The Power of Womanhood — Religion and Sexual Politics in the Writings of Ellice Hopkins



Throughout the autumn of 1894, The Daily Telegraph documented the activities of a group of middle-class Christian women intent on seeking out and expelling prostitutes from London music halls notorious for their promotion of morally dubious entertainment. Entitled ‘Prudes on the Prowl’, the series was a hostile parody of the sexual prurience of the evangelical campaign for social purity — an organization which, according to the satirical Punch, was dominated by the interfering, self-righteous prudery of ‘Mrs Prowlina Prys’.1 Social purity reformers had come to public prominence during the latter decades of the nineteenth century, that period described by George Gissing as one of ‘sexual anarchy’. Against a backdrop of increasing sexual scandal and ‘white slavery’ media scares, these pious women committed themselves to the moral purification of society through an elimination of prostitution and other forms of vice.2


Sexual Double Standard Rescue Worker Sexual Politics Christian Ideal Male Purity 
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  1. 1.
    See Punch (27 October 1894) for a description of social purist Laura Ormiston Chant as ‘Mrs Prowlina Pry’ and Lucy Bland, ‘Purifying the Public Sphere: Feminist Vigilantes in late Victorian England’, Women’s History Review, Vol. 1, No. 3 (1992), 397–441CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 3.
    R. Barrett, Ellice Hopkins: A Memoir (London: Wells, Gardner, Darton & Co., 1907), p. 6.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    J. Butler, Personal Reminiscences of a Great Crusade (London: Marshall, 1896), p. 174.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    See, for example, E. Bristow, Vice and Vigilance: Purity Movements in Britain since 1700 (Dublin: Gill and MacMillan, 1977)Google Scholar
  5. J. Walkowitz, Prostitution and Victorian Society (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    E. Hopkins, Per Angusta ad Augusta (London: Hatchards, 1883), p. 4.Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    E. Hopkins, The Standard of the White Cross (London: Hatchards, 1885), p. 14.Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    E. Hopkins, A Plea for the Wider Action of the Church of England (London: Hatchards, 1879), p. 13.Google Scholar
  9. 11.
    Cited in R. Barrett, Ellice Hopkins: A Memoir (London: Wells, Gardner, Darton & Co., 1907), p. 47.Google Scholar
  10. 13.
    M. Mason, The Making of Victorian Sexual Attitudes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994) p. 105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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  12. 14.
    E. Hopkins, The Ride of Death (London: Hatchards, 1883), p. 4.Google Scholar
  13. 15.
    Rescue workers and reformers frequently failed to acknowledge the large working-class sector of the prostitute’s business, the financial benefits and the complex structure of their often supportive culture; see J. Walkowitz, Prostitution and Victorian Society (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 18.
    E. Hopkins, Is it Natural? (London: Hatchards, 1883), p. 9.Google Scholar
  15. 19.
    E. Hopkins, Damaged Pearls. An Appeal to Working Men (London: Hatchards, 1884), p. 3.Google Scholar
  16. 21.
    E. Hopkins, The Power of Womanhood, or Mothers and Sons (London: Wells Gardner, 1899), p. 148.Google Scholar
  17. 28.
    See J. Maynard, Victorian Discourses in Sexuality and Religion (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1993)Google Scholar
  18. 31.
    E. Hopkins, The Secret and Method of Purity (London: Hatchards, 1886), p. 11.Google Scholar
  19. 34.
    See S. Jeffreys, The Spinster and Her Enemies: Feminism and Sexuality 1880–1920 (London: Pandora Press, 1987)Google Scholar
  20. 39.
    Ellen DuBois and Linda Gordon, ‘Seeking Ecstasy on the Battlefield: Danger and Pleasure in Nineteenth Century Sexual Thought’, Feminist Studies, vol. 9, no. 1, Spring (1983), 13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 42.
    See Frank Mort, Dangerous Sexualities: Medico-Moral Politics in England Since 1830 (London & New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1987), p. 121.Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1998

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