Voicing A Female Legacy

“No woman of the 19th century was more bitterly reviled than Josephine Butler …” [1]

As previously explored in my post The Voiceless Fallen Woman, Josephine Butler was an influential figure in the campaign for the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts in the latter 19th century.[2] Butler spoke openly about taboo topics such as sexual interaction and venereal disease to bring awareness to the world of prostitution.[3] In 1928, two months before the passing of the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act, The Women’s Freedom League newspaper The Vote published a piece on Butler titled ‘The Great Crusade’.[4] The most interesting aspect of this article is how the late Butler is represented and how her narrative is formulated to create a legacy that is reflective of feminist values in 1920’s Britain.

Throughout Britain, publications from women’s organisations provided a written voice within the women’s movement to reach out and communicate with other women. In The Vote, Butler is represented to readers as a martyr figure: a woman who dedicated her life to the abolition of the slave trade in her youth and sheltering unfortunate women in her later years, despite her work being criticised. The newspaper honours Butler for her ‘supreme courage to speak openly’ in order to provide a voice to socially unacceptable topics and her determined nature as she moved from a successful campaign to the next important cause. [5]

They wrote: “Her beauty, the charm of her gentile personality, and her profound sincerity, won the admiration and respect even of her opponents.” [6]

The image created of Butler in this passage embodies stereotypical feminine qualities, however, the discussion of Butler gaining admiration and respect remains true to the impact she made with her empowering speeches and her devotion to the Christian faith.[7] Although, the article is conscious of delicately phrasing Butler’s role during the campaign for the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts, her cause is respected as her two decade struggle is referred to as ‘The Great Crusade’.[8]

Though Butler’s narrative is framed towards an audience with more favour towards women’s political rights than women’s personal rights, the article brings forth a new light to Butler and provides her with a legacy which reaches out to both men and women as her ‘life’s work has left a mark for all time’.[9] Butler in the 1800’s provided a voice and support for women who had none, and in 1920’s it is The Vote that is voicing a legacy for an influential woman who should not be forgotten.

[1] The Vote, Friday 20th April 1928. p121

[2] L. Bland, ‘Purifying the Public World: Feminist Vigilantes in late Victorian England’, Women’s History Review, 1:3 (1992) p399

[3] S. Jeffreys, The Spinster and her Enemies, Pandora Press (London, 1985) p7

[4]  The Vote, Friday 20th April 1928. p121

[5] Ibid. p121-122

[6] Ibid. p122

[7] A. Summers, ‘The Constitution Violated: The Female Body and the Female Subject in the Campaigns of Josephine Butler’, History Workshop Journal, 48 (1999) p9-11

[8] The Vote, Friday 20th April 1928. p121

[9] Ibid. p122

Image is taken from the header of the newspaper article: The Vote, Friday 20th April 1928. p121-122

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3 thoughts on “Voicing A Female Legacy

  1. Hi Charlotte!
    I love the way have structured this blog post! Starting off your blog with some context to your topic, which you have done in concise manner in every blog of yours, I think is extremely useful because I feel as if this provides readers like myself with vital information about what is to come next; especially when I am not overwhelmingly familiar with Butler’s work. Much of the work I am focusing on, to do with Indian and British feminism in the late 1800’s/early 1900’s, certainly discusses similar concepts and themes to what you have mentioned in this blog, including taboo topics, which I found very interesting because I did not think they had been looked into as much as they have! What I found particularly interesting is your point on Butler’s narrative being focused more on political rights rather than personal rights and how the article you have been looking at challenges and revisits these ideas showing that our understanding of historiography is constantly developing.

    Like

    1. Thank you for your kind feedback, Aman. The similar links you have made between British and Indian feminism during the 18th and 19th centuries is really interesting. They are both facinating topics and it is lovely to see further research going into histories of individuals and movements which are not so popular, but deserve recognition.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. An excellent post on a much under-researched topic. I think there is a lot of scope for further research into feminist legacies between 1860 – 1960. The representation of Butler in the Vote is evidently being careful “managed” and raises questions about the lack of apparent movement in attitudes towards sex and morality in the late 1920s, compared to the second half of the 19th century.

    Overall I have enjoyed your blog posts enormously, not least because I have been introduced to new material. Also, your blog site is technically impressive and easy to navigate.

    Liked by 1 person

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