Josephine Elizabeth Butler is famous for her tireless campaigns against the oppression of poor women and children in the society. She is best remembered for leading a crusade against the Contagious Diseases Acts that was not only oppressive to women but also violated their human rights. She fought against the trafficking of women across Europe as sex slaves including some of whom were as young as 12 years. Her campaign received public support and the eventual arrest and imprisonment of several senior police officers and brothel owners in Belgium. She is credited with writing more than 90 pamphlets and books, a majority of which were in support of her work.
Josephine was born on born on April 13, 1828 in Northumberland, North East England. She was the daughter of John and Hannah Grey. Her father was an educated man and treated all his children equally regardless of the gender. He personally schooled them on social and political issues. Her mother taught her Christian values and raised her as a staunch Cristian. She attended church weekly, and the local vicar was very fond of her. In 1847 she visited her brother in Ireland during the great famine, and she witnessed firsthand how the poor suffered due to lack of food. Josephine married George Butler in 1952.
George and Josephine shared a common interest; they both actively championed the rights of women. He supported Anne Jemima Clough in her campaign to promote higher education among women. Josephine was appointed to lead the North of England Council for the Higher Education of Women which later led to the establishment of the University in Liverpool. The couple took up the initiative of welcoming prostitutes with terminal diseases to their home to die peacefully. Within a short time, they were forced to construct a shelter since their home could not handle the high number of prostitutes seeking shelter.
Josephine chaired the North of England Council for the Higher Education of Women; a council that advocated for the enrolment of women in institutions of higher learning. In 1866 she co-signed a petition to reform the Reform Act 1867 to include women in the franchise. In 1885 she met Florence Soper Booth, and the pair began the campaign against child prostitution in Britain. She advocated for the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts that were oppressive to women. In 1875, she founded the British and Continental Federation for the Abolition of Prostitution, now known as the International Abolitionist Federation.
Josephine faced a lot of opposition in her line of duty from both men and women. Her associations with sick prostitutes meant that the society demeaned her. She frequently crossed paths with male politicians who viewed her as an obstacle to male dominance in the society. Although the law criminalized child prostitution, the practice continued in licensed brothels across Europe.
Death And Legacy
On March 14, 1890, her husband George died. In 1901 she had resigned from all public life and spent more time with her family. In 1903 she moved back to Northumberland where she lived with her eldest son. She died on December 30, 1906 and was laid to rest in Kirknewton. The Church of England has marked May 30th as a lesser festival during which the prayers include a commemoration of Josephine Butler and her important work in keeping with the teachings of Jesus Christ. In addition, her Christian values are remembered through stained glass windows at the Liverpool Cathedral and London's St Olave's Church. Several facilities in Liverpool, including a building at the Liverpool John Moores University, were named after her.
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