“It Is Not a Society for Human Beings but for Virgins”: The Girls' Friendly Society Membership Eligibility Dispute 1875–1936




Abstract  The Girls' Friendly Society is a neglected social purity organisation whose exclusive focus on female chastity differed from the rescue work and condemnation of the sexual double standard favoured by most of the social purity movement. The Society's rules restricted membership to virgins and prompted a sixty-year dispute about Christian forgiveness, exposing philanthropic rivalry and clerical division. The virginity policy was maintained throughout the moral challenges presented by sexology, eugenics, birth control, sex education and post-war emancipation, and competition from the Girl Guides, cinema and dance halls. Only rapidly declining membership forced the Society to abandon the policy in 1936.