Printed Collections: Josephine Butler Society Library

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 106 PC/03
  • Dates of Creation
  • Language of Material
      English , French , German , Russian
  • Physical Description
      c. 84.5 linear metres

Scope and Content

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 The campaign was successful; the Contagious Diseases Acts were suspended in 1883 and finally repealed in 1886.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.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Josephine Butler Society (1962-fl.2007) was formed in 1962 when the Association for Moral and Social Hygiene was renamed. Its objectives were: To promote a high and equal standard of morality and sexual responsibility for men and women in public opinion, law and practice; To promote the principles of the International Abolitionist Federation in order to secure the abolition of state regulation of prostitution, to combat the traffic in persons and to expose and prevent any form of exploitation of prostitution by third parties; To examine any existing or proposed legislation on matters associated with prostitution or related aspects of public order and to promote social, legal and administrative reforms in furtherance of the above objectives. Its basic principles were: social justice; equality of all citizens before the law; a single moral standard for men and women. (Taken from membership and donation form 1990). The Josephine Butler Society was a pressure group not a rescue organisation. It wished to prevent the exploitation of prostitutes and marginalisation of those who could be forced into this activity by poverty and abuse, and it believed these problems should be addressed by changes in the law. It believed that more should be done to prevent young people from drifting into prostitution, to help those who wished to leave it, and to rehabilitate its victims. Its work in the early 21st century took two main forms: to make representation to various departments of the UK Government on prostitution and related issues an; to liaise and network with other agencies both statutory and voluntary who worked in related areas. As at 2008 it was still active.

Josephine Elizabeth Butler [née Grey] (1828-1906) was born on 13 Apr 1828 (7th of 10 children of John Grey and Hannah née Annett). In 1835 the Grey family moved to Dilston near Corbridge, Northumberland after her father's appointment in 1833 as agent for the Greenwich Estates in the north. On 8 Jan 1852 Josephine married George Butler at Corbridge, Northumberland. He had been a tutor at Durham University, and then a Public Examiner at Oxford University. In 1857 they moved to Cheltenham following husband's appointment as Vice-Principal of Cheltenham College. In 1866 they moved to Liverpool following husband's appointment as Head of Liverpool College. Josephine took up plight of girls in the Brownlow Hill workhouse and established a Home of Rest for girls in need. In 1868 Josephine became President of North England Council for Promoting Higher Education of Women, and 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 1875 she established the International Abolitionist Federation in Liverpool. In 1883 the Contagious Diseases Acts were suspended. In 1885 the age of consent was raised to 16 which Josephine fought for. The Contagious Diseases Acts were repealed in 1886. From 1888 until Oct 1896, Josephine edited 'Dawn' a quarterly journal. From 1882-1890 Josephine lived in Winchester where Rev George Butler was appointed canon. In 1890 George Butler died. Josephine moved to London and continued campaigning against state regulation abroad. In 1894 she moved to her son's home in Galewood within Ewart Park near Milfield. In 1898-1900 Josephine edited and wrote 'Storm Bell'. In 1906 Josephine moved to Wooler where she died on 30 Dec and was buried at Kirknewton.

Access Information


This collection is available for research. Readers are advised to contact The Women's Library in advance of their first visit.

Acquisition Information

The society deposited its library on permanent loan at the Fawcett Library (now The Women's Library) in 1956, and gifted it to The Women's Library in 1998.

Other Finding Aids

The Printed Collections can be consulted via an online catalogue available at Additional guides in the form of Source Notes are available online.

Alternative Form Available

A high proportion of this collection is comprised of rare or unique copies.

Related Material

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).

Additionally, The Women's Library holds the Josephine Butler Autograph Letter Collection which can be consulted in microfilm format (3JBL).

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); Papers of Henry Joseph Wilson (3HJW); 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 Josephine Butler are also held in the following repositories: correspondence and diaries (1851-1905) are in Northumberland Record Office (ref: NRO.229); correspondence and papers (c1853-1906) are in Liverpool University: Special Collections and Archives; papers related to Benjamin Jowett and correspondence are in Oxford University: Balliol College Library; letters to Edith Rhoda and Arthur Stanley Butler etc (c1882-1906) are in the Royal Institute of British Architects Library (ref: BuFam/1/4, 2/4, 3/2, 4/2); further family correspondence is in St Andrews University Library and letters (c.1860-65) to Hannah and Emily Ford etc are in Leeds University, Brotherton Library.