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7 - Class and Gender Conflict Within the Repeal Movement

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 June 2011

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Summary

The aggressive feminism of LNA leaders inevitably brought them into conflict with some male repealers. Although a number of men in the campaign shared the feminist and libertarian sentiments of the LNA leadership, they tended to be concentrated in the politically ineffective National Association. As Josephine Butler frequently complained in her letters, the London-based National Association focused too narrowly on parliamentary lobbying and left popular agitation to others. Instead, the LNA had to look to northern industrialists like Henry J. Wilson and Edward Backhouse for money and support. Although tireless in their efforts, provincial leaders like Wilson had little sympathy for the personal-rights libertarian concerns of the LNA. The LNA leadership, then, found itself bound to two unsatisfactory middle-class allies: the “do nothings” of the National Association, who were nonetheless ideologically correct on most feminist issues, and the “goody goodies” of the provincial electoral leagues, who, while often antifeminist, could be counted on to assume active political roles in support of repeal.

As a consequence, feminist repealers felt obliged to wage a woman's battle on two fronts. In public, LNA leaders fought for the right of women to control their own persons against the arbitrary control of police and doctors. In private, they fought for their own political rights and authority within the repeal movement. Political differences with middle-class leaders forced them to enter into an interclass alliance with workingmen and more generally to identify a special mission for themselves within the repeal camp.

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Chapter
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Prostitution and Victorian Society
Women, Class, and the State
, pp. 137 - 148
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 1980

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