glendale, Northumberland to a prosperous and progressive family, whose high social standing, religious activities and wide intellectual contacts formed the background to a life of campaigning for the treatment of men and women as individuals equally deserving of respect, and bound by the same moral standards. She was unusual among nineteenth-century feminists in having family ties to the Whig aristocracy: Lord Grey, the Whig prime minister during the passage of the Reform Act of 1832, was her father's cousin. Except for two years at a school in Newcastle, Josephine was educated at home. She distanced herself from fashionable society, preferring to identify herself as a member of the provincial middle classes.

Butler credited her family with endowing her with a lifelong commitment to humanitarian reform, republican values, and vital Christianity. Religion was central to the Grey family life. From her mother, a descendant of Huguenot silk weavers, Josephine was imbued with a devout religiosity, free of any allegiance to a particular sect or creed. From her father, an agricultural reformer and anti-slavery advocate, she gained a love of justice and social compassion as well as a horror of slavery and arbitrary power.

On 8 January 1852, Josephine Grey married George Butler at Corbridge, Northumberland. He had been a tutor at Durham University, and then a Public Examiner at Oxford University. In 1866 they moved to Liverpool following her husband's appointment as Head of Liverpool College. George Butler encouraged his wife in her public work, and he would suffer set-backs in his own career on account of his wife's notoriety. Although she became the leader of a campaign widely characterized as the 'revolt of the women', Butler gave special credit to the support of her husband and sons: 'It seems strange that I should have been engaged in taking up the cudgel against men when my father, brothers, and sons have all been so good' (Walkowitz, Prostitution, 121).

Josephine took up plight of girls in the Brownlow Hill workhouse and established a Home of Rest for girls in need. The feminist concerns and devout Christianity informed both her work in support of the higher education of women, in which she worked closely with Anne Jemima Clough and Millicent Garrett Fawcett, and in 1868 she became President of North England Council for Promoting Higher Education of Women. 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 Britain and its colonies. After the repeal of the Acts in April 1886, she continued her opposition to the official regulation of prostitution in Europe and America through her leading role in the International Federation for the Abolition of State Regulation of Vice. In 1883 the Contagious Diseases Acts were suspended and repealed in 1886.

Access Information

Please consult the Visiting the Library webpage containing access information for external visitors. The archives and special collections are available for consultation by special appointment only. To arrange an appointment please email . Allow at least 24 hours notice. Please note that, in line with other archives and special collections, we require personal identification, and may, in some circumstances, ask you to provide references from your research supervisor or other suitable person or body. Please refer to the Access the Collections webpage for detailed information.

The collection is open to any accredited reader. However, to protect confidentiality and in compliance with the Data Protection Act 2018, access to some items containing information relating to living individuals is restricted. The collections are reference only and must be consulted in the Reading Room with the supervision of the Special Collections Librarian. For more information about our collections and archives please visit the Archives & Special Collections webpages.

Acquisition Information

Duplicates from the Josephine Butler collection at University of Liverpool: Special Collections and Archives, generously donated to Liverpool Hope University.

Other Finding Aids

For those collections and archives, that are not yet catalogued, there are Finding Aids in the form of listed contents, catalogues and classification schemes available to download from the Archives & Special Collections website.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic images can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition and size of the original documents, as long as it complies with copyright law and Data Protection legislation.

To reproduce an image for publication, either for personal or commercial purposes, requires written consent from the rights holder. Please refer to the Access the Collections webpage for detailed information on restrictions to access, digital reproduction and image licensing.

Location of Originals

University of Liverpool: Special Collections and Archives . Catalogue reference NRA 19372 Butler.