350: Three Victorian Women Who Changed Their World by Nancy Boyd

by Gerard


350.420922: Boyd, Nancy. Three Victorian Women Who Changed Their World: Josephine Butler, Octavia Hill, Florence Nightingale. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1982. 251 pp. ISBN 0-19-520271-6.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 300: Social Sciences
  • 350: Public administration and military science
  • 350.42: Public administration in England and Wales
  • +0922: Biographies of collected persons

Somehow in all my reading across myriad subjects, I seem to have never come across the fact that Florence Nightingale was British. In fact, she was born to British parents in Florence (hence her name). Nightingale, along with Octavia Hill and Josephine Butler, were instrumental in rise of feminism in Victorian England. Nancy Boyd’s Three Victorian Women Who Changed Their World chronicles the lives, efforts, and legacy of these three to show that Victorian England was not as backward and stodgy and folks tend to think.

While Nightingale’s efforts as a war nurse and a health reformer are well-known, Hill and Butler are a bit more obscured. Octavia Hill, with the backing of prominent British thinkers, established the National Trust and the Charity Organisation Society. She championed for the rehabilitation of Britain’s urban homeless while simultaneously creating London’s many open green spaces, including Hampstead Heath and Parliament Hill Fields. Josephine Butler, on the other hand, helped to raise the age of consent from 13 to 16 and repeal the vile Contagious Diseases Acts. These laws allowed British police officers to imprison female prostitutes accused of allegedly spreading venereal disease and subject them to forced bodily examinations.

Boyd’s biographical triad is a bit dated but still well researched. Nightingale’s work as a health statistician blew my mind—so much so, that I’m now on a hunt for a proper biography. If you poke around history enough, you’ll find many such stories of social, political, and health reform by those much less fortunate than Boyd’s subjects. The more their efforts are celebrated and championed, the better the world can become. An interesting and enlightening book.