Recent Writing about Josephine Butler

Books and articles published since 2014

Mathers, Helen, Josephine Butler. Patron Saint of Prostitutes, The History Press, paperback edn, 2021

Robinson, Jane, Josephine Butler. A very brief history, SPCK, 2020. 

Matthews-Jones, Lucinda, ‘ “Granny thinking what she is going to write in her book”: religion, politics and the Pontefract by-election of 1872 in Josephine Butler’s Personal Reminiscences of a Great Crusade (1896)’, Women’s History Review, Vol 26, 2017, pp.935-952

Styler, Rebecca, ‘Josephine Butler’s Serial Auto/Biography: Writing the Changing Self through the Lives of Others’, Life Writing Vol 14, 2017, pp. 171-84.


Salvation Army

Josephine Butler, Florence Booth and ‘The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon’

“Those of you who have at one stage or another studied some aspect of the Victorian era will have probably stumbled across the Pankhursts – the militant suffragettes; the Brontes – the celebrated authors; Florence Nightingale – the ‘lady with the lamp’; or even Annie Besant – the leader of ‘the Matchgirls Strike’.

But ‘the patron saint of prostitutes’? Perhaps not…”

Readers’ responses

josephine butler patron saint of prostitutes

Good Reads reviews

Kimberly rated it  5 stars –  it was amazing

Excellent book on an incredible woman of strength and compassion. She was willing to go where few had gone before in order to love “the least of these”. There were chapters that were hard to read because of what she uncovered. But her life is an inspiration.

 Stephen Griffiths rated it 4 stars – really liked it

A powerfully written book about an extra-ordinary woman who fought all her life long for the rights of some of the most marginalised and abused women in society, not just in the UK but across the world. How can it be that Josephine Butler is not more widely known?! Highly recommended.

 Nicki rated it  4 stars – really liked it

I was encouraged to read this book by attended one of Helen Mathers lectures on Josephine Butler at the Sheffield writing event in November 2015. This is such a powerful book. We were only taught about Josephine Butler in passing at school with no mention of her policy campaigns, which is really not surprising since she helped the type of women that not many people really cared about in Victorian Britain. She was one of the first women to campaign against child abuse and helped bring the legal consent of sex to 16. She was also a supporter against sexual trafficking in Europe. Since she was not a very healthy woman her determination and successes were amazing. There was a lot of references to Sheffield, which I found interesting. The descriptions of the treatment of prostitutes at the Lock Hospitals was quite horrifying and sickening. I’m glad I read the book. It has taught me a lot about Victorian Britain and how life was like for a lot of poor women.


FIVE Star Amazon Review Declares 'One of our best business books for 2014'  - John Hope Bryant
All 5 star – this is a selection

TRACEY FISHER  5.0 out of 5 stars 

Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 17 January 2015 Verified Purchase

Fantastic read. Opens your eyes to the pain and misery suffered by young children and women in poverty. And the hard work and dedication of a few saints who improved the prospects and changed the world for the better.

Sheffield gal  5.0 out of 5 stars

Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 10 October 2014 Verified Purchase

This is a fascinating book that captures life in Victorian times, and is a remarkable testimony to Josephine Butler’s bravery. The writing is academically rigorous, comprehensively referenced from letters and other material from the time, but is very readable. The story races along, and the sympathetic, but not hagiographic, account of Butler’s early life and losses put into context her later actions. Feminism and the Victorian era are not common bedfellows, but this book enhances understanding of both in a well-balanced historical account. Josephine Butler will gain greater recognition through this book, and I hope it is widely read.

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.

Josephine Butler is Making History!

Put Josephine Butler on the 4th plinth in Trafalgar Square.   Here’s my pitch for the BBC Radio 4 “Making History’ competition.  It was broadcast on Tuesday Sept 20th, 3.00 pm. Podcast link:   Scroll to 23.20 minutes for this item.

“So who was Josephine Butler? She was a Victorian wife and mother who chose to dedicate her life to the cause of abused women and girls.  Incensed by new laws which allowed the police to abuse any woman they chose to arrest, she began a campaign to repeal them. Can you imagine how difficult that was for a respectable Victorian woman?  Yet Josephine was so determined that she actually succeeded.   She went on to expose child sexual abuse in London, leading to the raising of the age of consent to 16.

There are no statues to Josephine Butler. Let’s put her on the plinth in Trafalgar Square.  The patron saint of prostitutes.”