Service recalls a Glendale great

Josephine Elizabeth Butler, social reformer
Josephine Elizabeth Butler, social reformer

The work of one of Britain’s greatest social reformers will be remembered at a special service in the tiny church where she is buried.

Josephine Butler spent a lifetime campaigning for social causes and women’s rights in the 19th century.

The Josephine Butler stamp.

The Josephine Butler stamp.

Most famously, the devout Christian feminist, activist, writer and democrat was pivotal in the battle against the Contagious Diseases Acts and successfully campaigned for the raising of the age of consent from 13 to 16.

A service celebrating her work is held each year at St Gregory’s Church in Kirknewton. It takes place this Sunday at 11am when Canon Alan Hughes will take Holy Communion.

He said: “We all bring something to eat and drink and reflect on the many social issues facing our generation which Josephine might encourage us to address as she did in her time.”

Josephine Grey was born at Milfield Hill on April 13, 1828, the daughter of a wealthy landowner and the cousin of Earl Grey, later Prime Minister.

She married George Butler but in 1863 she was left devastated by the death of her only daughter, Eva. She became possessed with an irresistible desire to meet people more unhappy than herself.

She opened a number of ‘homes’ which provided work and shelter for the women she encountered, many of whom were unmarried mothers forced into a life of prostitution or crime.

Her tireless campaign against the Contagious Diseases Act, which had been introduced in 1864, is perhaps what she is best remembered for. These acts attempted to reduce venereal disease in the armed forces by licensing prostitutes and forcing them to undergo regular medical examinations. They were repealed in 1883.

She also campaigned for women’s education and the right to vote.

Late in life, she moved to Ewart Park and then to Queen’s Road, Wooler, before she died on December 30, 1906, aged 78.

Meanwhile, the Royal Mail has released a new collection of commemorative stamps, celebrating six of the UK’s greatest humanitarians, including women’s rights activist Josephine Butler.

The British Humanitarians collection, available from 8,000 post office branches, commemorate the achievements of three women and three men. The others are Sir Nicolas Winton, Lord Boyd Orr, Joseph Rowntree, Sue Ryder and Eglantyne Jebb.

Stephen Agar, of Royal Mail, said: “These six British individuals remain inspirational for their actions and achievements across nearly 150 years. It is timely that Royal Mail pays tribute to their humanitarianism.”