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Cover of Women's History Review

Women's History Review

Volume 17, Issue 2, Apr 2008
Pages 257-277

  • DOI: 10.1080/09612020701707274
  • Print ISSN: 0961-2025
  • Online ISSN: 1747-583X

Josephine Butler and the Making of Feminism: international abolitionism in the Netherlands (1870–1914)

The history of Dutch abolitionism within the wider international context highlights the complex relationship between abolitionism and feminism. Feminism and abolitionism were intricately related, both playing a central role in discourses about sexuality and the State in the last decades of the nineteenth century. Josephine Butler’s ‘crusade’ against the regulation of prostitution played a crucial role in the rise of Dutch evangelical feminism and inspired later generations of feminists to employ the image of the prostitute as the prime example of female sexual oppression and other gender inequalities. However, over a period of about twenty‐five years the prostitution campaign drifted away from a feminist perspective and was characterised by tensions between male and female abolitionists. When regulation was abandoned around 1900 a new focus on traffic in women emerged, indicating a shift from ‘prostitute’ to ‘white slave’ together with a shift from abolitionism as a wider social movement in which women’s rights were articulated to a campaign for limited legal goals, signifying also changes from a ‘female’ brand of abolitionism to a ‘male’ platform of state politics. During a successful campaign against brothel keeping the movement took a repressive turn and ultimately became less woman‐friendly.