Records of the British Committee of the Continental & General Federation for Abolition of Government Regulation of Prostitution

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The archive consists of Annual Reports (1875-1880), Executive Committee (1887-1888) and British Committee (1890-1915) minutes with British Committee Chairperson's Book and Log (1897-1903), circulars (1909), pamphlet (1896), indexes to pamphlets (1874-1909) and indexes to Henry J Wilson files, an 'inwards' letter-book including an envelope containing copies of correspondence with government (1893), a letter-book of correspondence from India and a report compiled by Dr Kate Bushell and Mrs Andrews during a visit there (1891-1896).

Administrative / Biographical History

The British Committee of the Continental & General Federation for Abolition of Government Regulation of Prostitution (fl.1880) was founded sometime c.1880. In the 1840s there was an upsurge in concern about prostitution in the United Kingdom. However, only after the 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 (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. At a medical Conference in Vienna in 1874, the principle of state regulation of prostitution which the CD Acts embodied was accepted as a valuable contribution to promoting public health and it was proposed that a worldwide league led by Great Britain should be created to achieve this end. The response of those in the United Kingdom who were engaged in anti-Contagious Diseases Acts activity was to try to forestall this, initially by publicising their opinions through European lecture tours by Josephine Butler and other leaders, and then through the creation of a pan-European organisation to support the repeal movement. In Mar 1875 this was formed at a meeting in Liverpool with the name of the British, Continental and General Federation for the Abolition of Government Regulation of Prostitution. The first president of the organisation was James Stansfeld MP, the honorary secretary, Josephine Butler and the corresponding secretary, Henry Joseph Wilson. William Crosfield was later appointed treasurer, while Wilson's place was taken six months later by Professor James Stuart. When the final constitution was passed in 1878, it set out the final shape of the organisation: it was to consist of a General Meeting, a General Council and an Executive Committee. A General Council had been established since 1876 and contained representatives of the main repeal organisations in the United Kingdom, over thirty private individuals and representatives from India, the Cape of Good Hope, Italy, France, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium and the United States. Each country involved maintained its own national branch that worked in its own area while maintaining close links with the other branches. Other representatives were added as more countries became concerned with the issue. Aim Humber was appointed Principle Continental Correspondent and later General Secretary for the Continent after the organisation grew. The Federation established its own journal in Dec 1875, Le Bulletin Continental. The Executive Committee of the British branch of the federation acted for some time as the actual executive committee of the whole organisation. However, when the CD Acts were repealed in the United Kingdom, the British Branch (as it was known) was left in difficulties as supporting organisations such as the National Association for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts dissolved themselves. However, others such as the Ladies National Association decided to continue in their work with enlarged area of interest and this was also the path that the British Branch followed. It changed its title in 1890 to the British Commission for the Abolition of the State Regulation of Vice in India and throughout the British Dominions due to the failure of parliament to repeal the Acts in the sub-continent and the introduction of the Cantonments Act. In this incarnation it continued as the British element of the Federation. In 1897 it revived the journal 'The Shield' to publicise their work. The work of the overall Federation itself continued and in 1898 it was decided to rename the body the International Federation for the Abolition of State Regulation of Prostitution, with the subtitle which as at 1994 continued to be used, the International Abolitionist Federation.

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

Related materials include an index to the files of Henry Joseph Wilson (see 3HJW); the indexes to the minutes of the British Committee are held with the records of the Association for Moral and Social Hygiene and the minutes themselves are continued 1915-1918 in the minutes of the Executive Committee of this organisation (3AMS). Copies of The Shield (1897-1970) are also held by the Women's Library in the Printed Collections .