The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Victorian Women's Writing

Living Edition
| Editors: Lesa Scholl (Editor-in-Chief)

Contagious Diseases Acts, the

Living reference work entry


The Contagious Diseases Acts (CD Acts) were a series of three laws passed in England in 1864, 1866, and 1869. They aimed to stop the spread of venereal disease among the British armed forces by examining prostitutes or suspected prostitutes in military and garrison towns and, after 1866, confining those who were infected to Lock Hospitals (specialized hospitals for the treatment of female venereal disease) for up to 1 year. The Acts were broadly supported by the medical establishment and the government, in the interest of maintaining healthy armed forces, but their one-sided diagnosis and punishment of only female carriers of the disease commanded a widespread public outcry. In ideological terms, their design signified the double standard in Victorian England that considered sexuality “natural” in men but depraved in women. The economic reasons that led women to prostitution, too, were overlooked in the effort to punish them for their trade. On behalf of a powerful...


Law Medicine Contagion Venereal disease Syphilis Prostitution Armed forces Josephine Butler Sarah Grand 
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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.McGill UniversityMontrealCanada

Section editors and affiliations

  • Emily Morris
    • 1
  1. 1.St. Thomas More CollegeUniversity of SaskatchewanSaskatoonCanada