Butler's Legacy

This Timeline, 1824-2006, is courtesy of The Women's Library, London, and was compiled for their exhibition in 2006,


'Prostitution What's Going On?'




The Vagrancy Act creates the legal catergory of 'common prostitute'.  Common prostitutes found to have behaved riotously or indecently in public can be imprisoned for a minimum of a month.


13 April 1828


Josephine Elizabeth Grey is born in Northumberland.




The Metropolitan Police Act enables 'common prostitues in London to be arrested and fined if they loiter in public for the purposes of soliciting 'to the annoyance of inhabitants or passengers'.  Similar provisions are enacted for areas outside London in 1847.


8 January 1852


Josephine marries George Butler.  They have four children; George (1853), Stanley (1854), Charles (1856) and Eva (1859).




Eva Butler dies after falling down a staircase.  Josephine is profoundly affected by her death.




The family move to Liverpool.  Josephine visits Brownlow Hill Workhose.  She takes Mary Lomax, a former prostitute, into her home - the start of her commitment to rescue work.




Josephine Butler's first Industrial Home opens providing former prostitues with work such as making clothes and envelopes.




The first Contagious Diseases (Women) Act (CD Act) is passed, permitting forcible registration and regular internal examination of women suspected to be prostitute, within a radius of 11 army camps and naval ports in England and Ireland.




A second new CD Act adds Chatham and Windsor to the list of towns and introduces the enforcement of fortnightly medical examinations for venereal disease.




The Ladies National Association for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts (LNA) is founded.  Earlier the same year the National Association for the Repeal of the Contagious Act had been set up but women are initially excluded from membership.




Up to 900 working-class women attend public meetings in Leeds organised by the LNA.


May 1870


William Fowler MP introduces a private members bills to repeal the CD Acts.  A Royal Commission is set up to consider the matter.


October/November 1870


The presence of repeal campaigners during the Colchester by-election provokes violence from supporters of the CD Acts.




Campaigners build a huge petition with 250,000 signatures in support of repeal.


July 1871


Royal Commission publishes its report; it concludes the CD Acts should remain but that compulsory medical examination of women should cease.


August 1872


Repealers contest the Pontefract by-election.  Josephine Butler and her friends are threatened by local men, a building is set on fire and windows broken.




Repealers lose support in House of Commons when Gladstone's government falls.  When John Stansfield MP declares support for repeal, he is derided for identifying with the "hysterical crusade".


The LNA requests its members to establish links with anti-regulationists across Europe.  Josephine Butler makes contact with like-minded organisations in France, Italy and Switzerland.


c. July 1875


The National Medical Association is founded to win support from the medical profession for repeal.




Inaugral meeting of the British, Continental and General Federation for Abolition of which Josephine is joint secretary.


The body of Jane Percy is found in the Basingstoke Canal after she is accused of being a prositute by the police.  She apparently drowned herself rather than submit to registration and examination.


The Working Men's National League is founded to encourage support for the repeal from working-class men.




Josephine Butler begins her campaign against the 'white slave trade' nd names officials in the trafficking of girls from London to Belgium.


Conservatives are defeated in general election.  More than 150 MPs who support repeal lose their seats.




Follwoing renewed campaigning a majority of 72 MPs supprt the motion that 'This House disapproves of the compulsory examination of women under the Contagious Acts'.




W T Stead, editor of the Pall Mall Gazette, runs a ‘sting operation’ to prove that young girls are being sold into prostitution.  He arranges for a 13 year old to be bought for £1.00 from her family and taken abroad and then publishes the story as ‘The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon’.  He is convicted of unlawful abduction and sentenced to three months hard labour.


The Criminal Law Amendment Act raises the age of consent from 13 to 16, and covers offences of keeping brothels and procuring.  Campaigners form the National Vigilance Association to ensure that the act is enforced.




The CD Acts are finally repealed, although their equivalents continue in British-governed territories.




The ‘Infamous Memorandum’ publicises complaints from soldiers about the ‘quality’ of prostitutes supplied by the British government in India.  Following widespread outrage there is a unanimous vote to repeal the CD Acts in India.




The government passes the Cantonment Act in India, re-introducing all measures for the prevention, containment and cure of syphilis.




Two American women, Dr Kate Bushnell and Mrs Elizabeth Andrews, visit India to expose the organisation of prostitution there.















jbslogos 1893 - 1996