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Josephine Butler
Josephine Butler - portrait.jpg
Josephine Elizabeth Grey

(1828-04-13)13 April 1828
Milfield, Northumberland, England, UK
Died 30 December 1906(1906-12-30) (aged 78)
England, UK
Cause of death Natural death
Nationality British
Occupation Social worker
Years active 1869–1886
Known for Victorian feminist
Contagious Diseases Acts
Spouse(s) George Butler (m. 1852 – 1890 [his death])
Children George Butler
Arthur Charles Butler
Charles Augustin Vaughan Butler
Evangeline Mary Butler (1859–1864)
Parent(s) John Grey (1785–1868)
Hannah Eliza Annett (1792 – 15 May 1860)

Josephine Elizabeth Butler (née Grey; 13 April 1828 – 30 December 1906) was an English feminist and social reformer in the Victorian era. She campaigned for women's suffrage, the right of women to better education, the end of coverture in British law, the abolition of child prostitution, and an end to human trafficking of young women and children into European prostitution.

Grey grew up in a well-to-do and politically connected progressive family which helped develop in her a strong social conscience and firmly held religious ideals. She married George Butler, an Anglican divine and schoolmaster, and the couple had four children, the last of whom, Eva, died falling from a banister. The death was a turning point for Butler, and she focused her feelings on helping others, starting with the inhabitants of a local workhouse.

She began to campaign for women's rights in British law. In 1869 she became involved in the campaign to repeal the Contagious Diseases Acts. The campaign achieved its final success in 1886 with the repeal of the Acts. Butler also formed the International Abolitionist Federation, a Europe-wide organisation to combat similar systems on the continent.

While investigating the effect of the Acts, Butler had been appalled that there was a slave trade of young women and children from England to the continent for the purpose of prostitution. A campaign to combat the trafficking led to the removal from office of the head of the Belgian Police des Mœurs, and the trial and imprisonment of his deputy and 12 brothel owners, who were all involved in the trade.

Josephine Butler Centenary Posters, 1928. (22920245465)
Josephine Butler Centenary Posters 1928

Butler fought child prostitution with help from the campaigning editor of The Pall Mall Gazette, William Thomas Stead, who purchased a 13-year-old girl from her mother for £5. The subsequent outcry led to the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885 which raised the age of consent from 13 to 16 and brought in measures to stop children becoming prostitutes. Her final campaign was in the late-1890s, against the Contagious Diseases Acts which continued to be implemented in the British Raj.

Butler wrote more than 90 books and pamphlets over the course of her career, most of which were in support of her campaigning. Butler's Christian feminism is celebrated by the Church of England with a Lesser Festival, and by representations of her in the stained glass windows of Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral and St Olave's Church in the City of London.

Her name appears on the Reformers Memorial in Kensal Green Cemetery, London, and Durham University named one of their colleges after her. Her campaign strategies changed the way feminist conducted future struggles. After her death in 1906 the feminist intellectual Millicent Fawcett hailed her as "the most distinguished Englishwoman of the nineteenth century".

Princes Park Hospital plaque
Princes Park Hospital plaque

From 1901 Butler began to withdraw from public life, resigning her positions in the campaign organisations and spending more time with her family. In 1903 she moved to Wooler in Northumberland, to live near her eldest son. On 30 December 1906 she died at home and was buried in the nearby village of Kirknewton.

In 1907 Josephine Butler's name was added to the south side of the Reformers' Memorial in Kensal Green Cemetery, London. The memorial was erected for those "who had defied custom and interest for the sake of conscience and public good". She is celebrated in the Church of England with a Lesser Festival on 30 May, and represented in a stained glass window in Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral, All Saints' Church, Cambridge and St Olave's Church in the City of London.

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