Flash Back: A Woman of Substance; Josephine Butler Fought to Improve the Life of Women in 19th Century Liverpool. Peter Grant Reports on Celebrations of the Radical Campaigner

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Byline: Peter Grant

WHEN social reformer Josephine Butler set to work transforming conditions for the city way back in the late 1800s, little did she know the legacy she would leave behind.

Now, 100 years after her death, the revolutionary social reformer's life and work is to be celebrated with an exhibition held at both Liverpool Cathedral and Liverpool University this Saturday, organised by the Josephine Butler Memorial Trust.

But who was Josephine Butler - and why is she held in such high esteem as Eleanor Rathbone and Margaret Simey?

"Josephine Elizabeth Grey was a much-travelled, hard-working and formidable woman," says Katie Cooper, the University of Liverpool's Special Collections librarian, who has put together a stunning collection of Josephine Butler memorabilia.

She was born in 1828 - the daughter of a wealthy Northumbrian landowner. In 1852 she married the inspirational George Butler, a man with similar views and attitudes.

Living in Oxford, and then Cheltenham, the Butlers had four children - the youngest of whom died at the age of five, falling from the banisters at the top of their stairs in front of her distraught parents.

The family moved to Liverpool where George (by then ordained in the Church of England) had been appointed headmaster of Liverpool College.

It was here Josephine began her social campaigning.

Marian Pope, chair of the Josephine Butler Memorial Trust says: "After arriving in the city, Josephine visited a workhouse where there were hundreds of women and girls working in huge, damp cellars picking 'oakum' rope fibres.

"The conditions were dreadful, but the women were driven there by hunger and destitution - and for many it was the only alternative to prostitution."

Josephine rescued many young girls from the workhouse, taking some into her home before setting up her own refuge.

Josephine also wanted to tackle the roots of sexual inequality and campaigned for better educational provision for women, persuading Cambridge University to admit women and to set up Newnham College exclusively for women.

Adds Marian: "Perhaps Josephine Butler is best remembered for her active involvement in the campaign to repeal the Contagious Diseases Acts.

"These laws sought to control sexually transmitted diseases which were widespread in the army and navy. …