The Josephine Butler Society Library is an unrivalled resource for the study of sexuality and public morality from the late nineteenth to the mid twentieth century. This unique collection of books, pamphlets, periodicals, leaflets and, campaigning documents, covers subjects ranging from the regulation of prostitution, venereal disease, social purity, sexuality and public health to criminology, penology, eugenics and population control. Although a small number of individual items continue to be added to the collection by the Josephine Butler Society, the bulk of the printed materials date from the late nineteenth and early to mid twentieth centuries.
The Women's Library also the Records of the Association for Moral and Social Hygiene the organisation founded by Butler and later renamed the Josephine Butler Society (3AMS), as well as organisational minutes and papers, campaigning files, photographs, posters and additional publications, this archive includes some personal material by Butler including drawings, water-colours and family photographs. Additionally, The Women's Library holds the Josephine Butler Autograph Letter Collection (3JBL).
The origins of the Josephine Butler Society are based in the campaigns against the Contagious Diseases Acts of 1864-1869. The Acts were a series of measures aimed at reducing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases in the armed forces and applied to a number of ports and garrison towns. Police forces were granted powers to identify and register prostitutes who were then forced to undergo compulsory medical examinations. Women who refused to submit willingly could be arrested and brought before a magistrate. The campaign against the Contagious Diseases Acts brought together moralists, feminists and libertarians and included campaigners such as the parliamentarian James Stansfeld, the Sheffield radical Henry J. Wilson and the writer Harriet Martineau. It proved to be one of the largest cross-party political campaigns of the nineteenth century, comparable only to the Corn Laws agitation. The campaign was successful; the Contagious Diseases Acts were suspended in 1883 and finally repealed in 1886.
Josephine Butler (ne Grey 1828-1906) was a leading feminist, prolific writer and tireless campaigner. She was appointed President of the North of England Council for the Higher Education of Women 1867-1869 and edited the influential collection of essays Woman's work and woman's culture in 1869. Having been involved in 'rescue work' with Liverpool prostitutes she became leader of the campaign to repeal the Contagious Diseases Acts in 1869. She later campaigned with WT Stead against child prostitution in London and from 1886 was involved in opposing measures in India, under the Cantonement Acts, to establish military brothels.
The Josephine Butler Society Library is particularly important because it brings together the Library of the organisation alongside its campaigning literature and business papers. In addition to sources for the study of prostitution and attitudes to sexuality in Britain the collection includes significant amounts of material on slavery, procuring, public health and the armed forces in India. It contains late nineteenth century works on sexology by Havelock Ellis, Bloch, Forel and Krafft-Ebing and psychology by Freud, Jung and Ellis, as well as works on marriage, the family and sex education. Although most material in the collection is in English there are small but significant numbers of works in European languages. The geographic scope of the collection extends beyond Britain and the Commonwealth; papers of the International Bureau for the Suppression of Traffic in Persons 1899-1968, for example, relate to the Bureau's work with the League of Nations.
The Josephine Butler Society continues to deposit additional records to its archives held by the Library but new printed material is no longer added to this collection. The majority of books, pamphlets and periodicals from the Josephine Butler Society Library collection are catalogued on The Women's Library's online catalogue, and most of the archives can be found in Strand 3 and are catalogued on The Women's Library Special Collections catalogue. Details of related material held in other collections can also be located on Genesis. The collection is stored in closed stacks and items can be ordered for consultation in the Reading Room by completing a collections order slip. Due to the age and fragility of most of the material in the Josephine Butler Society Library no photocopying from this collection is permitted.