Butler was a 19th century British social reformer, who had a major role in improving conditions for women in education and public health.
Josephine Butler was born on 13 April 1828 in Northumberland. Her father John Grey was a strong advocate of social reform and a campaigner against the slave trade. His cousin was Earl Grey, British prime minister between 1830 and 1834.
Josephine married George Butler in 1852. He was an academic with similar political views to her own. Together they had four children but in 1863, their six year old daughter died. In an attempt to cope with her grief, Butler threw herself into charity work, particularly related to the rights of women. Amongst the issues on which she campaigned was child prostitution. She was part of a group which forced Parliament to raise the age of consent from 13 to 16.
In 1869, Butler began her campaign against the Contagious Diseases Acts. These had been introduced in the 1860s in an attempt to reduce venereal disease in the armed forces. Police were permitted to arrest women living in seaports and military towns who they believed were prostitutes and force them to be examined for venereal disease. Butler toured the country making speeches condemning the acts. Many people were shocked that a woman would speak in public about sexual matters. However, in 1883 the acts were suspended and repealed three years later.
Butler also took a great interest in women's education. She pressured the authorities at Cambridge University into providing further education courses for women, which eventually led to the foundation of the all-women college at Newnham. She was appointed president to the North of England Council for the Higher Education of Women in 1867.
Butler's writing - promoting social reform for women as well as education and equality - was widely distributed. Her most famous publication 'Personal Reminiscences of a Great Crusade' was written in 1896.