Prostitution in maritime London
|The Contagious Diseases Act|
Prostitutes arrested in Woolwich
If the women were suffering from sexually transmitted diseases they were placed in a locked hospital until cured. Woolwich, home of the Royal Artillery and a Royal Marines posting, was one of the few garrison towns in London.
Prostitutes arrested there were sent to the Lock Hospitals in Soho and Kensington. It was claimed that this was the best way to protect men from infected women. Many of the women arrested were not prostitutes, but still they were forced to undergo a humiliating medical examination.
Many women thought that this law discriminated against women, as it did not contain any similar sanctions against men. Josephine Butler and Elizabeth Wolstenholme led the campaign against the law by forming the Ladies' Association Against the Contagious Diseases Act.
Butler sympathized with prostitutes whom she believed had been forced into this work by low earnings and unemployment. Butler and Wolstenholme toured the country making speeches calling for a change in the law. Many people were shocked by the idea of women speaking in public about sexual matters.
Some women did not agree with Butler over this issue. Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, who ran the New Hospital for Women in London, believed that the Act provided the only means of protecting innocent women and children from venereal disease. Despite the arguments, the Contagious Diseases Act was finally repealed in 1886.
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