The Home For Homeless Women

  • Philip Collins


When Dr William Acton, the acknowledged authority of his age on prostitution, addressed the London Dialectical Society in 1868, he welcomed ‘the change of tone that had occurred since he first began to write on this subject’. Now, he said, it was discussed with ladies present, but twenty years before almost everyone shied off it; even Lord Shaftesbury, when approached on the matter, ‘had said that he knew little of it, and wished to know less.’1 The ’forties and ’fifties had seen a growing concern over ‘the Great Social Evil’, a greater willingness to discuss and attack it, and a corresponding decrease in tolerance for the men who, as customers, promoted it.2 This period saw also the establishment of many institutions and societies for reclaiming ‘penitent females’, and a surprising number of unlikely individuals made a hobby of addressing homilies to prostitutes on their beat, or of succouring them until they could be found an honest livelihood. Gladstone’s well-known activities in this field had been earnestly cogitated while he was still at Oxford in the ’thirties — a pleasant undergraduate tradition which we find surviving fifty years later, when G. Lowes Dickinson at Cambridge was asking freshmen for subscriptions for the same benevolent purpose — while in the ’fifties (to name one other instance) the young Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, scouring the streets for models, took in their stride the Rescue of the Fallen.3


Domestic Servant Homeless Woman Moral Bravery Young Lady Charitable Activity 
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  1. 1.
    Amberley Papers, ed Bertrand Russell, 1937, ii, 117,.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    E. M. Forster, Galsworthy Lowes Dickinson, 1934, 28;Google Scholar
  3. Viola Hunt, The Wife of Rossetti, 1932, 12 (quoted by Patricia Thomson, The Victorian Heroine, 136).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    See Peter Quennell on Holman Hunt’s famous picture ‘The Awakened Conscience’, and the influence of ‘an underlying sense of guilt’ about sex and prostitution on Victorian painting and literature (Introduction to Mayhew, London’s Underworld,, nd)., Some examples from fiction are listed and discussed by Patricia Thomson, Victorian Heroine, Chapters v, and vi,. An early example is the reformed prostitute Nancy Corbett in Marryat’s Snarleyyow, or the Dog Fiend, (1837).Google Scholar
  5. This novel may have some bearing upon Oliver Twist, begun in the same year (cf Walter Allen, The English Novel, 1954, 141–3).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Acton, Prostitution, 175; Alvin Whitley, ‘Thomas Hood and The Times’, TLS, 17 May 1957. Whitley argues that Dickens’s reference to the episode in his ‘Threatening Letter to Thomas Hood’ (MP, 8) suggested the poem to Hood, and notes that Dickens was ‘overcome with emotion’ on hearing it sung. See Dickens on the Thames as a grave for such girls (‘Down with the Tide’, RP, 169; ‘Wapping Workhouse’, UT, 19–20). Waterloo Bridge remains a favourite place for ‘jumpers’, mainly elderly prostitutes (New Statesman, 9 June 1961).Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    The infanticide episode, in 1840, deeply moved him at the time, and was described at length, over twenty years later (Forster, 157; ‘Some Recollections of Mortality’, UT, 194–8). The New York episode was first discovered by Professor A. A. Adrian (Georgina Hogarth and the Dickens Circle, 1957, 114).Google Scholar
  8. 42.
    Charles C. Osborne, editor, Letters of Dickens to Baroness Burdett-Coutts, 1931, 175.Google Scholar
  9. 50.
    Cf Harry Stone, ‘Dickens’s Use of his American Experiences in Martin Chuzzlewit’, PMLA, lxxii, (1957), 464–78. Dr Stone usefully contrasts Dickens’s letters home from America with the books, AN, and MC, which draw on the same experiences.Google Scholar

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© Philip Collins 1994

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  • Philip Collins

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