Carolyn Jess-Cooke

The House of Rest

A History of Josephine Butler, feminist and social reformer,
born Corbridge, Northumberland, 1828

George and I have found a second house
to rent at two-hundred-and-fifty pounds a year –
for this we shall provide a home for thirteen women.
I wish it could accommodate more, but for now
we shall make a little heaven
for those stained and dying Magdalenes to live
in comfort, to come to know their God
before they meet Him.
            Their time is short, despite
our doctor offering his services pro bono. He can but
bring relief of pain as they bear out their day. Remarkable
that Eliza, the youngest, counts herself fortunate
to die in such a place! So many others have to take men
even while they’re dying, she says. How it must harrow them
to die with such indignity!
            Her words
have drilled through me all the day long. Our House
of Incurables puts us all at great risk of harm by those
who consider us to be furthering the cause
of prostitution (perish the thought!). I have been
spat at, called a villain and a whore, and yet
my mind will not be turned: I must do more.

Without libraries what have we? We have no past and no future. Ray Bradbury, science fiction writer