Papers of Henry Joseph Wilson

Archive Collection
  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 106 3HJW
  • Former Reference
      GB 106 FL78, FL78a, FL78b, FL80-FL82, FL284-FL287
  • Dates of Creation
      1869-1930
  • Language of Material
      English French German
  • Physical Description
      11 A boxes
  • Direct Link

Scope and Content

The archive consists of files related to the following themes: Northern Counties Electoral League for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts, state regulation of vice, the British, Continental & General Federation for the Abolition of Government Regulation of Prostitution, personal papers, and the Contagious Disease Acts in India. These files contain reports, circular letters, statements of evidence, correspondence, press cuttings, annual reports, notices of meetings, memoranda, printed copies of speeches, leaflets, handbills, petition forms, notes, draft petitions, statistical reports.

Mr Wilson was Honorary Secretary of the 'Northern Counties Electoral League For The Repeal Of The Contagious Diseases Acts' throughout its existence. These papers were mainly accumulated by him in his official capacity as the Northern Counties League Secretary. However, there are also papers Wilson created through his personal involvement with the movement. Wilson constructed the files and gave them the titles given here, and numbered the items throughout the file series, consecutively in bold blue pencil numbers. The files were further organised by theme c. 1909-c.1922 and were 'weeded' at some point.

Unfortunately, soon after the files were deposited in the Fawcett Library, the then Librarian extracted letters from prominent persons in the Contagious Diseases movement and to place them in an artificial 'Josephine Butler Letter Collection' (ref 3JBL). Items taken from Wilson's personal archive can be recognised from Henry J Wilson's usual stamp for those files and the blue pencil numeration on them. The original files can be reconstituted from that numeration. Wilson letters located in 3JBL include the period Jul 1871-Dec1874, plus three letters found in the Autograph Letter Collection (ref. 9/).

Administrative / Biographical History

Henry Joseph Wilson (1833-1914) was born on the 14 Apr 1833 in Nottingham. One of the 7 children of William Wilson, cotton spinner, and Eliza Read of Sheffield. His parents were non-conformist radicals and his father was the Chair of the Nottingham Anti-Slavery committee. Wilson was sent to London University College to study in 1850, but returned home the following year when his mother died. After this, he was sent to work on a farm in Gloucestershire and then to his father's own farm in Mansfield in 1853 where he remained until his father's death in 1866. There he was deeply involved in non-conformist religion, the temperance movement and he was instrumental in the foundation of the Mansfield Co-operative Society of which he was the first president. It was in the 1860s the three Contagious Diseases (or CD) Acts were passed in an effort to regulate prostitution and the spread of venereal disease. Wilson was one of the many that opposed the Acts on the grounds that it would establish the state regulation of vice. He and his wife Charlotte [nee Cowan], whom he had married in 1859, began their careers of public speaking and political activism. In 1871, they attended a meeting of the Royal Commission on the implementation of the CD Acts in Sheffield that was also attended and addressed by Josephine Butler. When the latter perceived in 1872 that it would be impossible to run the whole anti-CD Acts campaign from London, Wilson became one of those who were to be central to the formation of the Northern Counties Electoral League for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts (known as the Northern Counties League). Branches of the National Association for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts had already been set up in the north east but it was felt that a strong central body was necessary. Edward Backhouse was the first Chair with Joseph Edmonson as the Treasurer and Wilson as the secretary. Their aim was to make known in their area the 'atrocious character' of the Acts and to raise the issue of them at elections. The group immediately began to send out petition forms and circulars were distributed to churches and chapels throughout the region. It was with their support that Josephine Butler came to Pontefract to address the crowds at the by-election and was caught up in the chaos that ensued. In 1877 it was decided to broaden the objects of the League and to reflect this change its name was officially changed to the 'Northern Counties League for Abolishing State Regulation of Vice and for Prompting Social Purity and the Rescue of the Fallen'. Wilson remained an integral part of the organisation, despite his growing number of commitments. He was present at a conference on the state regulation of vice which was held in Liverpool in 1875 and it was there that the British, Continental and General Federation for the Abolition of Government Regulation of Prostitution was established. Wilson became joint secretary along with Butler. However, the CD Acts did not solely occupy his attention. Since 1872 he had been the Chair of the Sheffield Reform Association, which had merged with the Sheffield Liberal Association two years later and in which Wilson remained the honorary secretary. In 1876 he was elected to the Sheffield School Board and in 1885 he was elected a Liberal MP for the constituency of Holmfirth in West Riding. He had been a fervent supporter of Home Rule for Ireland since the beginning of the 1880s and retained this position in the House of Commons. In 1892 he was selected to be a member of the Police and Sanitary Committee and then of the Royal Commission on Opium Traffic three years later, a position which involved him travelling to India in 1893-4. Despite the repeal of the CD Acts on British soil in 1886, they effectively remained in force in India through the Cantonments Act and the Contagious Diseases (India) Act and there were threats to re-introduce them in areas such as Guernsey after an increase in venereal disease in the 1890s. Consequently, his work in this area continued through the last decade of the nineteenth century. Despite his unpopular opposition to the Boer War, he remained an MP until his retirement in 1912. He died in 1914.

Arrangement

Note on break up of the files [dated May 1974]:

1) Northern Counties League Files: There are a number of letters in 3JBL which relate to the Northern Counties League for the Abolition of the Contagious Diseases Acts. These bear Henry J Wilsons stamp and file numbering.

2) 1896 Files: 1 letter survived in the box where the file had been, it was probably overlooked when the file was removed and dismbered by the Librarian. The letters were transferred to 3JBL.

3) 1899: This file is mssing completely and was probably transferred to 3JBL.

4) Regulation Files 1896, 1899 and 1901: These files were transferred to 3JBL

5) Regulation Files: The earlier files are missing and were probably transferred to 3JBL.

6) Other Letters and Files: A partial check was made and shows that there are letters of an earlier date in 3JBL than those listed above. Items in 3JBL for the period Jul 1871-Dec 1874 as well as the 3 letters in the Autograph Letter Collection have been catalogued. However these do not appear to have been stamped and numbered by Wilson.

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

A number of letters contained in the files were previously extracted and placed in the Josephine Butler Autograph Letter collection: see 3JBL and 3AMS .

The archive was originally deposited by the Josephine Butler Society Library in 1957. 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 deposted with The Fawcett Library through the then librarian's long involvement with the organisation. The Women's Library Printed Collection includes 50 items written by Henry J Wilson as well as items he edited.

Additionally, The Women's Library holds the Records of the Association for Moral and Social Hygiene, later the Josephine Butler Society (3AMS) and the Josephine Butler Autograph Letter Collection which can be consulted in microfilm format (3JBL). both of these archives contain material by or related to Wilson.

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); 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 Henry Joseph Wilson are also held in the following repositories: Sheffield University Library, correspondence and papers (c.1859-1909) (37P) and correspondence with AJ Mundella (5 bundles) (1875-1897) (MS 6 - 9, MS 22); Sheffield Archives, Personal, political and family correspondence and papers (18th-20th century) (MD2459-2627, 5889-6027, MD1847-63, 1988-97 ), also Correspondence and notes re Sheffield Smelting Co, family and politics (1851-1912) (SSC); Haverford College: Quaker Collection, Correspondence (81 items) (c1860-c1900); and Manchester University: John Rylands Library, Correspondence (Eng misc 741)

Geographical Names