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Women and Habitual Drunkenness

Page history last edited by PBworks 12 years, 8 months ago



Loretta Mason



Women and Habitual Drunkenness.doc


Ernest M. Pollock; A. M. Latter. 
Journal of the Society of Comparative Legislation, New Ser., Vol. 2, No. 2. (1900), pp. 289-293.





Women and Habitual Drunkenness


Due to a large portion of the 19th century population being jailed for intoxication, laws were passed to try to control or reduced the in public incorrigible acts. From the documentation of literature written concerning this intolerable behavior, it has been recorded that women were the main offenders of infractions for habitual drunkenness. The jail sentence time normally ranged from a period of two to months.       The inebriate Act was passed in 1898 and allowed local authorities to set up certified reformatories to treat drunkards. These acts shorten prison terms for lawbreaker and provided residential treatment for the undesired behavioral problem. The philosophy behind the certified reformatories was to help citizens reform and rehabilitate, rather that punish or imprison.  The reformatories were strategically selected in areas away from the temptations of city life and placed in rural areas.  The regime was to bring about long term changes in behavior and attitudes.


        Reformatories structured their residential transformation treatment plans around mandated diets, hard work, regular routines, bible reading sessions, and religious services.  In order for this treatment program to be beneficial, the average confinement time was sentences from one to three years. Overseers of these institutes believed that this time was needed to eradicate one from his or her old habits and create new ones.


        The Inebriated Act passed in 1898 was soon considered an experiment and liability in the works. From 1899 to the First World War, 14 reformatories were established. Within the 14 facilities there were a total of 4590 inmates.  The cost and maintenance for these reformatories exceeded Local and Federal budget expectations.  Individuals within these establishments were presumed to be repeat, hardened, non reversible drunks. Because of the overcrowding of the reformatories in placed, it became hard to diagnose mental illness from symptoms of excessive inebriation.


        Regardless, to the failure or success of this act, it is clear that this was one of the first attempts by government to try to help and control regarding a social issue. Complaints about the reformatories were countless, bur anticipated from the patients/prisoners.  From the Girgenti Home, a certified reformatory in Scotland, an inmate writes:



I am keeping in very good health. I am thankful to say, but I am very downhearted when I think of al I have to stand from day to day and from year to year and I have to say nothing whether I am right or wrong and for nothing  I ought to be outside working and treated with kindness and respect and getting paid for my work, but to work hard form day to day and not even get a kind word  I shall never forget this as long as I live… My one prayer is to have my health and I will put up with the rest for it is an awful place to have anything wrong with you.




        Surprisingly, it is recorded that 250,000 people were committed to prisons annually, from 1899 to 1913 for drunkenness; however 81 per cent committed were women. The Inebriate Act of 1898 could not support the rising amount of convictions for being uncontrollably intoxicated in public.  The predominance of women over men committed in prisons or reformatories was the results of several factors, according to this article:


1.   Because reformatories were less restrictive and more feminine environments, men were best placed in prison with high security.


2.   Judges or magistrates really did not want to commit men to either the prison system or the reform system because they were the sole source of support for their families.


3.   The report argues that men are capable of self-reform, unlike women which alcohol eventually posses and over- whelms them. Inebriation was argued to be a behavioral problem which women could not control.






Listed below is the schedule of infractions in which one could be imprisoned or remanded to a reformatory institution, under the Inebriates Act of 1898. Before these voilations of drundard behavior problem, reformatories were not avaiolable, therefore everyone sentence or found guilty of a law below was sent to prison.  








Description of Offence



Statute enacting Offence



Being found drunk in a highway or other public place, whether a building or not, or on licensed premises.



Licensing Act 1872 (35 & 36 Vict. c. 94), s. 12.



Being guilty while drunk of riotous or disorderly behaviour in a highway or other public place, whether a building or not.



Licensing Act 1872 (35 & 36 Vict. c. 94), s. 12.



Being drunk while in charge, on any highway or other public place, of any carriage, horse, cattle, or steam-engine.



Licensing Act 1872 (35 & 36 Vict. c. 94), s. 12.



Being drunk when in possession of any loaded firearms.



Licensing Act 1872 (35 & 36 Vict. c. 94), s. 12.



Refusing or failing when drunk to quit licensed premises when requested.



[F1Licensing Act 1964 (c. 26), s. 174]



Refusing or failing when drunk to quit any premises or place licensed under the [F1Late Night Refreshment Houses Act 1969], when requested.



[F1Late Night Refreshment Houses Act 1969 (c. 53), s. 9(4)]



Being found drunk in any street or public thoroughfare within the Metropolitan Police District, and being guilty while drunk of any riotous or indecent behaviour.



Metropolitan Police Act 1839 (2 & 3 Vict. c. 47), s. 58.



Being drunk in any street, and being guilty of riotous or indecent behaviour therein.



Town Police Clauses Act 1847 (10 & 11 Vict. c. 89), s. 29.



Being intoxicated while driving a hackney carriage.



Town Police Clauses Act 1847 (10 & 11 Vict. c. 89), s. 61.



Being drunk during employment as a driver of a hackney carriage, or as a driver or conductor of a stage carriage in the Metropolitan Police District.



London Hackney Carriages Act 1843 (6 & 7 Vict. c. 86), s. 28.



Being drunk and persisting, after being refused admission on that account, in attempting to enter a passenger steamer.



Merchant Shipping Act 1894 (57 & 58 Vict. c. 60), s. 287.



Being drunk on board a passenger steamer, and refusing to leave such steamer when requested.



Merchant Shipping Act 1894 (57 & 58 Vict. c. 60), s. 287.



Description of Offence



Statute enacting Offence



Being found in a state of intoxication and incapable of taking care of himself, and not under the care or protection of some suitable person, in any street, thoroughfare, or public place.



[F1Licensing (Scotland) Act 1903 (c. 25), s. 70]



Being in any street drunk and incapable and not under the care and protection of some suitable person.



Burgh Police (Scotland) Act 1892 (55 & 56 Vict. c. 55), s. 381.



Being drunk while in charge in any street or other place of any carriage, horse, cattle, or steam engine, or when in possession of any loaded firearms.



Burgh Police (Scotland) Act 1892 (55 & 56 Vict. c. 55), s. 380.



Being found in any shebeen drunk



Public Houses Acts Amendment (Scotland) Act 1862 (25 & 26 Vict. c. 35), s. 19.



. . . F2



. . . F2





Amendments (Textual)


F1Words substituted by virtue of Interpretation Act 1978 (c. 30), s. 17(2)(a)


F2Entries repealed by Statute Law (Repeals) Act 1976 (c. 16), Sch. 1 Pt. II


Modifications etc. (not altering text)


C1Sch. 1 extended by Licensing Act 1902 (c. 28), s. 2(3)


C2References to Licensing Act 1872 (c. 94), s. 12, Metropolitan Police Act 1839 (c. 47), s. 58 and Town Police Clauses Act 1847 (c. 89), s.29 to be construed as including references to Criminal Justice Act 1967 (c. 80), s. 91(1): Interpretation Act 1978 (c. 30), s. 17(2)(a)




. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . F1




Amendments (Textual)


F1Ss. 1—29, Sch. 2 repealed by Statute Law (Repeals) Act 1976 (c. 16), Sch. 1 Pt. II


Page 2 of 2







The following are sketches  of Victorian women. From  







Drawing Gallery

Vigée Le Brun's Home Page | Index to Art Pages
Vigée Le Brun's Gallery | Special Galleries

1785 1795-1801 1795-1801 1780 1797 1790
Date? 1789 1779-89 1772 1785-86 Date?
Date? Date? Date? 1807 Date? Date?
Date? Date?

              1801   1801   1800   1778   1772   1785



               Notes on the Text


Shebeen: House of ill-repute. Prostituttion.




                Commentary on the Text

 This law represents a time period where drinking for the less fortunate was or became a way of life... 


Laws in placed before 1898, did not afford offenders the opportunity for reform. All infractions were punishable by imprisonment terms.




                Works Cited


 http://www.opsi.gov.uk/RevisedStatutes/Acts/ukpga/1898/cukpga_18980060_en_2, Inebriates Act 1898 


 http://www.institutions.org.uk/poor_law_unions/drunkards.htm, Drunkards 


 http://www.jstor.org/view/00071315/ap020159/02a00050/0, Wretched, Hatless and miserable clad: women and the inebriate reformatories from 1900-1913.         



    For Additional Reading


http://www.jstor.org/view/00219371/ap010097/01a00020/0, English Prison, Penal Cultures and Abatement of Imprisonment (1895-1922)



 http://www.jstor.org/view/14795973/ap030007/03a00120/0,  Recent legislation on Inebriates in England and the Colonies.


 http://www.batguano.com/Vigeedrawings.html, Victorian picture Gallery


                Project Group Members


Member Name



 Loretta Mason  Eastern Michigan University  LIT 420






     Project Completed: Winter 2008


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Comments (1)

Cynthia Knight said

at 10:06 pm on May 2, 2008

Accessibility to Victorian archives is giving me an entirely new perspective on Victorian life, gender, and periodicals. This article is fascinating. First of all, I had no idea that Victorian women were reputed to have drinking problems. I just assumed that female drunkenness was something that was not talked about in polite society. As well, I am fascinated to read that there were fourteen facilities built to house and try to rehabilitate habitual drunks. Since the number of women that were incarcerated was much higher than men, it makes me wonder if further research would indicate that it was one of the ways of housing and somewhat disposing of some of the "surplus women." Wrongly, I always associated the image of Victorian women with trying to erradicate drunkenness in their men. Never did I think about Victorian women and the drunkenness issue.

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