The Origins, Administration, and Impact of the Contagious Diseases Acts From A Military Perspective (England)

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Jay P. Anglin

Advisor Department



The purpose of this study is to examine the origins and provisions of the Contagious Diseases Acts of 1864, 1866, and 1869, which were enacted in an attempt to check the spread of venereal disease in the military services in England. Recent literature on the subject creates the impression that the acts violated the constitutional rights and liberties of a repressed class of females in the major cities of England, when, in fact, few, if any, constitutional rights were actually violated in the view of contemporary court rulings. This study demonstrates that the military encouraged Parliament to enact legislation compatable with constitutional liberties. A review of the literature indicates that a more balanced view of the Contagious Diseases Acts is needed. Research centered on original documents related to Parliament, the War Office, and the Admiralty, including Parliamentary records of committees and joint commissions of Lords and Commons. Letters and unpublished manuscripts and histories of the acts were also consulted. Statistics and conclusions vary on the issue of whether or not the acts were a substantial factor in reducing the spread of venereal disease. As long as the acts remained in force, organized political agitation for their repeal continued to increase. Finally, in 1883 the acts were suspended by Parliament, and in 1886, the military was forced to accept the inevitable consequence of their repeal. Chapter one reviews the literature, chapter two traces the historical background of the acts, and chapter three outlines their key elements. In chapter four the forces of repeal are explored. Chapter five recounts the process and consequences of repeal, and chapter six concludes the paper.