Strong religious convictions enabled the nineteenth-century
feminist Josephine Butler to withstand the on-slaught of abuse that
she received from those both inside and outside of the woman's
movement. Other women's rights activists felt she was far too
radical and her efforts would harm their attempts at extending
educational and employment opportunities and fighting for legal and
political rights for women Her opponents viewed her as a threat to
the moral foundations of society itself. In the second half of the
nineteenth century in England, the Contagious Disease Acts created
a class of women who were at the sexual mercy of any man in six
military districts. According to that law, all prostitutes were
required to have a government certificate which showed that they
were free of disease, which on the face of its seems to be rather
innocuous. But, as they say, the devil is in the details. Any man
could denounce any woman as a prostitute for any reason. If she was
a never married woman, public health officials would detain the
woman and give her a virginity test, making sure that she failed
the test and issued her a certificate indicating that she was
disease free and therefore entitled to ply the trade of
prostitution. Since the woman could be shown to have had sex
outside of marriage, she was branded a prostitute and all
opportunities for honorable employment were closed to her. Because
she could not find employment because her reputation had been
destroyed, she was essentially forced into prostitution to survive.
Notice that the woman was never arrested and charged with a crime,
she was never tried and convicted of anything; any man, a spurned
lover, a pimp who needed more girls, or ajealous suitor could
accuse the woman of having had sex outside of marriage and that was
enough to ruin a woman for life. Also notice that men were not held
accountable in any way for the spread of venereal disease, the
ostensible justification for requiring the health certificates in
the first place. Poor and working-class women could quite literally
be snatched off the street and forced into prostitution. Butler's
first public crusade was to halt the extension of the Contagious
Disease Acts and then to repeal the existing laws. Laws similar to
the British Contagious Disease Acts were in place on the Continent
in France and Germany. Harassed, jostled, jeered, threatened,
unable to find accommodations in many cities, smeared with
excrement, even mobbed, Butler, "the moral reformer," toured the
continent establishing committees in many cities to fight against
such local laws. Returning to England, she founded an international
organization to fight using pamphlets and the press, in the
legislatures and the courts, against such laws. She even entered
the fray when public health organizations in several American
cities attempted to import the European styles into America,
stopping the movement dead in its tracks before it was able to take
root here. She fought the rich and powerful men in Parliament
itself who didn't want to have their pastimes disturbed: her
greatest support came from poor and working-class men who wanted to
protect their mothers, their sisters, and especially their wives
and daughters from a vicious system. Historically, poor, slave, and
peasant women, and women of the artisan class had always been fair
game for rich and powerful men. With universal male suffrage,
thehusbands and fathers of such women were empowered to finally end
this prerogative of the rich and powerful. This book celebrates the
Josephine Butler Centenary 1828 to 1928, and is a facsimile of the
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