Date of Award

Spring 1995

Document Type

Restricted Thesis

Terms of Use

© 1995 Elizabeth Maloney. All rights reserved. Access to this work is restricted to users within the Swarthmore College network and may only be used for non-commercial, educational, and research purposes. Sharing with users outside of the Swarthmore College network is expressly prohibited. For all other uses, including reproduction and distribution, please contact the copyright holder.

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


History Department

First Advisor

Robert Weinberg

Second Advisor

Marjorie Murphy

Third Advisor

Pieter M. Judson


This paper examines the activism of Josephine Butler in the nineteenth century, aimed at repealing the Contagious Diseases Act in England, and focuses on its place in an historical matrix of gender, power and political change. It examines rhetoric, campaign literature, and personal writings associated with Butler’s extensive public advocacy. It also looks to existing scholarship on Butler and more generally women in nineteenth century politics, while actively confronting and assessing the narrow perspectives traditionally offered in historical analyses of women’s contributions. Especially close focus is given to Butler’s articulation of gender in her work, and the question of whether it challenged or crystallized the prevalent social codes of gendered conduct that rooted many of the issues she advocated against. This analysis refocuses understandings of feminism, activism, transgressive politics, and modernity in the context of Butler’s life and legacy.


Recipient of the Paul H. Beik Prize in History, awarded in 1995.