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Prostitution of Young Women in London

Page history last edited by grahamlee@umkc.edu 13 years, 4 months ago


 “Prostitution of Young Females in London.”  Lloyd's Weekly London Newspaper. (London, England), Sunday, May 26, 1844; 79



Lloyds Weekly Newspaper began as a smaller newspaper called Lloyd's Illustrated London News, which contained several illustrations.  After this shift away from illustrations, Douglas Jerrold took over as editor-in-chief and rapidly grew the newspaper into greater circulation.  Jerrold is referred to as being a great friend of the masses.  His newspaper focused on issues that mattered to the masses, such as:  working-class wages, economy, morality, culture, law, health, politics, police reports and crime, and even a section on literature. After the abolition of the stamp-duty, it was the first newspaper really sold at a penny. Its quality and cheapness coupled with the convenience of the rotary press, enabled Lloyds Weekly Newspaper to become one of the most popular and widely read in its day.


Helped by Jack the Ripper murders, the installation of the first Hoe rotary printing press in England and the invention of the system of offering papers to newsagents on sale or return, Lloyd's Weekly , in fact, exploited this formula so successfully that it later became the first newspaper in the world to reach a sale of a million" (Williams, p.103).


This paper appeals to the million on the two great principles of quantity and cheapness. Its price is lower than that of most weekly papers... it seeks to squeeze in as liberal an allowance as possible for the threepence charged. It is peculiarly the poor man's paper, and endeavours of course to embrace as many articles of intelligence, and as much under each head... giving prominence to police reports, and similar matters of popular interest. At the same time its contents are far more creditable, and comprise far more of a light and literary character, than might be conceived... immense mass of matter for the money; with a little of everything, and a good deal of many things; so that even if its readers saw no other paper, they would not be behind the rest of the world" (Mitchell, 1846).


Readers lower to lower middle class, educational standard low, politically mainly liberal. The paper itself claimed (Jan. 26, 1862) that 'This journal has been the first in contemporary history that has entered the weaver's home and the hind's cottage" (Ellegard, p.6).


There was a voice in the British press, however, that embraced the cause of democracy, that was anti-slavery, and represented the English worker. Lloyd's Weekly London Newspaper belonged to that small section of the press where circulation was limited, but the call was loud and clear" (Grant, p.139)




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Notes on the Text


House of Lords:  commonly referred to as “the Lords,” is the upper house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. During the 19th century, several changes made to the House of Lords increased membership and decreased the individual influence of a Lord through peerage advocated by George III. This led to a decrease in the overall power of the House of Lords and the passing of the Reform Bill of 1832 that saw the increase in superiority of the lower house, House of Commons. Unlike the House of Commons, membership of the House of Lords is not attained by election from the population as a whole, but by inheritance or by appointment (Lords Temporal), or by virtue of their ecclesiastical role within the Church of England (Lords Spiritual).


Bishop of Exeter:  Henry Phillpotts (1778-1869), also known as “Henry of Exeter”, was the Anglican Bishop of Exeter from 1830 to 1869. He was renowned for his pamphlets on politics, social order, and religion as well as the way he made his opinion known on every current affair.


Lords Spiritual:  Members of the House of Lords, who sit by virtue of their ecclesiastical offices in the Church ofngland and were formerly the majority in the House of Lords. During the English Civil War, the Lords Spiritual were excluded from the House of Lords until the Clergy Act of 1661 allowed for their return. The Bishopric of Manchester Act of 1847 and subsequent acts further restricted the number of Lords Spiritual present in the House of Lords. Today, there can be no more than 26 members and these are comprised of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Archbishop of York, the Bishop of London, the Bishop of Durham, the Bishop of Winchester and the 21 longest-serving bishops from other dioceses in the Church of England.


TemporalLords Temporal. Made up the rest of the House of Lords and have been the majority since the Dissolution of Monasteries restricted the attendance of the Lords Spiritual prior to the English Civil War. They are publicly partisan, which allows for them to align themselves with dominating political parties in the House of Commons. Publicly non-partisan Lords are known as cross-benchers. Originally, the Lords Temporal was made up of those who inherited peerages (dukes, marquesses, earls, viscounts, barons, etc.) but may be created by the Crown or by advice of the Prime Minister.


her Majesty:  Queen Victoria (1819-1901) ascended the throne in 1837. She holds the longest reign of any British monarch to date and was the iconic symbol the nation and empire of her time because of her ethics and personal tastes, that reflected those of the middle class.


Ardent spirits:  As taken from a quote gathered by James Miller, Professor of Surgery in the University of Edinburgh, “…and hear the weighty words of a poor London Magdalene, — ‘No girls could lead the life we do without gin!’”, the ardent spirits probably referred to gin. Gin became popular in England after the government allowed unlicensed gin production while imposing heavy taxation on all imported spirits. This fostered the “Gin Craze” because gin was cheap and domestic grain quality was too poor to produce quality beer. Gin was blamed for various social and medical problems and has a negative connotation to this day.


Mr. Tait, in reference to EdinburghTait’s Edinburgh Magazine was a monthly periodical founded in 1832 by William Tait (1792-1864), an independent radical in politics. It was an important venue for liberal political views and contemporary cultural and literary developments in early to mid-19th century Britain. In 1834, Tait’s Magazine combined with Johnstone’s Edinburgh Magazine, of John and Christian Johnstone. Christian Johnstone was an feminist and became the chief contributor and director under William Tait. She was the first woman to serve as paid editor of a major Victorian periodical, to which she brought fresh life and popularity.


Sabbath:  or a Sabbath is generally a weekly day of rest and/or time of worship observed in Abrahamic (Christianity, Judaism, Islam, etc.) religions. The term “Sabbath” derives from the Hebrew Shabbat (שַׁבָּת) meaning “to cease,” which was first used in the biblical account of the 7th day of Creation (Genesis 2:2-3). Observation and remembrance of Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments and people who observe it view it as a sign of respect for the day during which God rested after having completed the Creation in six days. Sabbath desecration was originally officially punishable by death (Exodus 31:15).


The Society for the Protection of Young Females in London:  was established in 1832 and exclusively devoted themselves to the reclamation of females younger than fifteen years of age that have fallen into prostitution, or been exposed to it, by closing down places where the young have been encouraged to sin and degradation. Once rescued, these girls were brought back to the ‘Asylum,’ and were considered ‘inmates’ while under the care of the Society. For 6 hours each day, they were taught in every branch of an ordinary education that could have possibly rivaled those of the National, British, and Foreign schools. On top of that, the girls picked up on needlework and everything else that related to domestic economy. They usually stayed until they were prepared to maintain and pursue a virtuous life, which was about two years.


West-End of London:  is an area of Central London that contains much of the city’s businesses, headquarters, and major attractions such as the West-end theatres. Its name originated in the 19th century to describe fashionable areas west of Charing Cross.


Procurer:  A person who procures, esp. a pander or pimp.


Charing Cross:  replaced Eleanor Cross denoting the junction of the Strand, Whitehall and Cockspur Street, and has been considered the center of London since the second half of the 18th century. It is also the site of a railway station.


Marlborough Street Police Office: In 1793 No. 21 Great Marlborough Street and the ground at the rear in Marlborough Mews (now Ramillies Place) was adapted for use as one of these public or police offices. In 1856 the Receiver for the Metropolitan Police District took a lease of No. 20 Great Marlborough Street and the ground at the rear was used for the enlargement of the police station. In the 19th century the street became mainly commercial and remains so today. Most of the present buildings are replacements dating from the Victorian era or later. Great Marlborough Street runs west to east through the western part of Soho in London. At its western end it joins Regent Street. Carnaby Street also runs off it on its way east to meet Berwick Street.


The Continent: refers to continental Europe.


Nursery-governesses responsible for the education of both boys and girls until they reached the age of eight. Foremost among the duties of the nursery governess was the teaching of reading and writing.


Circular:  A letter, advertisement, notice, or statement for circulation among the general public.


Act 25th Geo. II, Cap. 36:  was also known as the Disorderly Houses Act of 1751 that was meant for better preventing thefts and robberies, regulating places of public entertainment, and punishing persons keeping disorderly houses.


Abscond:  To depart in a sudden and secret manner, esp. to avoid capture and legal persecution.


Boulogne:  or Boulogne-sur-mer is France’s biggest fishing port. It was used as Napolean’s base to invade England between 1802 and 1805. It was only after Napolean was defeated and the French monarchy restored that the English people were allowed to frequent the port once more.


Great-Titchfield-street:  is a street in the west-end of London and was described in the mid-19th century as being in an area of “dirty shops and dingy private dwellings…where children never washed” (Pevsner and Cherry, 1991, London 3: NW).


Great Western Railway:  (GWR) was a British railway company that linked London with the southwest and west of England and most of Wales. It was founded in 1833, received its enabling Act of Parliament in 1835, and ran its first trains in 1838. The GWR was called by some, “God’s Wonderful Railway” and by others the “Great Way Round” but it was famed as the “Holiday Line,” taking many people to resorts in southwest England.


Iniquity:  A gross injustice or wickedness; a violation of right or duty; wicked act; sin.


Dr. Wardlaw:  The Reverend Ralph Wardlaw, D.D. (1779-1853) was a Scottish Presbyterian and writer. Despite his strong familial connections to the United Secession Church (his mother’s side), he turned to independent Congregationalism after his University studies were completed. Ordained by Reverend Greville Ewing in 1803, he preached in a small chapel built for him. His lectures were enough for him and Rev. Ewing to establish Glasgow’s first academy for Congregationalist theology students. Rev. Wardlaw strongly influenced David Livingstone, who attended his lectures in divinity, and was inspired by his campaigns against slavery to fight the African Slave Trade during his years as a missionary and explorer.


Dr. Paley:  William Paley (1743-1805) was a British Christian apologist, philosopher, and utilitarian. He is best known for his exposition of the teleological argument for the existence of God in his work Natural Theology, which made use of the “watchmaker analogy.” Paley’s Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy was one of the most influential philosophical texts in late Enlightenment Britain. It was cited in several Parliamentary debates and remained a set textbook at Cambridge well into the Victorian era.


Commentary on the Text


The Descent into Prostitution 


      In the 19th century, London was noted as “The Whoreshop of the World,” where numbers varying from 8,000 to 10,000 represented the women who were forced into prostitution (“Prostitution of Young Females”).  Contrary to what London’s infamous nickname might suggest about the nature of London’s female population, staff writer at Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper states “[i]t has been usual to regard these unfortunate beings [prostitutes] as the daughters of crime, whereas they are generally the children of misfortune.”  By misfortune, the writer alludes to the scandalous ways in which these young, virginal women—most under twenty-one and some as young as eleven—are enticed and swindled into brothels and prostitution in England.


     “People imagine the brothel fills itself,” argues W.T. Stead in his 1885 pamphlet on bettering the conditions of Victorian women, and “[t]hat is a mistake.” Primarily, the young girls are lured from their impoverished homes in the country by promise of employment, not knowing that they will be employed in “houses of ill-fame,” otherwise known as brothels.  With promises of decent wage and employment, the brothel-keeper convinces the young girl to pack her things and head into the city.  “At first nothing is said,” explains Stead.  “Every artifice is used to make the unsuspecting girl believe that she is in a good place with a kind mistress.”  It is not until the girl is promised liberty and money that she is forced into submissiveness.  “The girl is tempted to drink, and by degrees she is enlightened to as to the nature of the house” (Stead 101).  Once drunk, the virginal girls, which are the most valuable to a brothel-keeper because he or she can sell them for a higher rate, are then seduced and forced to engage in sex, which is most often referred to as procuring or effecting their ruin (Stead 101).  In this way, the brothels become prisons.  The young country girls know no one in London and have nowhere to turn to for help.  The laws do not protect them, and the girls cannot seek help from the police force because often they are in alliance with the brothel-keeper.  “The police are the brothel-keeper’s best friends,” Stead quotes an old brothel-keeper confessing to him.  “‘Cos why?” she asks.  “They keep things snug.  And the brothel-keepers are the police’s best friend ‘cos they pay them” (103).  In addition to brothel-keepers enticing naive country girls to the city and exploiting them for profit, they also seduce domestic servants already employed in London or neighboring communities and force them away from their masters’ households by trickery (“Prostitution”). 


     London servants were often invited over to a brothel house for tea on Sabbath evenings, and like the country girls, were made to drink wine until they were severely intoxicated.  After they reach this state, the brothel-keeper introduces the men, who “[o]f course joined them in their merriment, till they obtained their object.”  As suggested by the Lloyds Weekly article, the object most highly sought after by paying customers was a woman whose ruin they could effect—hence the obtaining of such young females by London’s most infamous brothel-keepers.  In fact, as the aforementioned article states one “monster of iniquity” had a regular contract with brothel-keepers, which enforced them “to be supplied with a stated number of young virgins to be sacrificed to his ungovernable propensities.”  In some situations, once their ruin had been accomplished, they were either sent to a house of lesser grade or out into the streets, and “fresh victims were imported to supply their places” (“Prostitution”).  The brothel-keepers were businesswomen and men, and if the customers were willing to pay up to 100 pounds to “violate these helpless victims,” then they would work vigilantly to keep young girls around.  In one instance, a brothel-keeper hired her sister to live in a house in a neighborhood between Slough and Windsor where many neighboring households were full of hired domestic servants.  Most likely with bribery and lies, the sister was able to bring many of these servants into the city where a new establishment was being opened (“Prostituion”).


     “Prostitution of Young Females in London” explores the entrapping cycle and perpetuation of prostitution and suggests at a whole, that the young girls are victims who are led away from the comforts of their parents’ homes and then eventually, dumped out into the street penniless and “ruined.” It does not, however, account for the percentage of women who are willing to engage in prostitution, though the numbers are likely substantially lower.  



Prostitution and Class


     Prostitution in 1940s Great Britain is much different from what many see portrayed in society today. One interest in particular that may help people better understand the culture surrounding the profession would be class distinctions. These women were often young and of lower-class, and the clients were typically working middle-class. “There are but very few of [young prostitutes] from the upper classes…and they may be said…to be from the lower grades of society” (Prostitution of Young). Therefore, these young prostitutes considered themselves to be working women, but the standards placed upon them by most everyone else automatically considered them to be of low-class.


 The young women who typically fell into this line of work were between the age of 18 and 22 and were commonly poor (or from poor families) according to Megara Bell, writer of The Fallen Woman in Fiction and Legislation.  “Prostitutes were not rootless social outcasts as much as poor, yet independent, working women” (Bell). These women often had to endure disease, rape and mental torment because of this lifestyle they chose. Bell goes on to explain how these girls are often forced into these positions to support their families, something that the article also indicates in great detail. “Are the inferior classes to be sacrificed to the demon of lust for the benefit of those above them” (Prostitution of Young).  This is a question that still has not been answered today in much detail. The superior (men) would definitely be the demon being referred to here. This demonstrates the power that those in higher classes used against those below them.


     An interesting dispute that Bell also raises is that many of these women often married their clients to marry and have children, but people were against this depending on class difference. Those of working and middle class would often accept this more readily. “The lower classes were…more tolerant of sexual and social behaviors [than] the middle…what are commonly thought of as the Victorian attitudes about sex differ according to social class; sexual norms of the working class were often quite different from those of the middle class” (Bell). This class difference would most likely be the determinant of why we view prostitution as we do today. However, gender would also play into this as well being that these upper class men would be the clients, but the wives of these men would look down upon these women prostitutes. These wives may have known that their husbands bought prostitutes, but men being the superior beings we know that not much would have been done in regards to this. Those of higher class would not want to leave their luxurious lifestyles, and those below would probably be the working women doing this. The class difference of the people in this era would be a factor as to why women turned to prostitution to begin with.



A look: Economy and Morality


As Lloyd’s Weekly London Newspaper article of 1844 stipulates, prostitution had been a mainstay issue at the time in London.  It can be seen, at the time in London and around the Continent, a subtle shift in how prostitution should be handled by the government. Moreover, differing points of view and societal acceptances of prostitution were competing with each other. The debate centered around whether prostitution was legal and regulated, or whether the government would put forth legislature which punished both the prostitute and the purchaser of her wares. These competing interests migrated toward citizens asking for a moral ideal from the government and this question set forth the ability for a law to take measures to those partaking in this vice of the upper and middle classes. 


Prostitution was much the result of the economic times of this period. Prostitution had become one of the few means by which a woman could work and feed herself and, depending on the circumstances, feed her family as well.  Poverty was seen as the lever which pushed the destitute to make money in any fashion available.  Women’s wages for a day’s labor did not equate with men’s wages working the same hours.  The jobs available to women included a seamstress, house work (including being a cook, maid, servant and nanny), wet nurse, and delivering children.  The wage differential between the sexes was to be described as “novel” and there being two “pools” of labor and the possible equality of wages between the sexes would only happen if the two “pools” merged (The Economics of Prostitution 376). In addition was, the idea existed, wages were “artificially” lower due to the possibility of women having “other means” of obtaining money while working at least one occupation, which brought to the forefront the question of whether it went against men’s “interests” to keep their female subordinates too independent (378).  The availability of jobs became the opposite side of the coin as the wages were low but finding a job which paid decently was few and far between.  Large groups of women with no ability to take care of themselves or their families have no further recourse but to become prostitutes. These women had no recourse if they were to survive (377).  Throughout London, prostitution was seen as an upper class issue with the lower classes being at the mercy of poverty and the inability to move out of their state of being. Still, the effect of supply and demand on the poor in this time period of London was substantial.  In Nead’s article on prostitution:           


Supply, as we all know, is regulated by demand, and demand is the practical expression of an ascertained want…the desire for sexual intercourse is strongly felt by the male on attaining puberty, and continues through his life as an ever-present want…this desire of the male is the want that produces the demand, of which prostitution is a result…Natural male sexual desire is defined as the primary element, the demand, to which female prostitution is the unnatural response…A person can also become a commodity; women may be sold or sell themselves in the market place at a price which is calculated in relation to other kinds of commodities…within the respectable, public discourses of Victorian Britain, these issues were concealed with in a language of public order, health and morality; it is only in the more illicit forms of presentation that the economic motif of prostitution is made explicit (351).


The combined situation of low wages and the potential of supplemental money through prostitution, created a constant viscous circle that put the women to prostitution as the only source of income by the sale of their own bodies into slavery. Simply due to the low wages the women are privy to receive (The Economics of Prostitution 378). 

These circumstances lead to a Victorian society who behaved toward the act and semblance of prostitution with scorn and prejudice.  The very persons who should have been helping those individuals who were prostitutes or “associate” with their services and carried venereal diseases turned their backs-hospitals and physicians of the time.  Hospitals of the time either reduced or completely removed the venereal disease sections of the hospitals. The approximate population of London at this time was 3 million and less than one percent of the available hospital beds were available to those suffering from venereal diseases contributed from prostitution (Art. V.-Prostitution: Governmental Experiments in Controlling It 122).  Physicians of the time viewed venereal disease from an interesting point of view:


“Far from considering syphilis an evil, he regarded it on the contrary as a blessing, and believed that it was inflicted by the Almighty to act as a restraint upon the indulgence of evil passions. Could the disease be exterminated, which he hoped it could not, fornication would rid rampant through the land.” If men of Mr. Solly’s culture and large professional experience as a surgeon to one of the chief London hospitals publicly advocate this marvelous doctrine, how can we expect the great mass of the “religious world” to do other wise than simply turn aside from the thousands of human beings who, often without any fault of their own, are suffering and being destroyed by a disease with which they are stricken, as a beneficent punishment…(123).


This view of morality filtered from the hospital establishment to those individuals who had influence on the laws of the day.  In “M. De Laveleye on the Failure of Immoral Laws to Promote Public Health” states:


“Men’s actions depend upon their morality. If you weaken or destroy moral restraints, they will give themselves up to drunkenness, debaucher, and every description of vice, with disastrous consequences to their health. On the other hand, if you fortify the moral sentiment, men will become sober, self-restrained, economical and orderly, and will consequence enjoy greater health and vigor; for the corruption of the mind engenders the corruption of the body (152).  


This view of morality applied only toward men and did not even consider the needs of the poverty stricken women who had no other means to earn money.  These sentiments push in at every stand point.  Public opinion held this point but provided no possible outlet for the expulsion of economic necessity of prostitution. Men were and still are the focal point in maintaining morality as seen here:  


From the Moral point of view, in presence of the constantly menacing scourge of prostitution…We endeavor to act by moral force on public opinion. We further strive for the elevation of standard of morality among men…things which concern morality and we endeavor to exercise the same regenerative influence…(Statement of the aims of the British, Continental & General Federation for the Abolition of Legalized Vice).


Legislation at the time came to many starts and stops with neither side able to truly pin down how to handle an issue so ingrained in English society.  Many moral ideals were sought but the issue with prostitution being available and the need rampant there was no stopping prostitution (Morality and Legislation 1).  In most cases there were almost no extreme punishments for those practicing prostitution or using it to meet their economic or physical needs.  Through this ordeal the British people could not conclude with any accuracy how to dismantle the prostitution issue.  


The Legal and Social Aspects of Prostitution 


      In reference to the Lloyd's Weekly London Newspaper article of 1844, “Prostitution of Young Women in London”, several concepts might be inferred. First of all, prostitutes were discriminated against in courts of law. Second, the place of the prostitute in Victorian society was confounding, and therefore, a legal remedy was called for by charitable societies such as the different Societies for the Reclamation and Protection of Women, as well as others in the Victorian society. Third, prostitutes were indeed women who had proven the unluckiest of the unlucky in terms of the work that was to be found in hard economic times. Finally, these numerous pleas concerning action toward prostitution could only be answered by a legal solution. 


“Prostitution of Young Females in London” puts forth, “That the laws of this realm do not afford young women that protection to which they are entitled, in common with every other class of her Majesty’s subjects…” From the news of the age, this statement may be supported. A news clipping from Reynold's Newspaper in 1879 (“Prostitute Arrested for Theft”) states that a Prostitute was arrested for the theft of some artwork and trifles from a man's home. As the story is revealed it is noted that the prostitute, one Miss Clara Haywood, was made drunk three times in succession by the Dragoon Guards, rendered her services to them, and was turned out unpaid each morning. The night of the theft, she claimed, she was made drunk by by an officer of the same Dragoon Guards who then took her up to the apartment and left her there. He didn't return, and she therefore took the items. Her bail was set at 50 pounds, and the bail of her accomplice, a man, at 20 pounds.  


  This lack of protection is outlined in another case from the Morning Chronicle, 1856, (“Charse Against a Crimean Soldier [ill] Shooting a Prostitute at Chelsea”). This article states that a man had followed the prostitute, one Miss Charlotte Stanley all night, and upon her attempt to enter her home at 3:00 AM the Crimean Soldier, Mr. James Janneway, followed her into her room and refused to leave although he was asked numerous times. He then shot at her with his pistol twice. It misfired the second time because of a lack of powder. It was later revealed that the gentleman in question had abused the young woman very seriously several weeks before, breaking her jaw and later kicking her and threatening to kick her head. When questioned, the young woman insisted that she did not drink with the man; however, at his insistence, she had been "pressed" into taking a glass of ale with him earlier in the evening. The man was then sentenced to one week's confinement.


These cases provide us with a snapshot of the sense Victorian Society was trying to make of the legal standing of the prostitute. We should make no mistake in viewing the legal standing of the prostitute as related to the causes attributed to the vocation by different groups of Victorian citizens. While the different Societies for the Reclamation and Protection of Women viewed a woman’s fall into prostitution as a result of the influence of those who would take advantage of the young, unfortunate and unsophisticated, this seems to be a romanticized view which was likely rejected by those closer to the center of decision making. Nead points out other more prevalent opinions concerning the cause of prostitution: immorality, lust, and pride among others. The causes of prostitution were more closely tied to the prostitute’s character than her situation in the eyes of most Victorians.


 Davidoff provides some insight into the prostitute’s legal status in this matter:


Within this [Victorian] world view, those categories of people who are furthest away from the centers of decision making are ranked accordingly; and they are also visualized in images that emphasize their powerlessness and degradation as well as their potentially threatening and polluting effects on those persons closer to the center who exploit their labor and their persons...this association was then used in a circular fashion to lock such people into menial positions for life (88).


The prostitute represents the powerless victim of society. On the other hand, because of this powerlessness and the state of her rank in decision making, she is also blamed for many of its ills, particularly the perceived spread of moral deprivation which occurs as she serves the more powerful men in society. Prostitutes were indeed caught in a vicious cycle which was difficult to break.


The writer of the petition presented in “Prostitution of Young Females in London”, would wish to break this cycle, and reflects a characterization which has become a part of the mythology of the Victorian era: “‘The men,’ as Dr. Paley had observed, ‘are in all respects the most virtuous in those countries where the women are the most chaste…’“  Some light might be shed upon the error of this point of view by Logan who states, "Modern and Victorian scholars alike have disproved common assumptions that equate nineteenth century England with sexual prudery by demonstrating that prostitution and with it illegitimacy, infanticide, and venereal disease was one of the period's most prevalent social problems” (368).  Illegitimacy and Infant mortality were issues during this time in history for many populations; however, for the prostitute these issues were sinister and complex.


In terms of illegitimacy and infant mortality, Smith states that women who found themselves incapable of sustaining themselves and their children through workhouses might also have been unable to bear the treatment put upon them, and might then turn to prostitution.  "Many mothers of illegitimate children are professed prostitutes from this cause. The children themselves generally die in the struggle [for birth] or they die more immediately by the hands of their unhappy mothers” (22). The choices made by these women for their own lives and livelihoods may not have been acceptable to the Society, on the other hand, these unfortunate cases may have provided more fodder for portraying the romanticism of their plight.


Nead puts forth an argument as made by William Acton which may lend support to the petitioners’ case for those who would lead young women into prostitution:


Supply, as we all know, is regulated by demand, and demand is the practical expression of an ascertained want…the desire for sexual intercourse is strongly felt by the male on attaining puberty, and continues through his life as an ever-present, sensible want. This desire of the male is the want that produces the demand, of which prostitution is a result, and which is, in fact the artificial supply of a natural demand (351).


This pragmatic and straightforward explanation of the cause of prostitution may provide us with the most reasonable analysis yet.


Mr. Acton’s argument was published in 1870: the petition of the different Societies for the Reclamation and Protection of Women in 1844. Between these years, Victorians had struggled with the often public role of the prostitute and the manner in which her unseemly ills might best be curtailed for the good of society. As such, law had taken up the case, as requested. However, is unlikely, considering the tone and sympathy maintained in the petition, that the Societies might have approved of the manner in which the problem was addressed.


In 1864, sixteen years after the petition in Lloyd's Weekly London Newspaper and six years prior to the Acton statement, the (Women's) Contagious Diseases Act was passed in England.  The (Women’s) Contagious Diseases Act was primarily passed in order to protect soldiers from the diseases transmitted by prostitutes (“Prostitution: How to deal with it”). The Act required prostitutes to register with the authorities, and to be examined for sexually transmitted diseases at intervals. If a woman was found to have a sexually transmitted disease, she would be confined in a Hospital for up to nine months, or longer if the medical professional or constable deemed necessary. The passage of this act seemed to decrease instances of prostitution; however, it actually only reduced the number of prostitutes registered with the authorities and who complied with the law.


The backlash against the (Women’s) Contagious Diseases Act was greatly due to the result of the penalization of prostitutes and other women who submitted themselves for registration and examination, and suffered extreme consequences. Indeed one widowed actress having been shadowed, pursued, and harassed by law enforcement, reportedly committed suicide rather than appear, as ordered, at the hospital-prison with her sixteen year-old-daughter (“Suicide of an Actress through Dread of the Contagious Diseases Act”). The strain this placed on society became obvious to many. Drysdale wrote “…the working classes and many able women of this country have lately expressed their dislike to the acts…all assemblies which I have attended have expressed their condemnation of them…by such Acts we shall gain nothing in health, but lose much in morality, or the utilitarian ‘happiness’” (106). 


"Prostitution: What to do about” it provides a final insight:


When the whole nation is roused into consciousness of the great physical and moral evils which are associated with prostitution, which have accumulated during centuries of neglect, and which are the results of theological and physiological delusions on the one hand, and of selfish indifference on the other, we shall then see that our first duty is to do justice to the thousands of outcast women who, though more sinned against than     sinning, have hitherto been the wretched objects of unceasing social persecution; we shall sternly resist the attempt, in the form of the Contagious Diseases Acts, to make them legalized slaves, disciplined and duly qualified by the State to minister safely to a man's sensuality; we shall treat them as human beings, whose physical sufferings and moral degradation constitute an especial claim on our sympathy, our compassion, and our help...we shall insist on meting out the same measure of condemnation to both sexes for like offences committed by either;... (p. 534)


This final passage seems to indicate a cause, and a hopeful cure for the plight of the prostitute.


Victorian England struggled with an answer to the problem of prostitution through the law, through proselytizing, and through debating the best course of action in dealing with the prostitute  Finally, through the (Women’s) Contagious Diseases Act, England had a legal means with which to dispatch the moral deprivation of the prostitute or other loose women. As a result, the prostitute and women in general had yet another punitive measure added to their already difficult circumstances; however, this Act was greatly contested when its actualization brought about the realization of the injustice of the penalties against prostitutes, as opposed to their male consumers. 


Since this time, we have continued to struggle with the problem of prostitution and the manner in which it might be solved. To this point, no legal solution has been successful in rescuing the unfortunates who turn to prostitution. Given its long and persistent history, it is likely that none ever will.



Works Cited


“About the Publication.” The Waterloo Directory of English Newspapers and Periodicals: 1800-1900 Vol 2. (2003): 6-1846. 19th Century British Library Newspapers. Web.                  http://www.bl.uk/.


ART. V.-“Prostitution: Government Experiments toward Controlling it.”, Westminster Review., 37:1 (1870:Jan.) p.119


Bell, Megara. “The Great Social Evil: Victorian Prostitution.” The Fallen Woman in Fiction and Prostitution.” (2010) 10 Oct 2010                   http://www.english.uwosh.edu/roth/Prostitution.htm


"Charse Against a Crimean Soldier [ill] Shooting a Prostitute at Chelsea." The Morning Chronicle 6 August 1856.


Davidoff, Lenore. "Women and Power: Dimensions of Women's Historical Experience." Feminist Studies (1979): 886-171.


Drysdale, Charles. "Letter to the Editor." The British Medical Journal 2.499 (1870): 106.


Gossaert, Jan. (1532). Mary Magdalene. Oil on panel. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Boston, Massachusetts, USA. 1991.585 Gift of William A. Coolidge.


"Great Marlborough Street Area", Survey of London: volumes 31 and 32: St James Westminster, Part 2 (1963), pp. 250-267. 08 Oct 2010. <http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=41476>


Hill, Berkley. "Letter to the Editor." The British Medical Journal 1.386 (1868): 505-506..


Hogarth, William. (1747). Industry and Idleness 7 : The Idle 'Prentice Return'd from Sea, & in a Garret with a Common Prostitute. Prints, Etchings, Engravings. Sterling and      Francine Clark Art Institute. Dept. of Prints, Drawings and Photographs. Williamstown, Mass. Accession Number: 1969.24G.


Logan, Deborah. "An "Outstretched Hand to the Fallen". The Magdelene Friend and the Victorian Reclamation Movement: Part I. "Much More Sinned Against than           Sinning". Victorian Periodicals Review 30.4 (1997): 368-387.


"London Society for the Protection of Young Females.", Musical World, 37:19 (1859: May 7) p. 300


“M. De Laveleye on the Failure of Immoral Laws to Promote Public Health.”, Sentinel, 43 (1882:Nov.) p.15


“The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon.”  Review of Reviews 46:271 (1912): 99.


Marsh, Reginald. (1952). The Streetwalker. Watercolor. Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. Dept. of Prints, Drawings and Photographs. Williamstown, Mass.      Accession Number: 1971.26


Nead, Lynda. "The Meaning of the Prostitute." The Victorian Studies Reader. Ed. Kelly Boyd and McWilliam Rohan. London and New York: Routledge, 2007. 347 - 359.


Picasso, Pablo. (1968). La Célestine en action: Racolage (Célestine in Action: Soliciting for prostitution). Etching on Richard-de-Bas laid paper. Fine Arts Museums of San      Francisco, San Francisco, California, USA. 2000.200.62.60 The Reva and David Logan Collection of Illustrated Books.


"Prostitute Arrested for Theft." Reynold's Newspaper 9 February 1879.


"Prostitution: How to deal with it." The Westminster Review. Vol. XXXVII. London: Trubner & Co., 8 & 60 Paternoster Row, 1870. 477-535.


“Prostitution of Young Females in London.”  Lloyd's Weekly London Newspaper. (London, England), Sunday, May 26, 1844; 79


Rops, Felicien. (nd). Le Vol Et La Prostitution Dominant Le Monde. Print. Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York, USA. P2000:1.47 Gift of Frederick P. Norton, 1999.


“Statement on the Aims of the British, the Continental and General Federation of Legalized Vice”.,  Sentinel, 29 (1881:Sept.) p.41


"Suicide of an Actress through Dread of the Contagious Diseases Act." Reynold's Newspaper 4 April 1875.


deToulouse-Lautrec. Henri. (c. 1893-1895). Prostitutes. Pastel on emery cloth. Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, Texas, USA. 1985.R.75 Dallas Museum of Art, The Wendy and      Emery Reves Collection


Whitaker, Jessica Menzo Russel. The Governess in Nineteenth-Century Literature - Introduction. Vol 104. Gale Cengage, 202. eNotes.com. 2006. 10 Oct, 2010. <http://www.enotes.com/nineteenth-century-criticism/governess-nineteenth-century-literature>


The Waterloo Directory of English Newspapers and Periodicals: 1800-1900.





Note: All artwork was procured from CAMIO, a UMKC-owned image database. According to the UMKC Database Description: CAMIO contains fine art and decorative art from pre-history through contemporary works. All content is rights-cleared for educational use in the classroom or to illustrate papers, Web projects and other assignments.


Project Group Members


Project Completed: Fall, 2010


Member Name
Karla Deel
 University of Missouri-Kansas City
English 5526
Ashaunta Dorch  University of Missouri-Kansas City  English 426
Lee Graham  University of Missouri-Kansas City English 5526
Ray Martinez   University of Missouri-Kansas City English 426
Linh Thai   University of Missouri-Kansas City English 426






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