Various philanthropic individuals have tried the plan of holding
midnight meetings in rooms contiguous to the haunts of vice. Sorry
should I be to appear even to slight the efforts of any fellow-labourer,
but truth compels me to say that of all the useless expedients adopted
for remedying by private measures public wrong, this seems about
the worst. Such public exhibitions and appeals to excited feelings
are scarcely calculated to produce durable impressions.
That which midnight meetings seldom achieve, the proposed medical inspections and hospital detentions ensure, namely access, and in addition they afford the prostitute temporary repose from excitement and time for reflection. These are the very advantages that are attempted to be supplied by Lock asylums and penitentiaries. Notwithstanding the most constant and self-denying exertions of the managers of these institutions, comparatively few fallen women come under their cognizance, and of these very few are permanently reformed.
The following is an admirable description of a midnight meeting, from the Star of February 23, 1868:
THE MIDNIGHT MISSION. The enterprises of philanthropy are as varied as its spirit is comprehensive - the means it adopts as flexible as its aim is fixed. The promoters of that new movement which takes the shape of a midnight mission to fallen women do not seek publicity for themselves; but, as they must hope for support from public sympathy and approval, neither do they shroud their doings from the observation of such as may fairly claim to be eyewitnesses. It was at our own instance and request we were on Tuesday night permitted to be spectators of that second gathering at a West-end restaurant of which a brief account appeared next morning. We propose to describe exactly what we saw; and leave to our readers the formation of an impartial, though it cannot be an unsympathizing, judgment..
The invitations distributed in the public resorts of that unhappy class for which we have no name, one does not shrink from writing, fixed twelve o'clock as the hour of meeting. Half an hour past that time, passing up the Haymarket, one could observe a diminution of the usual throng. Midnight is the hour of high-tide on that reef of shipwrecked souls. When the casinos and music-rooms close, their occupants - except the few whose broughams roll them westward to abodes of more secluded vice - flood the adjacent pavements, and gradually subside into the taverns, cafés, and supper-rooms, where paramours may be found or awaited. Tonight there was another and a purer meeting-place open to as many as would enter. Round the door a group of men and youths had formed - curiosity, let us hope, their worst motive and sentiment; for the most unmanned by sensuality would scarcely venture to mock at, or hope to frustrate, the purpose of that gathering. Passing the strictly-guarded entrance, we find ourselves within a room, lofty, spacious, and well furnished. On the tables are tea and coffee, with light comestibles, and nearly every chair has its female occupant. A hundred and fifty of the invited are already present. A dozen or twenty gentlemen, all of mature age, and chiefly in clerical habiliments, are moving about from table to table, and aiding the professional waiters in their duty.
A glance across the room would scarcely reveal the character of the assembly. Are these the 'gay' and the 'unfortunate' - the dashing courtesans or the starveling prostitutes of the West-end? They differ very little in appearance and demeanour from as many women of 'the middle and lower middle class', to adopt Mr Gladstone's discriminating phrase - taken promiscuously. With few exceptions, there are no extravagant dresses - still less are there any symptoms of levity or indecorum. Gravely and quietly, with self-respect and silent courtesy, the refreshments provided are consumed or declined, and newcomers provided with places till not a vacant seat remains. There is one young woman sitting apart, a patriarchal-looking gentleman bending over her, endeavouring, apparently, to console her grief-which, did we not know her vocation and his, we might attribute to the loss of that friend or relative for whom she wears mourning. Here and there is one whose veiled or averted face indicates something of shame or disquietude; but the great majority wear an aspect of cheerful gravity that sets the observer thinking painfully how hearts thus masked may be approached. At least fifty more have entered since we first took note, and the room is crowded to the door; some of the later corners have an air of social outlawry not so marked before, and bold-faced women in silk stand by the side of fellow-sinners in humbler raiment. The disparity of age strikes one more than before. Here are mere girls - girls of sixteen or seventeen - girls who, if seen in pure and happy homes, would have recalled the poet's image of innocent white feet touching the stream that divides childhood from womanhood - girls on whose fair faces paint and drink have not yet replaced the natural bloom with streaks and patches. Here are women of the age at which wise men seek loving helpmates, and children are born early enough to be the pillars of household happiness. And here, too, are women in their ripened prime - women who should be rejoicing, under any burden of domestic care, in the strong arm of a husband's trust and the golden girdle of sons and daughters - but women whose still healthful frames and comely features speak but of a physical vigour invulnerable to twenty years of dissolute pleasure and precarious livelihood. It is a heart- saddening thought that the youngest of these two hundred women is already old in vice - has crossed the line that can never be repassed - has loosed that zone of purity which no power even in Heaven can reclasp. But that to the oldest and most obdurate there is tonight to be offered such help as God or man can give - help that may make the past less terrible by making the future hopeful - it would seem a cruel trifling with human sympathies to collect these victims of irremediable error before eyes that look daily on virtuous wives, and on children that make visible the doctrine, 'heaven lies round about us in our infancy'.
It is about one o'clock when the gentlemen whose activity we have described, gather in a central space on the floor, and one of them requests attention. It is the Hon. and Rev. Baptist Noel who does this - the man who threw up good chances of a bishopric to become a Dissenting pastor. 'My young friends,' he begins; and he has no reason to complain of want of attention, though there are no signs of special interest. He tells his strange audience of that midnight meeting of the two Apostles and their gaoler - the earthquake, and the cry for salvation. He rapidly and plainly applies the story not so much to the conscience as to the consciousness of his hearers. If we had expected that the speaker would so err as to sermonize, we should be happily disappointed. He does not avoid these most deep-seated truths of human duty and destiny which are the basis of religious emotion, but he does not dwell on them. He speaks like a man in the flesh, though not like a man of the world. If he were the latter, he would scarcely warn these comfortable-looking, healthy women that ten years of their present life will send them all to the grave. But there is a hearty human and almost fatherly tenderness in the emphasis he lays on the unreality of their joys, the bitterness of their reflections, the vileness of their seducers, the unworthiness of their habitual associates. He contrasts all this with the possibilities, not only of what they have lost, but of what they may regain. He offers the means of instant rescue - a home, which he takes care to assure them is not a prison; a home in which they shall be subjected to no indignity or privation, but from which they may emerge respected, perhaps beloved. He tells them of others who have thus been saved from all the misery of a sinful life. He refers to a letter from one who, forty years ago, escaped back into good repute, and has grown up in honourable married life. But all this, while he has spoken to an audience more attentive than interested, and certainly not affected. As by an afterthought, he mentions that, since their last meeting, some mother has sent him a photograph of her daughter, beseeching him to seek that lost one in this company. In an instant the sealed-up fountains are opened, and strong emotion replaces real or feigned indifference. They who heard unmoved of Divine love and human help arc touched and shaken by the voice of a weeping mother. Some sob audibly in their tempest of awakened memory. Tears run down the cheeks of many. It seems as though every fallen daughter were asking. 'Is it my mother? Is it my picture?'
Mr Noel is either not an orator, and does not know the power he has gained, or he has reasons for not retouching the chord which so loudly vibrates. Perhaps he wisely desires to avoid any approach to the physical phenomena of revivalism. Yet he might surely use the only key that opens these hearts he so much desires to enter. He resumes his former tone of general exhortation - an impressive and persuasive tone, we should say, did we not see how soon these fair faces have resumed their calm insensibility. He gives way to the Rev. Mr Bickersteth - a clergyman who cannot rid himself of pulpit phrases, but who speaks with an earnest humanity that should make any phraseology a power to melt and move. When he ceases, prayer is offered by Mr Brock, another Baptist minister, and one whose very face is eloquent of kind-hearted goodness. His supplication is surely not unaccompanied. Church congregations are not more decorous than this - let us hope, not more devout. Nearly every face is covered, and some knees are bent. It is such a prayer as every human being can join in - the fervent breathing, in homely words, of a heart that asks aid from Heaven to abate the sin and misery on earth; the sin and misery here, close at hand. ...
Mr Brock then announces, with loud and cheerful voice, that fifty - a hundred, any number - who will at once quit their present way of life, may this very night be taken to a reformatory home; and if any would return to parents at a distance, the means shall be provided. How many will go? How many will not go? we should rather say. Will not all embrace with glad gratitude this proffered rescue? Can any one of these girls and women, who have been for two hours at least restored to the company of good and honourable men and women (for two or three of the latter have aided) - can anyone deliberately go back to the trade and the society that debases and destroys? Alas, yes! Here is one, young and very fair, who replies with a firm though courteous voice, she has decided; and she will not go with the real friends who are now earnestly talking, in groups or singly, with their departing guests. With one exception, and that instantly hushed by her companions, there has been no rude refusal - but there are many who hesitate, and hesitate till they are again lost. Everyone going out seems like a captive carried off by the devil from good angels. But some twenty or more do remain, and over these, whatever chances and changes may await them on the hard road of repentance - over these may we not already rejoice, as does the good shepherd over sheep recovered from the wilderness to the fold?
THE LOCK ASYLUM
My desire to visit the Lock Asylum was gratified by Mr James Lane,
surgeon to that institution, who kindly accompanied me through the
wards. .. . The buildings are large and lofty, situated a little out of
town on the Harrow Road, having been rebuilt within comparatively
a few years. It appears that an asylum is offered to all the girls who
enter the Lock Hospital, or who are sent there by Government to be
cured of venereal diseases under the Contagious Diseases Act. It
cannot, however, be said that these poor patients show any great disposition to enter the asylum. In the year 1867, out of 877 patients
76 only entered the asylum, or in other words 8.09 per cent....
The women on admission to the asylum are placed apart in a probationary ward; as we entered this room we noticed fourteen sitting round a table, with the matron at the head, occupying themselves with needlework. In reply to my inquiries I was informed that the latest corner had only been a week in the institution, another had nearly worked out her full probationary period of three months, the rule of the institution being that those who conduct themselves well for that time may become permanent inmates of the institution, in which they can remain for a term varying from twelve to eighteen months, and at the end of it a situation is found for them. In answer to my further inquiries I was told that of twenty who had entered this probationary ward during the preceding six weeks, six had desired to be discharged. I can readily believe that the monotonous life of that ward must have been very irksome to the sort of female habits I have described in the second chapter of this work. The inmates are allowed to walk every day in a sort of courtyard behind the asylum, and are instructed in reading in classes, but I was told that writing is forbidden as leading to correspondence with the outdoor world. Once a month they are permitted to write to their friends, but their letters must be shown to the matron before being put into the post. In another large room we saw twenty-one women working at their needle. These had passed through their probationary period, and I was told might converse quietly as they sat at their work, provided they did not talk loud, another matron, who was seated at the table, constantly supervising them. My informants told me that the matrons objected to sewing machines, having so many human machines to do their work, though, judging from their manner of working, needlework seemed to form but a small share of attention in the institution. I was next taken to the laundry, which seems the staple business of the asylum. In a large, lofty, well- ventilated ground floor, we saw about twenty girls ironing.
Monday and Tuesday in the week, the clothes collected from private families in London are here washed, and at the time of my visit on Thursday the linen was being got up. The matron told me that she thought it took ten months to educate a girl to this business. I asked if there was not a great demand in all parts of the country for laundry-women, having elsewhere heard that it is very difficult for county families to obtain such servants even at high wages; but it appeared that this was not the destination of these girls, who were placed out in small families, where their future career could be watched. It occurred to me, however, that the education of the laundry opened a good career for this class of women.
The Lock Asylum was, at the time of my visit, about half self- supporting. Government provided for ten beds by contributing £20 per bed towards the maintenance of the inmates. The dormitories are excellently constructed. They are lofty rooms, divided by partitions open at the top, and strict rules are laid down for preserving the privacy of each compartment. Whilst passing through the asylum, I asked myself what class of girls do these fifty-two that I see in the wards represent. In the first place, they are the picked and selected of a very large class. These fifty-two women voluntarily come into the asylum. They were the well-behaved, quiet, domesticated, but delicate-looking prostitutes. Making every allowance for the plainness of their dress, as a man of the world I should say that they were not likely to gain a livelihood by prostitution, and I asked myself, as I have done on more than one previous occasion, would not these girls, even if no asylum had been offered to them, have soon left the paths of prostitution and taken to some other calling, merely from their unfitness to undergo its hardships.
If, however, I am at issue sometimes with the authorities of these institutions as to the sort of girl who enters an asylum, I likewise occasionally differ from them as to the way they carry out their philanthropic mission. I was lately visiting a hospital, and the authorities told me that if the girl wished to return to her friends after being cured, not only was the wish seconded, but a policeman was sent with her to see that she really was remitted to the care of her parents.
The plan may be a very good one, to prevent the prostitute being waylaid as she left the hospital by some of her old associates, but it did not seem to occur to the would-be benefactors of the girl that the arrival of a parishioner in charge of a policeman creates a great sensation in a little country community. They did not seem to have contemplated the possibility of the fact that the villagers become curious to learn what Mary Smith has been doing at ---; I ventured to suggest to the authorities that the village gossips would probably over their tea hint at her gay doings, and that the young men would not long be idle in ferreting out her antecedents; and the quiet village, notwithstanding all the care of the rector or aid of his good wife, would be made very disagreeable for the fair penitent who had once quitted her home on an evil errand, and it too often happens she will quit it again, no more to return to her native place.
These bucolic ways are very curious. Let a girl be seduced by one in her own rank, let her have a child, or even two, and her 'misfortune'* (*Scene a hayfield. The clergyman addresses Mrs Smith, who is raking behind the cart, Well, Mrs Smith, how is Fanny?' La, sir! why the baby is dead! so now I says she is quite as good as she was afore.' Quite!' said the Rev, gentleman. This was poor Fanny's second misfortune as it is called, and so long as the child died, they considered it in this straw-plaiting village as no misfortune.) may be overlooked, but the parish cannot forgive her having been a gay woman or a soldier's trull. Public opinion, even in a remote country village, has some very curious phases, and I venture to doubt whether its inhabitants cordially take to returned convicts or repentant prostitutes. Sudden reformation is again one of those popular delusions that I must expose. The consequences of vice are not thus to be got rid of. They may be put out of sight; that is all that we can say of them.
On the other hand, in a quiet country community, let a woman be married, and brought home as the wife of a good workman or labourer, her antecedents may be suspected, doubted, or even well known, but as she is the legal wife of one who is responsible for her acts, she is tolerated, and gradually amalgamates with the others, but even then when her female neighbour's wrath is up, she may be reminded of unpleasant truths, and it may be well that her children should be at school, and not hear more of their mother's antecedents than she is herself ready to tell them.
After my visit to the Lock Asylum, I ventured to suggest.. . a doubt whether this and kindred institutions were adapting themselves to the wants of the day. . . . I have often asked myself the question whether it is really necessary to confine a girl from twelve to eighteen months within the walls of an asylum. How many will remain for so long a time in the institution? When they leave the seclusion which they have become accustomed to, are they better adapted than when they entered, for coping with the temptations outside? Are they not liable again to be tempted, and again to fall into evil ways? It should be remembered that selected as I have shown them to be, and admirably trained whilst within the walls of the institution, after leaving the asylum they have still to gain a position before they can marry, and amalgamate with the social ranks. I venture to entertain the opinion that many of the philanthropic persons who established these institutions years ago, did so without having previously studied the natural history, the habits, the wants, the tendencies, and the careers of these women. Now that we are better acquainted with all these circumstances, I must be permitted to express a doubt whether their complete segregation is likely to prove permanently beneficial. The upper class of prostitutes are never met with in asylums, nor are the lower. If there are 50,000 prostitutes in London, we need means to rescue not 100 or 1,000, but 12,000 annually, supposing that a prostitute only follows the calling for four years. My object is to assist the many in rescuing themselves and getting away in a few years from a calling that they must detest. My philanthropic friends, however, still maintain that eighteen months' seclusion is required to eradicate the seeds of vice, and they cannot be induced to see that the money can be laid out better, or that any system should be preferred to the one adopted at the Lock Asylum.
... One mistaken notion, the fallacy of which I have already exposed, lies at the root of the penitentiary system. The old idea, once a harlot always a harlot, possesses the public mind. Proceeding from this premiss, people argue that every woman taken from the streets through the agency of penitentiaries, is a woman snatched from an otherwise interminable life of sin, whereas I have shown that the prostitute class is constantly changing and shifting, that in the natural course of events, and by the mere efflux of time the women composing it become reabsorbed into the great mass of our population - and, in fact, those whom the penitentiaries receive are those who are weary of, or unfit for their work, and in search of some other mode of life. The reasonable course to adopt is to assist the natural course of things; to bear in mind that sooner or later the life of prostitution will be quitted, and that the duty of society is to accelerate so far as possible the change, and in the meantime to bring such influences to bear on abandoned women as shall enable them to pass through their guilty years with as little loss of self-respect and health as possible; how to render the prostitute less depraved in mind and body, to cause her return as soon as possible to a decent mode of living, to teach her by degrees, and as occasion offers, self-restraint and self-denial, to build her up, in short - since join society again she will in any event - into a being fit to rejoin it, is the problem to be solved. Will not this be more easily and satisfactorily accomplished by subjecting all alike to supervision and bringing them into daily contact with healthy thought and virtuous life, than by consigning to wearisome and listless seclusion a few poor creatures snatched at haphazard from the streets?
William Acton, Prostitution, considered in its Moral, Social, and Sanitary Aspects 2nd edition 1870
see also Thomas Archer's Terrible Sights of London - click here
After asking the Divine blessing - in company with three Christian friends, I
sallied forth down Gray's-inn-lane, about ten in the evening, each of us
supplied with suitable tracts for distribution; which, in addition to religious
instruction, had my address printed upon them, with an appeal to females, if
they wished to quit the ways of sin, to call upon me. These were enclosed in
envelopes, thus presenting the appearance of a letter, a form in which they are
more readily accepted.
The route proposed for the evening was Holborn-hill, Fleet-street, the Strand, Regent-street, Oxford-street and Tottenham-court-road. Each side of the street was to be occupied by two of our party, the whole meeting again at points agreed upon.
The tracts and notes were well received in Gray's-inn-lane. I could not help pitying those whom, by their dress and manner, I knew to be fallen ones; and I earnestly asked my Heavenly Father that he would make us the honoured instruments in his hands to rescue some. On arriving in Holborn, I was accosted by many young women; one of them, with the affected gaiety of her unhappy class, asked me, as I gave her one of the notes, whether it was a love letter. I replied: "Yes: keep it and read it tomorrow."
When we came to the bottom of Holborn-hill, I was accosted by an interesting your girl, dressed in a superior style. I gave her a note.
"What is this for?" she said.
"To invite you to a happy home, until you can get into a situation suited to your ability."
On enquiry, I found that she had no father nor mother, nor any friend in London. Turning round to the gentleman who accompanied me, she asked "Is he come for the same purpose as yourself?"
"Yes, and I am expecting two friends directly. We mean what we say. Our wish is to do you good."
She was struck with astonishment. "Four gentlemen come to seek after poor friendless girls! It is very good of you: I will call, with thanks."
Degraded as she was, I shook hands with her, and we parted.
Lieutenant John Blackmore, London by Moonlight Mission, 1869
[full book available on Google Books]
I have little faith in the efficacy of lock asylums and penitentiaries; nor from the agency of enforced seclusion do I anticipate
reformation, but from the gradual instilling of sentiments of self-
respect and self-restraint. I therefore do not advocate the establishment of penitentiaries on a large scale, but by line upon line, and
precept upon precept, here a little and there a little', good may be
done to these unfortunate outcasts. It is the only plan, gradually to
educate them back to a sense of decency. Practical men devoting
their time and thoughts to the carrying out of a special object, and
learning from the experience and from the mistakes no less than
from the successes of the past, wisdom for the future, are more likely
to hit upon the means of solving a difficult problem than mere
theorists or amateurs. I would, therefore, entrust to this board the
carrying out of the Contagious Diseases Act, and vest in it power to
make such provision as should from time to time seem expedient
to assist in the paths of reformation, such women as on leaving the
hospital, or from any other cause, should desire to abandon prostitution. The funds of the board would consist of the property held at
present by the Foundling Hospital, and of such further sums raised
either by parliamentary grant or parochial rates, as might be necessary. The funds thus vested in it, and the sums recovered from the
fathers of bastards, together with the profits arising from the employment of the women received into the institution, would go far
towards defraying its expenses, and any additional sums required
would contribute to lighten the public burdens in other ways, and
therefore form no additional charge upon the ratepaying and taxpaying population.
If we can by this means, or in any other way prevent seduced women from becoming, and their daughters from growing up into prostitutes, we shall, if our position be true - that the supply stimulates and increases, and to a certain extent creates the demand - have taken a great preventive step. There is more, however, that we may do - we may take care that so far as possible no persons shall be permitted to follow any calling that makes them interested in the continuance and increase of prostitution, and the procuring a supply of prostitutes; further, that prostitutes shall ply their trade in a manner as little degrading as possible. For these two reasons the trade of a brothel-keeper must be resolutely put down.
... Having, in the chapter on Causes of Prostitution', referred to the vice bred like filth, from the miserable herding of the lower orders, it becomes me also to number the improvement of their dwellings among preventive measures. The passing of the Common Lodging- house Act of 1851, rendering compulsory the registration of such houses and the compliance of their keepers with certain regulations demanded by decency and cleanliness, was a step in the right direction; and the results thereby obtained are satisfactory as showing how much has been done - painful as showing what is still to do.
It is clear that the whole number have not yet been brought under supervision. This must be a work of time; but enough good has resulted hitherto to encourage us to proceed in what is obviously the way of right.
A step above these common lodging-houses are the so-called private dwellings, where each chamber is let to a separate family. These are subject by law to none but health inspections; but their occupants being generally of a class to whom all decency within their means is as grateful as to the wealthiest, the promiscuous crowding is a source of pain to them that the public would further its own interest by helping to alleviate. None can feel more acutely than the working classes of all grades the great difficulty of procuring wholesome dwellings near the seat of their labour. Many men live miles away from their work, in order to preserve their growing families from the moral and physical contamination of the crowded courts and alleys, in which only they could find lodgings within their means. The State by itself, or by energetically putting the screw of compulsion upon the municipalities, who are slow to avail themselves of permissive enactments, to love their neighbours as themselves, should hold out a helping hand to the working million, who are, for want of dwellings adapted to their use, drifting to and fro among the wretched London tenements', or reduced to harbour in the common lodging-house.
This packing of the lower classes is clearly not yet under control, and seems liable to aggravation by every new thoroughfare and airway with which we pierce our denser neighbourhoods. While it prevails, who can impute the defilement of girls, the demoralization of both sexes, as blame to the hapless parent who does the best he can with his little funds, and procures the only accommodation in the market open to him? It is preposterous, as I have before hinted, to attribute the prostitution so engendered to seduction, or to vicious inclinations of the woman. From that indifference to modesty, which is perforce the sequel of promiscuous herding, it is a short step to illicit commerce; and this once established, the reserve or publicity of the female is entirely a matter of chance.
Among the preventives that we ought to consider before attempting the cure of prostitution, should be numbered an altered and improved system of female training. Some remarks on this point published in The Times many years ago, are still extremely pertinent.
When we examine our system of training for girls of the poorer
class, we see one very important defect immediately in it, and that is
that they receive no instruction in household work. Girls are taught
sewing in our parish schools, and very properly, because, even with a
view to domestic service, sewing is an important accomplishment; but
they are not taught anything about household work. We do not say
that a parish school could teach this, for household work can only be
really learnt in a house; the schoolroom can provide napkins and
towels, but it cannot supply tables, chairs, mantelpieces, and carpets
for rubbing and brushing; and, the material to work upon being wanting, the art cannot be taught. But this is only explaining the fact, and
not altering it. Household work is not learnt, and what is the consequence? The department of domestic service in this country is hardly
at this moment sufficiently supplied, while crowds of girls enter into
the department of needlework in one or other of its branches, and of
course overstock it enormously. Add to this a sort of foolish pride that
poor people have in the apparent rise which is gained in rank by this
profession - for, of course, every one of these girls is ultimately to be a
milliner', which has for them rather a grand sound. The metropolis,
sooner or later, receives this vast overplus of the sewing female population, and the immense milliners' and tailors' and
shirtmakers' establishments hardly absorb the overflowing supply of female labour and
skill, while, of course, they profit to the very utmost by the glut of the
labour-market. A vast multitude of half-starving women is the result
of the system; whereas, had household work formed a part of their
instruction, besides a better supply of the home field of service, what is
of much more consequence, the colonies would take a large part of this
overplus off our hands. ...
What is the natural remedy, then, for this defect in the training of girls of the poorer classes in this country? The remedy is, of course, that they should be taught in some way or other household work. At present, in the absence of any such instruction as this, it must be admitted that, however incidentally, the sewing which is taught in all our parish schools is simply aiding the overflowing tide of needle labour, which is every year taking up such multitudes of young women to the metropolis, and exposing them to the dreadful temptations of an underpaid service. And how is household work to be taught? Well, that is, of course, the difficulty. There are, as we have said, great difficulties in the way of our parish schools taking it up. The experiment, however, has been tried, in different places, of special institutions for this object; and, in the absence of any formal and public institutions, the houses of our gentry and clergy might be made to supply such instruction to a considerable extent, and without any inordinate demand on private charity. Extra labour, as every householder knows, is often wanted in every domestic establishment; it is even wanted periodically and at regular intervals in a large proportion of our good houses. It would be of great service to the country if a practice, which is already partially adopted, were more common and general - that of taking parish girls by turns for these special occasions. This might be done, at any rate in the country, to a large extent, and even a few days' employment of this kind in a well-furnished house, occurring at more or less regular intervals, would be often enough to create a taste and a capacity for household work. The profession of household service might thus be indefinitely widened, and a large class be created that would naturally look to such service as its distinct employment, and be ready, in case of disappointment at home, to seek it in the colonies.* (* The Times, May 6, 1857.)
I shudder as I read each jubilant announcement of 'another new
channel for female labour'. Each lecture, pamphlet, and handbill,
that calls attention to some new field of competition, seems to me
but the knell of hundreds whose diversion by capital from their
natural functions to its own uses, is a curse to both sexes and an
hindrance of the purposes of our Creator. No more impious coup
d'Etat of Mammon could be devised than that grinding down against
one another of the sexes intended by their Maker for mutual support
Free trade in female honour follows hard upon that in female labour; the wages of working men, wherever they compete with female labour, are lowered by the flood of cheap and agile hands, until marriage and a family are an almost impossible luxury or a misery. The earnings of man's unfortunate competitor are in their turn driven down by machinery until inadequate to support her life. The economist, as he turns the screw of torture, points complacently to this further illustration of the law of trade; the moralist pointing out how inexorable is the command to labour, too seldom and too late arrests the torture. He only cries enough when the famished worker, wearied of the useless struggle against capital, too honest yet to steal, too proud yet to put up useless prayers for nominal relief at the hands of the community, and having sold even to the last but one of her possessions, takes virtue itself to market. And thus, as Parent-Duchâtelet says, 'prostitution exists, and will ever exist, in all great towns, because, like mendicancy and gambling, it is an industry and an expedient against hunger, one may even say against dishonour. For, to what excess may not an individual be driven, penniless, her very existence compromised? This last alternative, it is true, is degrading, but it nevertheless exists.'* (*Parent-Duchatelet, De la prostitution dans la vile de Paris, 3rd edition (1857), I. 339-40.)
But if the national education of women is not to be confined to
reading, writing, and needlework, what are we to do with them? The
ready answer is - TEACH THEM HOUSEWIFERY; and the rejoinder, how
and where, was well met by the sensible and practical suggestion in
the newspaper article above quoted, 'that household education
should be incorporated to a much greater extent than at present, with
the discipline of Union houses and schools'.
The parochial clergy and well disposed gentry of the country have ample opportunities, if they would embrace them, of diverting to household pursuits the crowds of young women who annually jostle one another into the ranks of needlework. The hall, the parsonage, and the parish school would be the best of normal schools for cooking, scrubbing, washing, ironing, and the like. Their owners would gladly, I fancy, impart gratuitous instruction in exchange for gratuitous service, and every housekeeper will bear me out in saying that the knowledge of the business once acquired, the market for properly qualified domestic servants is ample and not half supplied, while that for every description of needlework has long been overstocked. The vanity of girls and mothers must, it is true, be overcome, but the greater economy of the proposed domestic education would go some way to carry the day in its favour; and if a true appreciation of the happiness that waits on colonization, and of the essentials to its success, were once to get well abroad among our people, their mother wit would lead them soon enough to grasp the comparative value of the domestic and needlework systems of training.
Prostitution, though it cannot be directly repressed, may yet be acted upon in many ways, and in proportion as the social system is wisely administered will its virulence be abated. We cannot put it down, but we can act indirectly on both the supply and demand. A judicious system of emigration will direct into healthy channels the energy that in overpeopled Countries finds an outlet in riot, wickedness, and crime. Still, in advocating emigration as helping to prevent the spread of prostitution, I am far from advising that single women should be sent to the colonies alone and unprotected.
William Acton, Prostitution, considered in its Moral, Social, and Sanitary Aspects 2nd edition 1870