Josephine Butler

Josephine Butler

Let your continual mercy, O Lord, kindle in your Church the Never-failing gift of love, that, following the example of your servant Josephine Butler, we may have grace to defend the poor, and maintain the cause of those who have no helper; for the sake of him who gave his life for us, your Son our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

Heavenly father, whose incarnate Son Jesus Christ said to a Sinner brought before him for judgement, I do not condemn you–go and sin no more: Mercifully grant that we, like your servant Josephine Butler, may follow in his footsteps by working for the dignity, freedom, and restoration to wholeness of all those who are enslaved by sin or outcast by society; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.




Josephine Elizabeth Grey was born in Northumberland in 1828. She was schooled at home, where she read English and Italian literature, and translations of the Church Fathers. When 24 years old, she married George Butler, then a tutor at Oxford. She was an early advocate of better provisions for university education for women (see her contributions to Woman’s Work and Woman’s Culture, 1869). Later, she focused her energies on the plight of women on the fringes of society. Having settled in Liverpool in 1866, she helped to establish homes and refuges for friendless women, housing large numbers of them in her own home. The Contagious Disease Acts of 1864, 1866, and 1869 in effect established government brothels for soldiers and sailors. They placed prostitutes under police supervision while essentially making it impossible for them to leave their line of work. The Acts applied to seaports and garrison towns (although it was proposed eventually to extend them to the rest of the country), and they were defended on the grounds that it was inevitable that soldier and sailors would have sex, and that it was better that they do so under government supervision, so as to control the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (safe sex), and so that men, having an ample supply of prostitutes at their disposal, would leave nice girls alone. Mrs Butler led the campaign for the repeal of these Acts, which finally succeeded in 1886. This included the abolition of similar arrangements in British India.

Meanwhile, Mrs Butler extended her concerns to the continent of Europe. She was able to show that in Brussels a number of under-age English girls were being involuntarily held as prostitutes with the connivance of the police, and the Police Chief and his second in command were accordingly dismissed. It was largely through her influence that the laws for the state regulation of vice were reformed to prevent the enslavement of prostitutes in Switzerland, Holland, Norway, France, and Italy.

In 1886 her husband (who had given his full support to her work) fell seriously ill, and she retired from public life to care for him. She died on 30 December 1906.

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