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History in Focus

the guide to historical resources • Issue 14: Welfare •


Book cover: Prostitution: Prevention and Reform in England 1860-1914

Author's response


Prostitution: Prevention and Reform in England 1860-1914

Paula Bartley
Routledge: London, 1999
ISBN-13: 978-0-415-21457-5; 248 pages, price £21.99

Maria Luddy

University of Warwick

First of all I would like to thank Dr Maria Luddy for her thorough review of my book Prostitution: Prevention and Reform in England 1860-1914. Maria Luddy is an expert on the nature and extent of Irish prostitution during this period - indeed it was largely as a result of her work on Ireland and Linda Mahood's work on Scotland (The Magdalenes, Routledge, 1990) that I came to realise that unusually little research had been done on the English experience. As Maria Luddy points out, although Ireland and England enjoyed a distinctly different historical context and experience there were similarities in the reform agenda of the two countries. Certainly in terms of the reform of prostitutes I would stress that whatever the religious, national or political framework, life was all too depressingly similar: all institutions shared the similar rehabilitative goal of reshaping young working class women into chaste and orderly domestic servants. However, my aim was to examine the dynamics of reform within the wider framework of concerns about prostitution : from this I came to believe that the failure of the reform movement led to a surge in preventative measures which sought to put an end prostitution rather than to make it safe.

Maria Luddy raises a number of questions in her review that I would like to respond to individually. She rightly points out the difficulties in gaining access to source materials : many institutional records have disappeared or are not available to the researcher for a variety of reasons usually involving the sensibilities of present incumbents (e.g. some convent records). Some registers - such as the Church Army - do exist and I suspect a great many are hidden away in church archives. Certainly from the published material which was available to me there was concern that women were using reform institutions (or more likely short term refuges) to tide them over in poor weather or when business was poor. A thorough and detailed examination of the reform institutions - merely two chapters in my book - which would compare the various religious groupings and their attitudes and responses to reform could constitute a book in its own right.

The second main question that Maria Luddy poses is about the relationship between parents and institutions. Parents did hand over responsibility to the institution but not always willingly: records show a tussle between parental rights and institutional rights. Industrial schools were another layer in the preventive movement and once again another book might examine the relationships between the two. Certainly Ellice Hopkins, a key leader in the Ladies' Association was equally important in the Industrial Schools movement. There is already an excellent thesis by Michele Cale &rquot;Saved from a Life of Vice and Crime&rquot;: Reformatory and Industrial Schools for Girls 1854-1901 (DPhil, University of Oxford 1993) which explores these issues and deserves wider circulation. The iconoclastic Ellice Hopkins was clearly influential in the forming of groups championing prevention : Ladies' Associations were formed in Birmingham and elsewhere as a result of her campaigning visits to a number of towns and cities. (Sue Morgan's &rquot;A Passion for Purity: Ellice Hopkins and the politics of gender in the late-Victorian church&rquot; 1999, which was published at about the same time as my book, examines the role of Ellice Hopkins comprehensively, focusing more on the religious aspects than I did. The book is available from the Department of Theology and Religious Studies, University of Bristol). I examined organisations and societies rather than individuals not only because they were more easily available but because it needed local historians, knowledgeable about the individuals within their constituency, to chart particular networks of reform and prevention.

Maria Luddy is right to point out that the preventive movement, influenced by the scientific and medical discourses of the period, emphasised education as the key to moral reform. In Birmingham at least, and I am sure it was the same elsewhere, Ladies' Associations worked with the local Board schools to provide moral education. Again further research could profitably examine the growth of moral education in Board Schools for both girls and boys.

Finally, Maria Luddy raises questions about men, masculinity and morality. The Criminal Law Amendment Act, of course, criminalised homosexuality at the same time as it repressed prostitution. Since then, there have been other legal connections made between homosexuality and prostitution e.g. the Wolfson Report which liberalised the law on the former while at the same time stamping down on the latter. Certainly, there was much discussion about the appropriateness of male involvement in rescue and reform work with men-only institutions heavily criticised by female reformers. The Ladies' Association, as its name suggests, was women-only: predominantly middle-class women targeted young working-class girls perceived to be at risk. Social purity groups, on the other hand, were targeted at men as well as women, thus bringing large numbers of men within its parameters both as protagonists and as those in need of reclamation. Yet again, the relationship between men and social purity groups is worthy of further research.

Maria Luddy kindly remarks that 'all good books lead one to new questions'. This book was intended to offer an example of reform for England to balance those already put forward by Maria Luddy for Ireland and Linda Mahood for Scotland and to show how prevention augmented and eventually replaced reform. It attempted to get away from issues of state involvement in prostitution (i.e. the Contagious Diseases Acts) to those of charitable private involvement. If the consequences of the reform and prevention protagonists in England are better understood as a result, it will have served its purpose adequately.

May 2000

Original review

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