Marriage, Motherhood and the Future of the Race: Syphilis in Late-Victorian and Edwardian Britain

  • Joanne Townsend


This chapter examines the ways in which syphilis played a central role in fears about physical degeneration and the future of the British Empire in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. At a governmental level, this anxiety found form in the 1904 Inter-Departmental Committee on Physical Deterioration, which took special interest in syphilis. At the same time, British feminists used syphilis as a vital part of their critiques of the institutions of marriage and motherhood, which as they made clear, were vital not only to women, but to the future of the British race as a whole.


  1. Acton, William. 1870. The Contagious Diseases Act. Shall the Contagious Diseases Act Be Applied to the Civil Population? London: John Churchill & Sons.Google Scholar
  2. Anonymous. 1880. Reports of Medical and Surgical Practice in the Hospitals and Asylums of Great Britain and Ireland. British Medical Journal, February 7, 205.Google Scholar
  3. ———. 1895. Deaths from Syphilis. British Medical Journal, February 16, 379–380.Google Scholar
  4. Armstrong, Richard A. 1885. Our Duty in the Matter of Social Purity, An Address to Young Men. London: Social Purity Alliance.Google Scholar
  5. Barraclough, George. 1876. On Hereditary Syphilis and the Contagious Diseases Act. Medical Times and Gazette, September 23, 350.Google Scholar
  6. Blackwell, Elizabeth. 1882. Counsel to Parents on the Moral Education of their Children, in Relation to Sex. London: Hatchards.Google Scholar
  7. Bland, Lucy. 1995. Banishing the Beast: English Feminism and Sexual Morality 1885–1914. London: Penguin.Google Scholar
  8. Brown, Hayden. 1907. The Wife: Her Book. London: Sisley’s Ltd.Google Scholar
  9. Butter, Henry. 1875. Marriage for the Millions: For the Lads and Lasses of the Working Classes. London: W.H. Guest.Google Scholar
  10. Davies, Margaret Llewelyn, ed. (1915) 1978. Maternity: Letters from Working Women. London: Virago.Google Scholar
  11. Dyer, Alfred S. 1884. Facts for Young Men on Moral Purity and Health, Being Plain Words to Young Men upon an Avoided Subject. London: Dyer Brothers.Google Scholar
  12. Engstrom, C. Lloyd. 1885. Purity Treated Purely: A Sermon. London: Rivingtons.Google Scholar
  13. Grand, Sarah. (1893) 1992. The Heavenly Twins. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
  14. ———. 1898. The Modern Man and Maid. London: Horace Marshall & Son.Google Scholar
  15. H.M.S.O. 1904. Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee on Physical Deterioration, 3 vols. London: Dowing & Son.Google Scholar
  16. Hall, Lesley, ed. 2005. Outspoken Women: An Anthology of Women’s Writing on Sex, 1870–1969. Oxford: Routledge.Google Scholar
  17. Hamilton, Cicely. (1909) 1981. Marriage as a Trade. London: The Women’s Press.Google Scholar
  18. Hardy, Edward John. 1892. The Five Talents of Woman: A Book for Girls and Women. London: T. Fisher Unwin.Google Scholar
  19. Hayden, Deborah. 2003. Pox: Genius, Madness and the Mysteries of Syphilis. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  20. Hill, Berkeley. 1881. Syphilis and Local Contagious Disorders. London: Smith, Elder.Google Scholar
  21. Hill, Berkeley, and Arthur Cooper. 1886. The Student’s Concise Manual of Venereal Disease: Being a Concise Description of Those Affections and Their Treatment. London: H.K. Lewis.Google Scholar
  22. Hutchinson, Jonathan. 1863. A Clinical Memoir of Certain Diseases of the Eye and Ear, Consequent on Inherited Syphilis. London: John Churchill.Google Scholar
  23. ———. 1887. Syphilis. London: Cassell & Company.Google Scholar
  24. Jackson, Louise. 2000. Child Sexual Abuse in Victorian England. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  25. Jordan, Anne. 2010. Love Well the Hour: The Life of Lady Colin Campbell (1857–1911). Leicester: Matador.Google Scholar
  26. Kincaid, James R. 1992. Child-Loving: The Erotic Child and Victorian Culture. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  27. Lee, Robert. 1878. Cases Illustrating the Family History of Syphilis: With Remarks. British Medical Journal, June 8, 820.Google Scholar
  28. Levine, Philippa. 1989. ‘So Few Prizes and So Many Blanks’: Marriage and Feminism in Later Nineteenth-Century England. Journal of British Studies 28 (2): 150–174.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Lewis, Jane. 1984. Women in England 1870–1950. Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf.Google Scholar
  30. Macmillan, Margaret. 2014. The War that Ended Peace: How Europe Abandoned Peace for the First World War. London: Profile Books.Google Scholar
  31. Martindale, Louisa. 1908. Under the Surface. Brighton: Southern Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  32. Medical Muser, A. 1888. The Contagious Diseases Acts. Lancet, September 22: 593.Google Scholar
  33. Michie, Helena. 2006. Victorian Honeymoons: Journeys to the Conjugal. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Nelson, Claudia, and Ann Sumner Holmes. 1997. Introduction. In Maternal Instincts: Visions of Motherhood and Sexuality in Britain, 1875–1925, ed. Claudia Nelson and Ann Sumner Holmes. London: Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Pankhurst, Christabel. 1913. The Great Scourge and How to End It. London: E. Pankhurst.Google Scholar
  36. Paul, Diane B. 1995. Controlling Human Heredity: 1865 to the Present. New Jersey: Humanities Press.Google Scholar
  37. Quétel, Claude. 1990. History of Syphilis. Trans. Judith Braddock and Brian Pike. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  38. Rentoul, Robert Reid. 1890. The Dignity of Women’s Health and the Nemesis of Its Neglect. London: J. & A. Churchill.Google Scholar
  39. Richardson, Benjamin Ward. 1876. Diseases of Modern Life. London: Macmillan & Co.Google Scholar
  40. Savage, Gail. 1990. ‘The Wilful Communication of a Loathsome Disease’: Marital Conflict and Venereal Disease in Victorian England. Victorian Studies 34 (1): 35–54.Google Scholar
  41. Scharlieb, Mary. 1895. A Woman’s Words to Women: On the Care of Their Health in England and in India. London: Swan Sonnenschein.Google Scholar
  42. Showalter, Elaine. 1986. Syphilis, Sexuality, and the Fiction of the Fin de Siècle. In Sex, Politics, and Science in the Nineteenth-Century Novel, ed. Ruth Bernard Yeazel. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  43. Smyth, A. Watt. 1904. Physical Deterioration: Its Causes and Cure. London: John Murray.Google Scholar
  44. Stepan, Nancy. 1985. Biological Degeneration: Races and Proper Places. In Degeneration: The Dark Side of Progress, ed. Edward Chamberlin and Sander L. Gilman. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  45. Stevenson, Robert Louis. (1886) 1992. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, ed. Emma Lesley. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  46. Strahan, S.A.K. 1892. Marriage and Disease: A Study of Heredity and the More Important Family Degenerations. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner, & Co.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Taylor, Karen J. 1985. Venereal Disease in Nineteenth-Century Children. Journal of Psychohistory 12 (4): 431–463.Google Scholar
  48. Walkowitz, Judith R. 1994. City of Dreadful Delight: Narratives of Sexual Danger in Late-Victorian London. London: Virago.Google Scholar
  49. Wells, H.G. (1895) 1993. The Time Machine, ed. Michael Moorcock. London: J.M. Dent.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joanne Townsend
    • 1
  1. 1.Independent ScholarMelbourneAustralia

Personalised recommendations