Records of the British Vigilance Association

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The archive consists of records, mostly originating from the General Secretary. These include campaign and resource files (prostitution, immoral earnings, and conditions of employment for au pair girls), correspondence with individuals and organisations, fragments of other administrative series and files relating to the final winding up of the British Vigilance Association (BVA), International Bureau for the Suppression of Traffic in Persons (IBS) and their associated organisations in 1971.

The minutes of the British Vigilance Association, including those of the Sub-Committee on the Welfare of Irish Girls in England (renamed the Irish Girls' & Related Problems Sub-Committee) are also held by the Women's Library but within the National Vigilance Association Archive (see 4NVA).

Administrative / Biographical History

The British Vigilance Association (1953-1971) was founded in 1953. During the late nineteenth century, the widespread campaign against the Contagious Diseases Acts had had the effect of focussing attention on the issue of prostitution. This resulted in the encouragement of groups like the National Vigilance Association whose aim until 1952 was to work against the trade and its causes. In 1898, following the precedent of the International Abolitionist Federation, the National Vigilance Association agreed to address concerns about the international aspect of prostitution and began laying the foundations of an international federation of bodies working towards the abolition of the trade. In 1900 this became known as the International Bureau for Suppression of Traffic in Persons. Throughout its existence the National Vigilance Association provided the premises, secretariat and the major part of the funding for this officially separate international organisation and its executive committee initially formed the British National Committee of the larger group into the twentieth century. However, a financial crisis occurred within both the British National Committee (BNC) and the National Vigilance Association (NVA) in the early 1950s, closing down the latter's work administering the work of the Travellers' Aid Society that had been undertaken from 1939 to 1951.

The creation of the British Vigilance Association in 1953 was the result of the amalgamation of the BNC and NVA in 1952 after a period of work done by a joint committee of the two organisations. The new group retained the same areas of interest as the NVA, combining it with the BNC's relationship to the International Bureau. It also had the practical role of administering the day to day work of the International Traveller's Aid group of the international organisation until 1962, when the Young Women's Christian Association took over. The objects of the new group were to promote the principles of the International Bureau; to secure the recognition of a high and equal moral standards for men and women; to work for the suppression of criminal vice and against the exploitation of prostitution and public immorality; to promote appropriate legislative action and reform; and support activities in accordance with these objectives carried out by its constituent bodies. The structure of the Association was formed by: the Council which met four times a year and included the officers of the group and two representatives of each of the constituent societies; the Executive Committee, which met around ten times and was made of ten members elected by the Council; and the Finance Committee which consisted of seven members elected by the executive committee and met four times a year. Additionally, a sub-committee was established dedicated to the welfare of Irish Girls in England from 1953 to 1955, which was renamed the Irish Girls and Related Problems sub-committee between 1955 and 1957. Lady Nunburnholme was president until 1962 when Joan Vickers, MP and Chair of the UK Committee on the Status of Women, succeeded her. Affiliated to the group were the Association for Moral & Social Hygiene, the British Social Biology Council, the Catholic Women's League, the Church of England Moral Welfare Council, the Mission to Seamen, the Mother's Union, the National Council of Women, the Public Morality Council and the St Joan's Alliance. Additionally, there were local branches such as the Liverpool, Hull and Scotland Vigilance Associations. The areas in which it worked revolved around the licensing of employment agencies and the overseeing of the au-pair network in order to prevent the abuses which, it was feared, they might hide. However, it was also active in protests regarding the Street Offences Act of 1959 that prosecuted female prostitutes for soliciting but not their clients. Furthermore, it also supported the Association for Moral & Social Hygiene in presenting evidence to the Wolfenden Committee on prostitution and in responding to the resultant report. The group continued its activities in these areas until the retirement of the General Secretary Richard F Russell in 1971, at which point the British Vigilance Association was wound up.

Conditions Governing Access

Gift

This collection is open for consultation, excepting some case files which remain closed. Intending readers are advised to contact The Women's Library in advance of their first visit.

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

Please note that the minutes of the British Vigilance Association, including those of the Sub-Committee on the Welfare of Irish Girls in England, are held in the National Vigilance Association Archive (see 4NVA).

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).