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Changing the Female Lot: Josephine Butler and Harriet Martineau

Past display archive
26 April 2011 - 10 April 2012

Room 27


Josephine Butler
by George Richmond
NPG 6482

Continuing a series of small displays that showcase the fashion for chalk portraits in the nineteenth century, this display focuses on George Richmond’s portraits of Josephine Butler and Harriet Martineau, two of the most highly regarded, female social reformers of the Victorian age. By showing the portraits together, which were completed only two years apart, it provides the opportunity to make a point of comparison between these remarkable women.

Now recognised as important precursors of the feminist movement, Martineau and Butler became acquainted through a friendly exchange of letters on the subject of the campaign for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts of the 1860s. Appropriately, the display highlights the age difference between the acclaimed writer Martineau, who felt her status as an established older woman made her the perfect person to speak out against a law that licensed the forced examination of a prostitute but left her male customer unpunished, and the younger, equally refined Butler, who was then influenced by Martineau’s writings to boldly lead the fight to have it overturned.

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