The Contagious Diseases Acts 1866

Were originally passed by the British Parliament in 1864, with alterations and editions made in 1866 and 1869. In 1862, a committee was established to inquire into venereal disease (sexually transmitted infections) in the armed forces within Britain and the British forces serving overseas. On its recommendation the first Contagious Diseases Act was passed. The legislation allowed police officers to arrest women suspected of being prostitutes in certain ports and army towns. The women were then subjected to compulsory checks for venereal disease. If a woman was declared to be infected, she would be confined in what was known as a lock hospital until she recovered or her sentence finished. Period gradually extended to one year with the 1869 Act. However, no provision was made for the examination of men.

Which became one of the many points of contention in a campaign to repeal the Acts. The original act only applied to a few selected naval ports and army towns, but by 1869 the acts had been extended to cover eighteen affected districts. The subject of venereal disease, known as social disease, created significant controversy within Victorian society. It sparked the debate over inequality between men and women. It was an early political issue that led to women organizing themselves and actively campaigning for their rights.