Reviews of Patron Saint of Prostitutes

From Professor Sue Morgan, Honorary Research Fellow, University of East Anglia

A deeply sensitive study …. insightful analysis of Butler’s faith as the inspiration for her reform activism.

Patron Saint of Prostitutes is a deeply sensitive study of Josephine Butler whose leadership of the successful but controversial campaign to repeal the notorious Contagious Diseases Acts marks her out as one of the most fascinating and significant of Victorian reformers. Through an impressive wealth of written and visual source material Helen Mathers deftly brings together the public political drama and private emotional relations of Butler’s complex, sometimes tragic life. Against the death of her daughter Eva and the unwavering support of her husband, Rev. George Butler, Mathers traces Butler’s determined onslaught against the male political establishment from her entry into mid-Victorian debates concerning women’s education and employment to the scandalous subject of sexual immorality and the regulation of prostitutes.

What distinguishes this book most is the insightful analysis of Butler’s faith as the inspiration for her reform activism. Rather than regarding religion as antithetical to feminism, as so many historians have previously done, Mathers convincingly places Butler’s evangelical spirituality at the core of her feminist, liberal political ideology. This book makes an important contribution, therefore, to wider debates around Victorian gender, sexuality and religion.


From Professor June Purvis, Professor Emerita of Women’s and Gender History, University of Portsmouth, UK.

Clearly written vivid account ….. a book for our times

Josephine Butler is little known today yet she was one of the most influential feminist campaigners in Victorian Britain.  She brought into the open the taboo question of the double sexual standard whereby women could be condemned as ‘common prostitutes’ and their male clients excused.  She campaigned vigorously and successfully against the Contagious Diseases Acts, introduced in the 1860s, in order to reduce the incidence of venereal disease amongst the armed forces.  Under these Acts, the police could arrest any woman suspected of being a prostitute, force her to undergo a humiliating, painful and invasive medical examination and incarcerate her in a special hospital, if she was infected.

   She also campaigned against child prostitution and the trafficking of young girls which helped to raise the age of consent from 13 to 16.

   In this clearly written vivid account, Helen Mathers explores how Josephine Butler was motivated by both her feminism and her deep Evangelical Christian faith.  It is a book for our times as, sadly, many of the issues she campaigned against are still with us today.

*********************************************************************************************************From Marion Le Roch,   PhD student at Université Le Havre Normandie, France.

I have finally been able to read your book properly, cover to cover. I found it captivating and very informative. The detailed account of Josephine Butler’s life and references to her letters are very helpful in gaining a better understanding of how her education and experiences shaped her views and led her to campaign for women’s rights.
The numerous interludes about the status of women in the Victorian era also give very useful elements of context and a clear picture of the society she lived in.
I thought the family tree, the biographies of her siblings and the table of her contemporaries were a good way of  keeping track of the various people involved and the relationships between them. This is especially helpful when studying her network of relations.

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