The Contagious Diseases Acts - Theme 5

  • Created by: AshLia
  • Created on: 08-03-18 09:40

Causes of Prostitution (Economic)

  • Estimates of numbers of prostitutes in Victorian Britain varied from 30,000 to 500,000: why were there so many?
  • Economic causes included:
    • Most working class women lacked education and had to take poorly paid jobs, some of which were only seasonal
    • 40% worked as domestic servants in the houses of the upper & middle classes
    • These were so poorly paid that many took up prostitution to supplement their income
    • Prostitution was often regarded as a better option than the notorious workhouse
    • Many saw prostitution as a temporary means of supplementing income
1 of 22

Causes of Prostitution (Social)

  • Overcrowding in the family home and parental abuse also contributed to the large numbers of young, working class women entering prostitution.
  • In poverty-stricken families several children often had to share a bed.
  • Rescue workers reported that cruel, uncaring and alcoholic parents were often the cause of young women going onto the streets for money.
  • A sizeable number were orphans.
  • Most prostitutes were in their late teens or early twenties; many later went on to marry their former clients.
2 of 22

Attitudes Towards Prostitutes

  • Overcrowding in the family home and parental abuse also contributed to the large numbers of young, working class women entering prostitution.
  • In poverty-stricken families several children often had to share a bed.
  • Rescue workers reported that cruel, uncaring and alcoholic parents were often the cause of young women going onto the streets for money.
  • A sizeable number were orphans.
  • Most prostitutes were in their late teens or early twenties; many later went on to marry their former clients.
3 of 22

Attitudes Towards Users of Prostitutes

  • Double standards towards sex and sexual morality lay at the hearty of Victorian society
  • Men were believed to have natural sexual urges, therefore for many prostitution was seen as a necessary evil. By contrast, sexual profligacy among women was seen as unnatural
  • This double standatd was encapsulated by the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857
    • When filing for divorce, it was enough for a man to prove that his wife had committed adultery; a women had to show that her husband had been cruel
4 of 22

Crimean War & Venereal Disease

  • The main political event for Britain during the 1850s was the Crimean War, which saw an alliance of Britain, France, the Ottoman Empire & Sardinia defeat the Russian Empire by March 1856.
  • However, more British troops were hospitalised due to venereal disease than due to action in the field.
  • Just as with the Boer War of 1899-1902, the poor standards of health in the armed forces led to government reform.
  • The choice was to eradicate prostitution or carry out more medical inspection.
5 of 22

The 1862 Committee of Inquiry

  • In 1862 a Committee of Inquiry was set up in an attempt to reduce venereal disease in the armed forces. 
  • Florence Nightingale argued for more hospital care for diseased men & women, penalties for men who concealed their infection, & more leisure activities to relieve the troops’ boredom.
  • Sir John Liddell, director-general of the navy’s medical department, argued for more regulation of prostitutes, as was common in the colonies (e.g. India).
  • Liddell won, paving the way for compulsory medical inspections of prostitutes by army & navy doctors.
6 of 22

The Contagious Diseases Act, 1864

  • The 1864 CDA applied to specific garrison towns and ports in England and Ireland, including Plymouth, Portsmouth & Aldershot.
  • In these ‘subjected districts’, women could be arrested if suspected of being a prostitute & had to submit to: 
    • Registration by the authorities
    • Medical examination by army or navy surgeons, using the speculum or ‘steel penis’
    • Detention in a lock hospital for up to three months if found to be infected
  • The Act was passed by a sparsely populated Parliament late at night, with some MPs ignorant of the actual content.
7 of 22

Contagious Diseases Acts, 1866 & 1869

  • The acts of 1866 and 1869 broadened the scope of the 1864 Act & made the system of police control more overt.
  • The 1866 Act extended the number of military towns included as ‘subjected areas’ & authorised compulsory fortnightly inspections of all known prostitutes.
  • Some doctors, police & clergy wanted the Acts expanded to modern industrial centres like Leeds & Manchester to contain the extent of public disorder.
  • The 1869 Act added five further subjected districts (bringing the total to eighteen) & extended compulsary treatment in lock hospitals from three to nine months
8 of 22

The 1867 Reform & Early Protest

  • The discussions about extending the CDAs to the northern towns during 1865-6 sparked the earliest protests.
  • The atmosphere was already highly politicised due to the activities of the Reform League & Reform Union.
  • During the debates on the 1867 Reform Bill, Liberal MP & philosopher, John Stuart Mill, became the first ever MP (in 1866) to call for female suffrage.
  • In 1867, a meeting opposed to the extension of the CDAs was organised by the Society for the Rescue of Young Women & Children, but the third CDA was still passed in 1869.
9 of 22

National Association for Repeal of the CDAs

  • At a time when the idea of ‘separate spheres’ still prevailed, it is not surprising that the National Association for the Repeal of the CDAs (est. 1869) was, ironically, dominated by men.
  • As it aimed not only to limit the extension of the CDAs, but to abolish them completely, its members became known as ‘abolitionists’.
  • From 1870 the organisation was based in London, but had branch associations especially in the Midlands & the north.
  • However, the National Association had little success in lobbying MPs.
10 of 22

Wolstenholme &Butler

  • Women (mainly middle-class women with more time to spare) played a leading role in the movement for repeal.
  • Elizabeth Wolstenholme was the leading  feminist activist of the time as a founding member of the Manchester Society for Women’s Suffrage (1865).
  • Being too preoccupied with other campaigns concerning women’s property & education rights, she asked her friend Josephine Butler to lead the campaign for repeal of the CDAs.
  • Butler had already set up a House of Rest in Liverpool for poor, young women who had worked as prostitutes.
11 of 22

The Ladies National Association

  • As MPs & the public were not used to female involvement in politics, the LNA grabbed public attention far more than the male equivalent (both were set up 1869).
  • In December 1869, the LNA (under Butler) issued its Ladies’ Protest in the Daily News, listing their grievances.
  • Butler was an inspired leader. In her first year (1870) she travelled 3,700 miles & addressed 99 meetings, running personal risks & gaining loyalty.
  • Butler & other leaders in the LNA were middle class, having been educated at home for the most part. Many were evangelical Christians, compelled by conscience to act on behalf of poorer women.
12 of 22

Additional Pressure Groups

  • The LNA played a crucial role in the campaign for repeal. However, as the male National Association was deemed incompetent & men could not join the LNA, further pressure groups appeared.
  • Two of these which emerged during 1872-3 were the Northern Counties League & the Midlands Electoral League.
  • Most members were middle class, nonconformist & Liberals.
  • Henry Wilson, head of the Northern Counties League, played a crucial role in gaining support from the Liberal Party.
  • A Working Men’s National League, was also established in 1875.
13 of 22

Summary of the eight allegations

  • The Acts had passed through Parliament in secrecy.
  • The legislation undermined the legal protection formally accorded to men and women.
  • The offence of prostitution was unclearly defined within the Acts.
  • The laws unfairly punished one sex for the vice of prostitution, which was largely the fault of men.
  • The Acts made the path to evil easier for men.
  • The implementation of the Acts was cruel and degrading, with the medical examinations brutalising women.
  • The Acts would increase disease, rather than prevent it.
  • The solution to the problem of venereal diseases was not ‘physical’, but had to be ‘moral’
14 of 22

Obstacles Facing the LNA

  • Traditional attitudes towards women (seperate spheres)
  • Women did not possess the vote untill 1918
  • First female MP only took her seat in 1919 (Lack of direct influence in Commons)
  • Conservative government 1874-80
  • Other issues priorities by MPs (e.g. Bulgarian atrocities, late 1870s)
  • Police regulation of prostitution was common practice on the continent
  • Those in support of the Acts were powerful (e.g. doctors, military and police)
  • The press could be hostile. The Saturday Review referred to the 'shrieking sisterhood'
15 of 22

Petitions and Public Meetings

  • As women did not have the vote and could not stand as MPs, public meetings & petitions were used as a major tactic.
  • Between 1870 & 1886, 18,000 petitions, signed by over 2.5 million people, were presented to Parliament .
  • Signatures were collected after public meetings, held in churches, town halls and working men’s clubs.
  • One MP later said: ‘We know how to handle any other opposition…but this is very awkward for us – this revolt of the women…What are we to do with such an opposition as this?’
16 of 22

Contesting By-Elections

  • Another tactic was to support anti-CDA Liberals against pro-CDA Liberals during by-elections (the LNA & other repeal groups had little influence on the Tories).
  • In 1870 the LNA campaigned against pro-CDA Liberal Henry Storks in Newark & Colchester; he lost both seats.
  • In 1872 they campaigned in Pontefract against pro-CDA Liberal Hugh Childers; he retained the seat but lost many votes.
  • The problem was that these actions split the Liberal vote. Storks lost the Newark seat to an anti-CDA Liberal, but he lost the Colchester seat to a Conservative.
17 of 22

Use of Propaganda

  • The posters against Henry Storks were just one example of propaganda used.
  • Butler herself was a major asset, as a beautiful, eloquent, respectable woman.
  • From 1870 the LNA had their own newspaper, the Shield, to promote their campaigns and advertise meetings.
  • The suicide of Mrs Percy in 1875 was emphasised; Butler commented that ‘every good cause requires martyrs’.
  • Pamphlets criticised the ‘medical lust of handling and dominating women’ and the ‘police lust of hunting and persecuting women’.
18 of 22

Support in Parliament

  • The Liberal election defeat of 1874 relieved Cabinet member James Stansfeld of his government duties; he now gave his full support to repeal.
  • He set out to ‘beat supporters [of the Acts] on their own ground’, gathering more medical and scientific statistics.
  • In 1875 he encouraged the formation of the National Medical Association in order to enlist the support of doctors.
  • In 1880 he was placed onto a new committee of inquiry into the CDAs.
  • Fellow Liberal MP, Henry Wilson, created a political committee of Liberal MPs to push for repeal.
19 of 22

Gladstone’s Role

  • William Gladstone was Prime Minister for much of this period (1868-74; 1880-5; 1886), so his opinion was important.
  • Gladstone was known for his own rescue work, inviting prostitutes off the street to have tea and a safe roof for one night (his wife and family were also involved!).
  • Although Gladstone’s family supported repeal, it was not Gladstone’s priority. His main concerns were foreign & Irish affairs. He delegated on many issues.
  • In the end, Stansfeld gained Gladstone’s support for repeal in return for his own support for Irish Home Rule (1886).
20 of 22

Gladstone’s Role

  • William Gladstone was Prime Minister for much of this period (1868-74; 1880-5; 1886), so his opinion was important.
  • Gladstone was known for his own rescue work, inviting prostitutes off the street to have tea and a safe roof for one night (his wife and family were also involved!).
  • Although Gladstone’s family supported repeal, it was not Gladstone’s priority. His main concerns were foreign & Irish affairs. He delegated on many issues.
  • In the end, Stansfeld gained Gladstone’s support for repeal in return for his own support for Irish Home Rule (1886).
21 of 22

Why did the repeal succeed?

  • More support in Parliament, especially from the mid-1870s
  • More sympathetic Prime Minister after 880 (Gladstone was a friend of the Butlers)
  • Different type of protest - led by a middle-class woman; made it awkward for MPs
  • Different context - After 1867 Reform Act, popular views counted for more
22 of 22

Comments

No comments have yet been made

Similar History resources:

See all History resources »See all Modern Britain from 1750 resources »