Violet BUTLER (1884–1982)

Social reformer, social work trainer

14 Norham Gardens, Oxford

Violet Butler

Christina Violet Butler (often known as C. V. Butler) was born in 1884 at 14 Norham Gardens, Oxford, the youngest child of Arthur Gray Butler (1831–1909), first headmaster of Haileybury and fellow of Oriel College, and his wife, Harriet Jessie (née Edgeworth), niece of the novelist Maria Edgeworth. The social reformer Josephine Butler was Violet’s aunt by marriage. She was educated at Wycombe Abbey and read modern history at the Society of Oxford Home-Students (later St Anne’s College), gaining a First in 1905. She then added diplomas in economics and political science, and in teaching (from London University).

Below: Home Students' hockey team of 1904–5, with Violet on the bottom right, with her sister Ruth immediately above her. This photograph and the portrait on the right, which dates from c.1921, are from the archives of St Anne's College

Grace Hadow in hockey group

Violet was drawn to a life of social service, following the women of her family and others in Oxford such as Charlotte Green and Charlotte Toynbee prominent for their progressive thinking and voluntary work.

Her acclaimed book Social Conditions in Oxford (1912) grew out of her researches into housing conditions, the lack of skilled work opportunities for young people, and of women’s job prospects. Her influential report Domestic Service (1916) was compiled for the Women’s Industrial Council.

Barnett House

At Barnett House, Oxford’s town and gown centre for social studies and social work, she became tutor-secretary for women students and from 1919 to 1946 Secretary (effectively Director) for social work training, throughout giving her services as a volunteer. Barnett House was then situated on the corner of The Broad and The Turl (right).

By 1961 its work had been absorbed into Oxford University Department of Social Policy and Intervention now situated at 32 Wellington Square but continuing to bear the time-honoured name of Barnett House.

During these years Violet was also employed as Tutor in Economics for the Society of Home-Students. Her sister Ruth Butler was also a stalwart figure there as Vice-Principal 1919–1938, and Tutor in Modern History. The sisters shared the family home at 14 Norham Gardens with their widowed mother and their sister Olive who had been warden of the Lady Margaret Hall Settlement in Lambeth.

14 Norham Gardens14 Norham Gardens, where Violet Butler lived from 1884 to 1949

In 1949 Violet moved to 14 Norham Road while Ruth and Olive retired to the family house at Birdlip.

Violet remained active until well into her eighties, a familiar figure seen cycling about Oxford in vigorous pursuit of her calling, and drawing together paid and voluntary welfare workers, town and gown, rich and poor. She died in Oxford on 19 May 1982.


  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, article by Brian Harrison

The ceremony was held at 14 Norham Gardens on 29 October 2021. The speaker was Dr Liz Peretz, Associate Fellow of Barnett House. Among those attending were Cllr Mark Lygo, the Lord Mayor; Sir David Butler, Violet’s nephew, and other Butler family members; Clare White, St Anne’s Librarian and Archivist, representing the Principal; and Sisters of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, who then resided in the house.

Photographs of the unveiling ceremony

Speech made by Dr Liz Peretz (PDF)

Butler plaque

Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board

Social Reformer
Social Work Tutor
Community activist
and researcher

Lived here

Barnett House Oxford

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