Why Millicent Fawcett was the fucking best

Think votes for women and you think Pankhurst’s, you think fearless suffragettes risking everything, committing violent acts to win the day.

And you would be wrong. 

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Well this is awkward

Ok fine, not entirely wrong, but you would only be seeing about 10% of the picture. Women’s suffrage was a fight that had been going on since the early Victorian period, decades before the suffragettes were formed – it’s a battle thats largely been forgotten, but thanks to some bad ass feminists & historians thats all changing!

So how do you get up to speed with this unsung era of history? Well theres no better place to start than Millicent Garrett Fawcett.

 

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Feminist hero and Queen of fidly up-do’s

Millicent was born in 1846, one of the youngest of 10 (yep that’s right, 10!). She was raised right; taught to think for herself and pursue her passions.

When Millicent was 12 her older sister Elizabeth moved to London to study medicine (FYI- Elizabeth went on to become Britain’s first female doctor – you will soon learn that these sisters had badassery hardwired in their genes) it was whilst visiting Elizabeth in London that the young Millicent had her first brush with the women’s rights movement.

Elizabeth introduced her younger sister to Emily Davies, a fervent campaigner for women’s rights. Soon the two friends descended into talk of overcoming gender barriers in education (Emily) and medicine (Elizabeth) deciding that it was only after achieving equal rights in fields like these that women would be able to fight for the vote; then as if in an after thought the women turned to Millicent and Emily said:

You are younger than we are, Millie, so you must attend to that.”

Older sisters, right!

But attend to it Millie did. She threw herself into reading up on the law and female rights. She went to a talk given by radical MP John Stuart Mill in favour of women’s rights and became his ardent supporter…she did all this before she was 19, and she wasn’t done.

Now lets pause for a moment and think about what your life’s greatest achievement at 19 was. I’ll admit that working out jäger bombs do not a good evening make is an achievement. But it’s not got shit on 19 year old Millie.

Because In 1866 she delivered a petition to parliament calling for women to have the vote.

That’s right. At 19 Millicent kickstarted things, with the first official move in the loooong battle for equal votes.

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Yup it’s both amazing and sickening   via giphy 

Having fired the opening shot, Millicent was keen to continue her campaign. She started writing and working at getting more politically active. Then in 1867 she met Henry Fawcett a radical liberal MP and scholar, the two had a lot in common and Millicent felt like she had met a kindred spirit. BUT Henry was a decade older than her and was also newly blind..not your stereotypical dreamboat.

Yet against everyone’s wishes the pair married with Millicent helping Henry come to terms with his new disability and he supporting her to find her feet in politics.

Henry and Millicent
Henry and Millicent Fawcett 

As  part of Millicents’ effort to get womens’ right to vote into the public consciousness, she gave her first speech in 1869. She hated every moment of it.

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Urgh public speaking! via giphy

But without any real mass media to spread the word on women’s suffrage she didn’t really have a choice. So Millicent fought through it, chucking herself in at the deep end she went on a speaking tour in 1871. She kept pushing through and eventually became one of England’s most popular and passionate public speakers.

Whilst overcoming her fears Millicent published several in depth political and economic books and founded Newham College, Cambridge – you know as you do. A boss at multitasking she also found time to give birth and raise a daughter, Philippa (who went on to become an acclaimed mathematician and educator btw) 

Everything was coming up Millicent, and she was fast becoming one of the most vocal proponents for women’s rights in the world; her husband, Henry one of the most loved and respected figures in British politics (not an easy feat being a liked politician!) it seemed nothing could stop this power couple.

And then Henry died. it isnt fair.gif

 

But Millicent persisted. Now a single mother, she buckled down on women’s rights. Soon becoming the clear figurehead for the movement in the U.K. Millicent fought for the campaign to seek more than the vote, fighting for women’s sexual rights, working rights and so much more.

In 1897 she helped form the NUWSS (The National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies- also known as the suffragists) bringing the majority of the countries women’s rights groups together and making their voice even louder. Suffragist

Though the Suffragists means were peaceful that didn’t mean Millicent couldn’t get militant.

She had an active role in the Personal Rights Association who sought to shed light on men with, er, nefarious intentions when it came to young women. Once throwing flour at a seemingly untouchable Army General who had been sexually harassing a maid; Millicent then pinned a sign to his back which outlined his deeds and sent him packing down a crowded street of onlookers (because seriously, fuck that guy)

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A witness said Millicent ‘had no pity and would have cashiered him if she could’

But it wasn’t just women’s rights that concerned Millicent. In 1900 NUWSS member Emily Hobhouse traveled to South Africa and shone light on the treatment of the Boer People who were at war with England (The Boer War)

The Boer People were being sent to concentration camps (never not a good time to to remember that the British invented them!) and their land overturned and scorched. This quickly became a hot topic in Parliament with all around liberal bae David Lloyd George declaiming the British military’s actions as an extermination of a people.

Believing Hobhouses’ claims to be vastly exaggerated, The British Government created a commission of women with the purpose of travelling to South Africa and reporting back on the camps. Millicent was made head of the commission, which was met with criticism…as Millicent was in favour of the camps

 

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Yes, I’ll admit this is pretty awkward, but bear with me!

Millicent went out expecting to find the conditions in the camp slightly grim but with the people well fed, clothed and sheltered. This was not what she was met with.

To say the conditions in the camps were grim would be a gross understatement (emphasis on the gross). Disease and famine were widespread and by the end of the war of those in the camps 1 in 4 had died.

Despite a (pretty darn racist) government release defending the camps; The Fawcett Commission backed up Hobhouses claims and made their damning evidence very public knowledge. The Boer War ended in 1902, the camps quickly removed. cheering.gif

But it wasn’t all good news. Back in England the women’s rights movement hit a wall.

The Suffragists arguably had most MPs persuaded that votes for women was the right thing to do, but as anyone who has spent 5 minutes in Parliament will tell you – just because MPs know it’s right…doesn’t mean they will do it. And so from 1901-1914 the Liberal government refused to do anything around women’s votes.

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Yeah don’t try and look for logic in that bullshittery             via giphy 

 

In this climate the suffragettes were born. With the WSPU (The Women’s Social and Political Union) forming in 1903. The suffragettes were a much smaller movement than the Suffragists (by a David and Goliath level comparison) but their violent methods caught the eye of the media and they stayed in the headlines for much of the decade suffragette

 

Yet Millicent maintained that the NUWSS wouldn’t enter the violent fray, intent on keeping the dialogue with politicians open; saying:

‘I can never feel that setting fire to houses and churches and litter boxes and destroying valuable pictures really helps to convince people that women ought to be enfranchised.’

Then in 1914 England entered the First World War and the suffrage movement met a cross roads. Should they halt their actions and support the war effort, or continue none the less? The WSPU agreed to halt activity, with the government releasing all imprisoned suffragettes the movement threw themselves fully into recruiting soldiers.

BUT the NUWSS disagreed with the war. Millicent was torn; to publicly call for peace would lead to a public outcry against the suffragists; horrific considering the fight for the vote hadn’t actually been won – but to do like the WSPU and drive recruitment would splinter the party.

 

In the end Millicent opted to stay neutral, not calling for peace, but not actively speaking out for the war. It meant she lost some face within the party and the NUWSS lost some members, but crucially it ensured the public remained on side and lines with politicians open. munitions ad

Throughout the war women from all over the country took up the job roles men had left behind. Both the NUWSS and the WSPU were key to this work effort, which did far more than help the British military…it showed on a practical level that women were just as capable as men on every level.

And so in 1916 Millicent wrote to the Prime-minister urging him to take into account the tremendous daily work being carried by women and reconsider the vote.

And this time he did.

In 1918 women over 30 who were householders or wives of householders were granted the vote.

A year later, now in her 70s, Millicent stepped down from her role leading the NUWSS. But of course, her fight was not over. As she always campaigned for women’s rights, calling for equal access in the fields of civil service and law and fighting for better divorce rights for women.

In 1928 Parliament granted women the same voting rights as men.

Millicent was one of the only original suffrage campaigners to see their decades long campaign win out. After over 60 years of campaigning, she watched the bill be carried out in Parliament.

Forgotten for decades, Millicent’s story is finally getting the attention it deserves and in 2018, she will become the first woman with a statue in Parliament square. Millicent Fawcett

6 crimes that scandalised Victorian England Part 3

In the final part of our series on Victorian crime and murder we have Britain’s most prolific serial killer and an actual case of death by chocolate, so without further ado let’s get to it:

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via giphy

The Angel Maker

If you asked a child to draw a picture of a serial killer, they would draw Amelia Dyer…and then have nightmares for literally ever because ohmygod have you seen this woman?!?

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Never sleeping again

Amelia Dyer grew up reasonably well off. She trained as a corset maker but gave up the trade in 1861 to marry George Thomas (at 59 over twice as old as 24 year old Amelia). Once married Amelia started training to be a nurse and it was nursing that would introduce her to baby farming and turn Amelia Dyer into Britain’s most prolific murderer.

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Shits about to get real – via giphy

 

Baby farming was a black market career choice but a not uncommon one. The 1834 Poor Law Amendment saw unwed mothers lose most rights to support; these women were now only able to receive clothes, food or shelter if both mother and child went to the workhouse – not a good option to put it mildly. Single mothers were limited to a few desperate options: prostitution, taking their chances on the streets or making their own children ‘angels’. Less Sophie’s choice, more super fucked no matter what you do.

This is where baby farms came in. For a fee women would take in these children, adopt or foster them, care for the child as their own and then rehouse the child with suitable parents. Of course the reality was very different, most destitute mothers couldn’t afford a rolling fee for their child’s care, many paying a one off fee of around £5 (around (£225 today). Anyone who has seen the price of nappies knows that sum isn’t going to care for a child for long, so it’s unsurprising that some baby farmers had no intention of caring for the child as their own. Instead they fed their charges the bare minimum, used opium to keep the children quiet and left them in squalid conditions. It was not uncommon for baby farm children to die as a result of neglect.

It was this world Amelia Dyer chose to enter.

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By 1869 Amelia had left nursing and soon after this her husband died. she needed a source of income fast and baby farming seemed like the best choice to make a quick buck. Amelia threw herself into this new profession but she soon got greedy and started allowing some of the children to die, purposefully neglecting them to free up space for more babies.

She tried to make these deaths seems as legitimate as possible (well as legit as tons of dead babies can be). after several years a local doctor finally started to think there might be something dodgy about all the dead children at Amelia Dyers house and reported her to police on suspicion of neglect, she was found guilty and in 1879 was sentenced to just 6 months of hard labour.

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Via giphy

 

Once out of prison, Amelia left baby farming, she tried to get back into nursing, but was deemed mentally unstable and was sent to a mental asylum. When she left the aslym Amelia had no place to go, so she turned to what she knew: baby farming.

It was perhaps her mental break that led Amelia to stop trying to get death certificates for the infants that died in her care. Instead she decided to cut the middle man out entirely, killing the children almost immediately after their arrival. This meant she could take on more children then ever before. At one point neighbours saw up to 6 children a day being handed over to Dyer. Business was booming.

One unwed mother soon to cross paths with Amelia Dyer was Evelina Marion, a young barmaid who had given birth to an illegitimate daughter, Doris. Short on options Evelina came across an advert in The Bristol Times and Mirror:

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It seemed to good to be true – it was

 

On 31st March 1896 Evelina met with the woman who posted the advertisement, Mrs Harding, and handed over Doris. Mrs Harding was of course Amelia Dyer using a pseudonym. Now on a roll, just a day later Dyer took guardianship over another baby Harry Simmons.

But Amelia’s luck was running out. The day before she was given Doris Marmom, a bargeman fished a brown paper package the Thames at Reading. Upon inspection the wrapping came loose and a child’s foot fell out. When fully unwrapped, the package revealed the tiny body of Helena Fry, a child who had been left in Amelia Dyers care.

After the discovery the river was immediately searched. A carpet bag was dredged up and inside were the bodies of Doris Marmom and Harry Simmons. Both had been strangled with white tape.

However the brown paper packaging that Helena Fry had been Found in provided police with a vital clue. The paper was addressed to a Mrs Thomas, yet anouther pseudonym used by Amelia Dyer.

Whilst the police hunted for Dyer, four more children’s bodies were dredged from the river. Each had been strangled and like Doris Marmom and Harry Simmons, white tape was wrapped around their necks.

It didn’t take long for the police to catch up with Dyer and on 4th April 1896, just days after she had taken custody of Doris Marmom, she was charged with the child’s murder. Amelia Dyer confessed, telling police to look for children with white tape around their necks, that way they ‘Could tell it was one of mine’

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Daily Mail article following Amelia Dyers arrest

 

Amelia Dyer stood trial on 22nd May 1896 at The Old Bailey. She confessed to only one murder, Doris Marmom. The evidence was stacked against her, along with her written confession, several people reported seeing Dyer acting strangely and it transpired she had almost been caught on multiple occasions.

Despite Amelia Dyers pleas of insanity and her long history of stays in mental asylums, it took a jury under 5 minutes to find her guilty. She was sentenced to death.

Amelia Dyer described herself as ‘the angel maker’. Prior to her execution she wrote a confession which filled over five exercise books. It’s thought she killed over 200 children, though the number may be as high as 400 or even 700.

 

Death By Chocolate

Christiana Edmunds was a fashionable lady about town and also one of Victorian England’s most interesting mental health case studies. Her increasingly elaborate killing spree sent her to Broadmoor and thanks to newly released archives we are just starting to discover what led her to killchristiana edmunds .jpgEdmunds came from a background streaked with mental illness, her Dad died in an asylum in London from what was considered ‘madness’ (now considered the side effects of syphilis) Christiana’s brother was also sent to an asylum this one ‘for idiots’ (don’t you just love those Victorians) where he died from an epileptic fit. Christiana’s sister attempted suicide several times, finally collapsing and dying outside her home following the death of her brother. Soon after all of this Christiana was diagnosed with that Victorian classic, hysteria – or what we would now diagnosis as (at least) severe depression, most likely stemming from ALL THE FUCKERY.

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Like things couldn’t get any worse, right? via giphy

In the 1860’s Christiana, her mother and sister moved to Brighton and an by 1867 a Dr Beard starting treating Christiana for her hysteria. Beard was attractive, intelligent, kind and married. The married part was less than ideal for Christiana, especially as the two grew closer and she started to fall in love with Beard, but life had knocked Christiana so many times she wouldn’t allow a little blip like a wife to get in the way of her future happiness. So in September 1870 Christiana visited the Beard residence armed with a box of chocolates.

Dr Beard was out but his wife Emily invited Christiana in  and the two women sat in the kitchen with the chocolates between them and chatted. Emily reached for a chocolate cream but quickly spat it out, something was wrong, the cream inside was bitter and spoiled. That night Emily was incredibly ill, vomiting and in increasing pain- she had been poisoned with Strychnine.

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I’ve chosen to illustrate this with Turkish Delights, which might as well be poison

Emily lived, much to Christiana’s frustration. To make matters worse Dr Beard appeared at Christiana’s home the next day. He confronted her and revealed that he had recognised the symptoms of strychnine and he knew that Christiana had tried to murder his wife; if she knew what was good for her then she would stay away from him and his family.

To Christiana this was just another blip on the road to happiness. She now knew she must do two things:

1) Successfully kill Emily Beard

2) Ensure Dr Beard no longer suspected her as the poisoner (because murder is kind of a turn off)

Christiana decided to stick with chocolates as her murder weapon, injecting chocolate creams from a local sweet shop with strychnine and then planting them back on the shelves. Planning to kill Emily Beard under the guise of a serial killer and throw Dr Beard off the scent. It seemed to work and over the coming months numerous people fell deathly ill after eating the chocolates. But nobody actually died.

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via giphy

But then in June 1871 4 year old Sidney Barker was on holiday in Brighton with his family. His Uncle bought the boy some chocolates as a treat. After eating just a few chocolates Sidney was dead.

Sidney Barkers death was initially ruled an accident but it didn’t take long for police to join the dots between his death and the other curious illnesses that had spread across Brighton. At the inquest into Sidney’s death, Christiana Edmunds actually appeared, giving evidence that she herself had become ill after eating chocolates bought from the same shop.

But Christiana didn’t stop there, she started writing Sidney’s father letters, urging him to take legal action against the shop that had sold the chocolates. The police quickly noticed Christiana’s continued involvement in the case. Rather than helping to to create an imaginary serial poisoner, it was just leading police right to her.

And then shit got real. The Beards announced they were moving to Scotland. Christiana went into full defcon mode and started work on one last ditch attempt to kill Beard’s wife and make him fall in love with her and stay in Brighton.

Christiana created a batch of poisoned plum cakes and distributed them around Brighton, sending them to random people as well as the Beards and herself.

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I am now highly suspicious of this bitch – via giphy

The cakes didn’t work and Dr Beard finally alerted the police to his suspicions.

In January 1872 Christiana Edmunds stood trial at The Old Bailey in London. Her lawyer, John Humffreys Parry openly admitted to being confused at Christiana’s motives, however upon meeting with her he decided that the only route to go down was to plead insanity. This was not an easy task in Victorian England, the only way the plea would be granted was if a jury could all agree that Christiana could not be blamed for her actions.

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A, in no way terrifying drawing of Parry

Parry leaned on her family history and also had several notable doctors come to examine Christiana, all agreeing that she could not tell right from wrong. Still the plea didn’t work and Christiana Edmunds was sentenced to death. Though she did attempt to avoid the hangman’s noose by faking a pregnancy – the rouse was quickly discovered.

But then Christiana underwent a full psychiatric evaluation and her sentence was remitted, she was then moved to the newly opened Broadmoor. This move resulted in a public outcry, with many seeing it as a clear sign of class privilege and massive miscarriage of justice. None the less Christina spent the rest of her life in Broadmoor dying there in 1907, aged 78.

That was interesting, where can I find out more: I’m glad you asked! If you haven’t already caught up with the rest of this series you totally should! And you can! Right here:

Why Catherine Howard is so much more than ‘the slutty one’

Catherine Howard is widely known as the dumb wife, the spoiled bimbo wife, the promiscuous wife. The one who got what she deserved.

Now I’m not saying the rest of Henry Vllls wives don’t have wildly unfair labels attached to them – of course they do. But I’d argue that Catherine’s current historic portrayal is both demonstrably sexist AND hides her incredible true story. A girl who was tormented with sexual assault, blackmail and was constantly used as a puppet for more powerful men’s plans. YET grew up to be determined, ballsy and full of life. 

It’s time to get to know the real Catherine. So let’s start by knocking down some of the misconceptions around her. 

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‘Catherine Howard was stupid’

This sits across almost all historic interpretation of Catherine Howard, including those by noted historians. Though Alison Weir offers a sympathetic view of the young Queen in her book, Six Wives, she still sees her as ’empty headed’. Whilst Suzannah Lipscomb describes her as ‘a stupid girl’.

This trend also crops up in more fictitious offerings, with Phillipa Gregory’s The Boleyn Inheritance portraying Catherine as vacuous and thoughtless. And let’s just take a quick look at how shes shown in pop culture smash hit, The Tudors:

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One of 1000 blank looks by Catherine Howard courtesy of The Tudors

For her time Catherine Howard was educated as well as any woman was expected (or could be hoped) to be.

She was proficient in household skills, dancing, needlework and music. Put bluntly she was educated in a way that was suited to her gender and class.

Is she is less educated than Henrys other wives? Yes.

Catherines cousin Anne benefited from an education at European courts, Katherine of Aragon and Anne of Cleeves were educated as European Princesses and Katherine Parr was extremely fortunate in having a mother who valued girls education.

But Catherine Howard was never expected to be royalty, she was never expected to be high up in court, the most she was expected to accomplish was a good marriage and her education was the best a woman in her position could hope for. If anything Catherine Howard’s education is the most similar to Henrys favourite wife Jane Seymour.

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Jane Seymour: The ultimate ‘can’t get over’ ex

In fact when Catherine becomes consort she rather cannily models herself after this beloved late wife.

She learns from the mistakes of her predecessors and becomes ‘the rose without a thorn’. Catherines motto ‘no other will but his’, takes what Henry sees as Jane Seymour’s best traits but makes them her own. 

She’s submissive and sweet but also more charming, charismatic and vivacious than Jane could ever have been. This is not the move of a teenage bimbo but rather the calculated work of a determined and intuitive young woman.

She was a slut

Acclaimed Historian Lacey Baldwin Smith called Catherine Howard a ‘common whore’ also writing that ‘there never was such a whore’ as she.

And you can see why history loves this portrait of Catherine! It’s just so juicy! A beautiful and promiscuous young woman pulled up to the highest position in the land. Her aging husband gifts her with wealth, comfort and security and she repays him by sleeping around with his most trusted servants and friends.

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It’s a story as old as time…but it isn’t a true one. 

Now w jnow that Catherine had sexual partners before marrying Henry Vlll. However modern evidence shows that these early relationships were not romantic whirlwinds but deeply traumatic experiences, based in neglect, emotional abuse and were most likely forced.

That’s right, Catherine Howard was a victim of sexual abuse (feeling bad yet?)

When Catherine was around 12 Henry Mannock was employed as her music tutor. Mannock took a liking to his young student and started attempting to seduce the pre-teen.

Catherine turned down his initial advances stating ‘I will never be naught with you and able to marry me you be not’. Still Mannock continued his persuit and eventually Catherine gave in, giving her tutor permission to touch her ‘secret parts’ in hopes this would placate him and he would ‘desire no more’.

It didn’t work.

Mannock continued to abuse his position of power over Catherine. Actually boasting to friends that he had been with her so much that he knew of a secret mark on her body.

Finally Catherine’s Grandmother (who she was living with at the time) found out about the ‘affair’ and ordered that Mannock never be alone with Catherine. But not before beating Catherine for flinging away the great commodity of her virginity. 

But despite the threat of Mannock being extinguished, there would be no respite for Catherine.

When Catherine was 13, Francis Dereham, a man of low but noble birth was installed as ‘Gentleman Usher’ in the house. Meaning that he was essentially Catherine’s boss. (Warning, its going to get really bleak again)

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Though Dereham started affairs with other girls in the house his attention soon turned to Catherine Howard. Once more the young girl resisted and denied consent. Once more she was ignored.

There are accounts of Dereham lifting Catherine’s dress past her naval so he could get a good look at her body. It didn’t stop there, Dereham had a key that allowed him access to the quarters where Catherine and the other girls slept, and using this he frequently ‘lay’ with her.

Soon the pair formed a relationship of sorts, Catherine allowing the affair to go forward under the promise that one day Dereham would marry her.

Dereham did not marry Catherine.

He eventually left, returning to Catherine’s life only when she became Queen. Using their prior relationship as leverage to force himself onto her privy council – in doing so helping to set up both their demises.

so I hear you say:

Fine….BUT didn’t Catherine lie about her past relationships AND THEN have an affair with Thomas Culpepper when she married to Henry VIII? You have to admit, that’s some poor decision making…

I mean have you seen her husband?

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Who wouldn’t, am i right?

Look – there is no concrete evidence for an affair between Henry Vlll’s servant Thomas Culpepper and Catherine Howard. However, it is widely accepted that an affair of sorts probably did happen or would have happened eventually (yes it is that super vague and complicated)

For the sake of argument (and ease) let’s say the affair did happen – what does that say about Catherine’s decision making skills?

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Ok fine, it doesn’t look good…but stay with me

Look – You do not want to be married to Henry Vlll. Fact. He is a categorically crap husband, especially at this time of his life.

Prone to volatile outbursts and mood swings, he also has a scary amount of power at his disposal (hello one executed wife and Thomas Cromwell his most trusted advisor beheaded on the same day as Catherine and Henrys wedding) oh and he also his a gaping leg wound – just for added sex appeal.

Now imagine being Catherine, a teenager with little experience of Court and a string of abusers behind you. Now married to the King of England, who also happens to be a tyrant. I’d argue that’s a slightly precarious position.

Enter Thomas Culpepper.

Was Catherine finally about to get the knight in shining armour she deserved? Nope! Guess what – Thomas Culpepper was also a dick! Not just any dick though…he was a rapist AND murderer!!!

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Yeah, it’s gonna go great!

Prior to meeting Catherine, Thomas Culpepper was accused of raping a park keeper’s wife (whilst serval of his men held her down) and then when people from the local village tried to apprehend him for this crime, he murdered one of them – but don’t worry, Henry Vlll pardoned him for both the rape and the murder, because hey, boys will be boys. 

Culpepper’s contemporary, George Cavendish, described Culpepper as violent, disorderly and arrogant. So essentially an all around stand up gent.

Yet, Culpepper rose quickly at court, and soon becomes one of Henry Vlll’s most vaulued servants.

Around 1541 Culpepper started taking particular notice of Catherine Howard. This date is important because it is also when Francis Dereham blackmailed his way into being on Catherine’s privy council.

It is very likely that Culpepper caught wind of Dereham and Howards previous relationship (because Dereham had a fun habit of telling people all about it).

And it’s also worth noting that around this time the aging Henry Vlll falls very ill and it is looking more and more likely that he may die.

So it’s more than arguable that Culpepper took all of this and used it to his advantage; using knowledge of Dereham and Howards sexual past to gain leverage to meet with the young Queen in private and start to position himself for power come Henry’s death, (perhaps even as the former Queens new husband), through a mixture of flirtation and blackmail. 

The dates fit in with this theory, as does what we know about the kind of man Culpepper was.

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Don’t worry it gets worse/more juicy

When both Catherine and Culpepper are arrested for their potential affair, both are quick to point the finger at the other.

Culpepper admitted to intending to do ‘ill with the Queen’ but made it clear that Catherine Howard seduced him. 

This -again- seems unlikely. 

Catherine made a point that her servant, Jane Rochester, was in attendance at every private meeting she had with Culpepper. Serving as both a guard and a witness.

If you’ve heard Jane Rochesters name before, that’s because she was married to Anne Boleyn brother, George. Jane witnessed Anne’s downfall and it was suspected that she provided information that helped send her husband and sister in law to their deaths. So then why would Catherine put a potietial informant in prime place of witnessing treason, if she was the initiator of a sordid affair?

Then there’s the infamous love letter from Katherine to Culpepper. I’m inclined to agree with historian Retha Warnicke’s reading which tells a tale of blackmail rather than passion. Katherine’s wording seems tense and desperate to placate Culpepper, particularly around the ‘promise’ he has made her – most likely a promise to withhold information about her sexual history.

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So many dramatic twists and turns

Catherine Howard was so much more than her historic portrayal until now has allowed her to be. And it’s important that as this new evidence and understanding of Catherine’s abuse is acknowledged, we don’t let history rebrand her, from ‘the slutty one’ to ‘the tragic victim’. 

Catherine Howard was a victim of sexual abuse, but she was so much more than that. She was brave, determined and fiesty. Thurst entirely unprepared into a perilous position, Catherine didn’t shrink away, but embraced it. Learning from the Queens that came before her and shrewdly turning their mistakes into her road to glory. She learnt how to manage a tyrant and until her abusers caught up with her, it looked like Catherine would be the Queen that survived Henry VIII. 

In a Me Too era, Catherine’s story not only needs to be told, but celebrated. 

This was interesting, how do I find out more: I’d suggest checking out Josephine Wilkinson’s book: Katherine Howard, The Tragic Story of Henry Vlll’s Fifth Queen. It’s a good starting off point; a thorough read and not so heavy you need an encyclopaedia and pack of highlighters to get through it.

6 crimes that scandalized Victorian England. Part 2

The Thames Torso Killer

Whilst Jack the Ripper was making the streets of Whitechapel an all around unpleasant place to be in 1888, another serial was also roaming the streets of London and its time he got his share of the praise well it’s not, because he did horrifically murder several people but you get my drift…)

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In May 1887 workers along the Thames river valley pulled a bundle from the river bank. Upon opening the bundle they discovered a woman’s torso. Throughout May and into June more body parts washed up onto the banks of the Thames, once put together doctors confirmed that the limbs were from the same woman. Doctors were eventually able to piece together the body, with only the head and upper chest missing. However the bodies dismemberment had been so cleanly carried out and the corpse so water beaten that no cause of death or clue of the woman’s identity could be uncovered.

Almost a year later in September 1888 Scotland Yard were desperately trying to solve the murder of Mary Ann Nichols, the second prostitute in as many days who had been found murdered and mutilated in Whitechapel. Then a woman’s arm washed up in Pimlico, followed by its partner on Lambeth Road.

What came next can only be described as a ballsy move by the killer – on 2nd October the same woman’s torso was discovered by builders in the construction site of New Scotland Yard. The murder had been bought straight to the Police and they now had a torso, two arms, two serial killers on the loose and no clue – it was then that a journalist’s terrier dug up the woman’s leg from the grounds of New Scotland Yard (after police dogs had failed to find any further remains).

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Doctors concluded that the limbs found under New Scotland Yard had been buried there for weeks and had perhaps been buried by someone with easy access such as a workman or builder. However, the cuts that had been made to dismember the victim were once again clean cut and surgical, and yet again no cause of death could be found and no clue to the woman’s identity made. The murder was filed as ‘found dead’.

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In June 1889 a woman’s body parts started to wash up on the shores of The Thames. A leg and thigh in Battersea, liver in Nine Elms and a foot and leg in Wandsworth. A body part was even thrown into the estate of Percy Shelley, whose mother, Mary Shelley had written Frankenstien; a book about a monster pieced together out of human body parts.

Though once again the victims head was missing, the police managed to identify this victim thanks to a fragment of clothing found of the body. Elizabeth Jackson had been missing from her Chelsea home since just before the first body parts were found. Jackson had been 7 months pregnant at the time of her death. A verdict of ‘Wilful murder against some person or persons unknown’ was passed; though no cause of death was ever discovered.

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By the 10th September 1889 the police were no closer to finding who the killer was when a cryptic telegram was sent to all police stations in London:

‘Whitechapel again’

Police scrambled suspecting another Ripper murder. However they were to be foiled, yet again. When walking his beat on Pinchin Street Police Constable William Pennett discovered a woman’s torso.

Once more doctors were stumped and unable to work out the victim’s identity or cause of death. As in the case of Elizabeth Jackson a verdict of ‘wilful murder against some person or persons unknown’ was passed. In an effort to preserve the torso (should any other clues be discovered) the unknown women was buried in a cast coffin filled with spirits.

Possible links were discovered to a murder in Paris in 1886 (where a woman’s torso and several limbs were found on the steps of a church) and two other murders in London in 1901 and 1902, but none truly fit the Thames Torso Killers method.

The victims heads would never be discovered, nor would the victims breasts or uteruses, which the killer also took. The case went cold, with no clear motive, no evidence and not even a cause of death, there were next to no clues leading police to the killer.

The Thames Torso Murders remains a mystery.

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Well they can’t do worse than the Metropolitan Police did…

The tragic case of Eliza Fenning and the devilish dumplings  

Ok so full disclosure this crime does just miss the Victorian era, taking place in 1815, BUT I couldn’t not include it. That’s how good this one is, your gonna love it!

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And it’s only slightly incredibly bleak- yay!

Fun fact: I actually used to work on London’s Chancery Lane, where the crime took place, and took great pleasure in telling this crime to friends when meeting for after work drinks- truly I am a joy.

Aaaaaand onto the crime:

Elizabeth ‘Eliza’ Fenning entered the employment of Robert Turner and his wife Charlotte in early 1815. The house in Chanchery Lane looked to be a step up for 20 year old Eliza, she had been hired as a cook, a promotion after working 6 years as a lower level domestic servant in other households.

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Eliza’s first two months in her new post went well and she started to fall into the pattern of day to day with the Turners’. On the night of the 21st March 1815 Roberts Turner’s Father was due to come round for dinner. Eliza prepared a dinner of beef and dumplings for the family. Just before she finished cooking Robert Turner came into the kitchen and ordered Eliza not to leave the room until the meal was finished- strange, but she complied. The dinner was served and the family tucked in, along with two of Roberts apprentices and a housemaid. Shortly afterwards everyone at the table collapsed onto the floor.

The police arrived to find Eliza curled up on the stairs in crippling pain, the rest of the household were in a much worse state and close to death. An investigation was started. Foul play was suspected for the sudden sickness that had torn through the house and the line of suspicion led straight to Eliza.

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Forensics expert John Marshall was bought in. The art of forensics was very much in its infancy but Marshall had a theory; he thought that the nights dinner must have been subject to arsenic poisoning. He searched the kitchen for traces of the stuff and came up with a small half teaspoon of ‘white powder’ which had been found in water used to wash up Eliza’s mixing bowl. Marshall carried out tests to see if this powder was indeed arsenic, this included heating the powder over a flame to see if it emitted a garlicy smell (this was obviously not 100% foolproof test…) when Marshall put the powder on a halfpenny over a candle the room was quickly filled with a pungent garlic aroma (surprisingly food sometimes smells of garlic-gasp!)

Things were not looking good for Eliza. To make matters worse witnesses came forward claiming that Eliza hated her employers who had recently threatened to fire her after she was seen coming out of the bedroom of an apprentice at night.

Within several days everyone who had eaten the potentially poisoned dumplings started to get better. Still, Eliza was arrested and was quickly put on trial for attempted murder.

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The evidence against Eliza was strong, the forensic expert had evidence of arsenic and witness testimony gave a motive for the attempted murders. However, it was pointed out that it would not have been possible for the arsenic to have been mixed into the dumplings- the amount the forensic expert claimed to have found would have been enough to kill 120 people per serving, the Turners couldn’t have survived! For the dumplings to have been poisoned they would have to have been sprinkled with the poison after being cooked. A deed which could have happened in the kitchen or in the dining room- a room Eliza had been banned from.

To add more fuel, witnesses came forward alledging that Robert Turner had a history of violent and ‘mad’ outbursts. Further more a chemist clamied that Robert Turner had tried to buy arsenic from him just months earlier. The forensic evidence was also shown to be lacking as there was no evidence that this mixing bowl had indeed been used to make the poisoned dumplings and Marshall had failed to test any other substance found in any other of the cookware or ingrediants that had been used to make the dumplings.

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Cover of Eliza Fennings case file

Sadly this was all no was no use to Eliza and she was found guilty. The public rallied to her side and campaigned against the courts decision. Petitions were made and the press even came to her defense. On the day of her execution the home office held a meeting to look over the case.

It all proved fruitless. Eliza was hung alongside William Oldfield who was convicted of rape and Abraham Adams a homeless man who was sentenced to death for ‘unnatural crimes’ (translated to sodomy) on the 26th July 1815. Eliza’s last words with of her innocence.

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Broadsheet of Eliza Fenning’s execution

Following her death The Turners became public hate figures and John Marshall a laughing stock. The misuse of forensics in Eliza’s trial was held up as a prime example of legal misconduct and several medical societies put in place measures that anybody studying for a license with them take a three month course in legal medicine (or medical jurisprudence) to ensure what happen to Eliza Fenning would never happen again.

6 true crimes that scandalised Victorian England. Part 1

Everyone loves a murder. It’s one of those indelible facts of life; everyone is born, everyone must die and everyone bloody loves a murder.

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Our murder obsession feels at its peak with podcasts like Serial now everywhere and documentaries on murderers and their victims littering our Netflix suggestions. But this is far from the first time that untimely and gruesome deaths fascinated people. We can date our love of murder back to…well literally always. It’s something that has just always fascinated people.

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Nobody was no more obsessed than the Victorians. They truly loved the macabre, it’s in this era that we see the boom in séances and horror fiction, not to mention the very Victorian after dinner activity of busting opening a sarcophagus to see what was inside (japes) but there was nothing they loved more than a good murder.

True crime Penny Dreadful’s like Famous Crimes luridly detailed present and past crimes and even Punch got in on the action, eagerly sinking its teeth into grisly foul play and ensuring that the crime, trial and often inevitable execution became national gossip.

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Without further ado here are some of the most sensational murders that gripped Victorian Britain 

1 . The Bermondsey Horror

In 1847 Swiss ladies maid Maria de Roux met Frederick George Manning. Now Manning was not exactly a catch, he had recently been fired from his job as a train guard following suspicion of theft and wasn’t the brightest BUT Manning told Maria he was due to inherit a small fortune from his mother and so the two were wed.

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Maria Manning

Frederick George Manning tried his hand as a pub landlord and failed almost immediately. After selling the pub the couple moved to much smaller lodgings in Bermondsey. This is when Maria found out Fredrick George had lied and there was no fortune. Sadly couples therapy wasn’t an option at the time, nor were quickie divorces – so the Mannings hatched a deadly plot to both save their marriage and ease their money troubles.

Patrick O’Connor had once proposed to Maria and though he was well off she had opted to marry Frederick George Manning knowing he would one day inherit a fortune. Obviously this had turned out to be a lie and Maria now realised she had made the wrong choice…yet she thought that Patrick O’Connor could still be the solution to her financial woes. On the 8th August 1849 Maria invited O’Connor to dinner. Before his arrival she bought a large shovel.

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When O’Connor arrived at the Mannings house, Maria sent him into the kitchen to wash his hands before eating. With his back turned to her, she shot him in the head. Frederick George Manning then came into the kitchen to find O’Connor half dead on the floor and he finished the job: “I never liked him, so I battered his head with a ripping chisel.”

Husband and Wife buried O’Connor and Maria went to the dead man’s house to start collecting his valuables.

Police soon began investigating O’Connor’s disappearance and their suspesions pointed to the Mannings. Realising they were cornered the couple planned to flee. Maria sent her husband to sell their furniture to raise funds for their life on the run. As soon as he had left the house she took everything of value and fled.

Frederick George returned to find his wife had double crossed him, but managed to escape just before the police reached the Manning residence where they quickly found O’Connors body covered in lime and buried under the kitchen floorboards.

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Maria and Frederick George fled to Edinburgh and Jersey respectively. They were both caught within days of each other; Maria after attempting to sell O’Connors belongings and Frederick George after his rampant drinking drew attention.

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for fucks sake

The couples trial was held at The Old Bailey in London on 25th Oct 1849 and it was a sensation. Maria was the subject of most of the attention, throughout the trial she was immaculately dressed, elegant and composed. However, this composure slipped once the jury read their verdict; guilty. Maria stood and screamed at the court: ‘You have treated me like a wild beast of the forest.’

Husband and Wife were both sentenced to be hung. This most rare of executions (a woman and the first married couple to be hung together in over a hundred years!) created further fever. A cottage industry was soon set up, with lodgings and horse and cart owners selling standing room tickets to the hanging and at least 2.6 million broadsides (Victorian one sheet newspapers) dedicated to the execution being sold.

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On the day of the Mannings execution a crowd of between 30,000 and 50,000 gathered to watch the pair be hung- the biggest crowd ever assembled at an execution in Britain. There was much gossip prior to the hanging as to whether the couple would reconcile on the scaffold and more importantly just what Maria Manning would wear to her execution (times really have not changed…). Fashion lovers were not disappointed and Maria ascended the scaffold “beautifully dressed, every part of her noble figure finely and fully expressed by close fitting black satin”. Maria and Frederick were then hung side by side.

Frederick George Manning and Marie Manning

Yet they lived on. Those who had not been able to witness their execution were still able to see the Mannings in waxwork form, with Madame Tussaud’s promising a recreation of the Mannings kitchen (complete with O’Connor under the floorboards!) and a waxwork’s in Manchester advertising its Manning’s-a-likes as able to amuse, delight and highly instruct’.

Maria Manning went on to inspire in the world of literature, most notably Charles Dickins, who having been at her execution became fascinated by the scandalous black satin clad woman and created a character in her likeness, Mademoiselle Hortense (both a lady’s maid and murderer) in his next book, Bleak House.

 

2. Sweet FA

In at number 2 its child murder! (Don’t say I don’t do anything for you- also in advance, sorry this one is pretty bleak)

On the 24th August 1867 Fanny Adams , her younger sister Minnie and a friend left their house to go for a walk. The group were approached by a smartly dressed man in a black coat who offered Minnie and their friend money to leave and go get sweets, which they did. The man then offered Fanny a half-penny if she would accompany him to ‘The Hollow’, she refused and he picked her up and took her anyway.

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Fanny Adams

Several hours later Minnie returned home without Fanny and told their mother about the meeting with the man in the black coat. Worried Mrs Adams, went to look for Fanny with the help of a neighbor, Mrs Gardiner.

Whilst searching they saw a man in a black coat walking back to the village from the direction of The Hollow. Mrs Gardiner accosted him and demanded to know what he had done with Fanny, the man shrugged off her claims “Nothing, I gave the girls money, but only to buy sweets which I often do to children.” The two women remained unconvinced, but then the man told them that he was the clerk to a local solicitor, William Clement, deciding him to be respectable the women let him walk away.

A search party was formed, and they quickly came across Fanny’s remains. Her head was found stuck up on two poles, the eyes missing. It would take several days to find the rest of the body which was dismembered and scattered nearby, her eyes were later found in a nearby river (I said this was bleak…).

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Please Victorian newspapers, don’t feel like you should hold back…

That same night an investigation into the murder was launched and the obvious prime suspect Frederick Baker, Clerk to William Clement, was immediately arrested. Baker claimed his innocence, despite his clothes being bloodstained and being found carrying two bloody knives.

Evidence mounted. The entry in Baker’s dairy for the 24th August read: killed a young girl. It was fine and hot’. Bakers colleagues said that he was missing between 1pm-3pm (the time of Fanny’s disappearance) and left the offices again at 5pm (when he met Mrs Adams and Mrs Gardiner) returning at 6pm when he then mentioned the meeting with the two women and commented that if Fanny’s body were to be found it would be ‘awkward for him’ (truly a master criminal)

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The police feared that the local community would attempt to lynch Baker and his initial hearing and trial were carried out at top speed, with his trial starting at Alton Town Hall on Thursday 29th August, just days after the murder.

The judge urged the jury to take into account Baker’s poor mental health and consider Baker irresponsible for his action through reason of insanity- but the jury took just 15 minutes to convict him, Guilty. The judge had no choice but to carry out a sentence of death.

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Prior to his execution on Christmas Eve 1867, Baker wrote to the parents of Fanny Adams and asked for their forgiveness of his crimes that he had committed at: “an unguarded hour and not with malice or a forethought”

The murder of Fanny Adams resonated throughout the country, with the grotesque illustration and write ups of the murder featured across newspaper and broadsides. The murder would also become the subject of many a folk songs and ballad.

Then in 1869 the British Navy introduced a new ration, mutton in a tin. The food stuff was hardly appetizing and sailors started a running joke that the mutton was actually the remains of ‘sweet Fanny Adams’ (truly the height of humor…). These joke continued and soon the contents of the tin became to be known as ‘sweet FA’ this trickled into popular parlance and still today people say ‘sweet FA’ as another term for ‘nothing’. Nice.

I’m sorry, but I did say this one was bleak!

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Part 2 coming very soon, hopefully less child murder…

Contagious Diseases Act – The most vital chapter in women’s history you’ve never heard of

 

The Contagious Diseases Act (here by shortened to the CD Acts because as important as it is…it’s one hell of a mouthful) came about in part due to the rapid rise of prostitution in Victorian England. Prostitution was the fourth largest occupation for working women* and it grew along with the boom of the British Empire.

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This bombastic empire expansion led to thriving new trading routes and soon British sailors were bringing home ships chock full of tea, textiles and Venereal Disease. Yup you have to take the bad with the good and one of the prices for this exciting new empire? An exciting new STI! Sailors picked up VD from their travels and then spread it back in Britain when they arrived home after a long time at sea and in need of some company…

The disease spread quickly and became an epidemic. Parliament needed to do something to control the situation and fast! So in 1864 they covertly passed The Contagious Disease Bill.

The bill allowed for any person suspected of being a ‘common prostitute’ to be forced into submitting to an internal genital exam by a male doctor.

The law only pertained to women.

The examination was humiliating and painful. It would later be described as ‘surgical rape’. Countless female sex workers found themselves subject to this ordeal.

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The situation was further worsened as there didn’t need to be any evidence for a woman to be accused and therefore internally examined. This resulted in many women who were not sex workers having to undergo the examination- with both the accusation and their examination now public knowledge these women found their reputations destroyed – they became ‘ruined women’ and their chances for a hopeful future were vastly diminished.

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Parliament renewed the CD Acts in 1866 and again in 1869. Increasing the penalty for not submitting to a genital exam to 3-6 months in prison with the possibility of hard labour. This was later raised to 6-9 months to help the women ‘become clean’.

Throughout the acts frequent revisions hardly any of the public knew about it – though it effected 50% of the population, it remained a secret. That was all about to change.

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Elizabeth Wolstenholme

In 1869 a meeting about the bill was held Bristol’s Royal Hotel. At this meeting was Woman’s Suffrage Campaigner, Elizabeth Wolstenholme. She was shocked to hear about the CD acts, which had now been in effect for almost 5 years.

Elizabeth saw the CD acts as a violation of woman’s rights and made it her mission to raise public awareness. After leaving the meeting Elizabeth contacted her friend Josephine Butler and asked for her help. Butler was a social reformer and women’s rights campaigner who had previous experience working with and campaigning for the rights of women working as prostitutes.

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Josephine Butler

Butler and Wolstenholme toured the country giving speeches about the act- to say this is shocking would be a huge understatement, a woman talking openly in public about sex in the Victorian era was shocking and seen as deeply concerning. Yet the speeches worked. The women sparked something and people started talking and when people started talking they became outraged.

Soon Butler and Wolstenholme formed the Ladies National Association for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts (LNA for short) and in doing so arguably became two of the first publically known feminists. Though women before them had previously fought against slavery and war, this was the first time in British history that women were fighting for all women’s rights and women’s sexual rights at that.

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In 1869 the fledgling LNA published a petition with 124 signatures calling for a repeal of the CD acts. Two years later in 1871 they produced another petition calling for the repeal – when it was handed in to The House of Commons it had to be laid on the floor as there was not a table that was large enough to hold it. Groundbreaking doesn’t even cover it.

The LNA worked tirelessly over many years to end the CD acts, but that wasn’t all Butler and Wolstenholme did – in fact from the start of The Contagious Diseases Act to its end both women did an extraordinary amount:

  • 1865 – Elizabeth Wolstenholme along with 11 other women formed the Kensington Society, a discussion group which would lead to the birth of the suffrage movement in Britain.
  • 1867 – Josephine Butler becomes chair of The North of England Council for the Higher Education of Women. A council both women work on.
  • 1868 – Both Butler and Wolstenholme join the Married Women’s Property Committee which sought to allow wives the right to buy, own and sell property.
  • 1875 – Butler tours Europe, giving speeches about sexual rights for women. This creates the International Abolitionist Movement, a group whose aim was to prevent international trafficking and stop state regulation of the sex trade.
  • 1882 – Married Women’s Property Act allows married women to retain property following campaigning by both Butler and Wolstenholme.
  • 1885 – Josephine Butler succeeded in campaigning for the age of consent to be raised from 13-16, helping to lower the rate of child prostitution.
  • 1886 – Wolstenholme’s campaign to improve women’s right to custody following divorce succeeds with the Guardianship of Infants Act

In 1886 The Contagious Diseases Act is finally repealed.

 

*Though a reliable estimate of the actual amount of women working in this field does not exist, we can see that throughout the 1840’s and 50’s the number of women working in prostitution was rapidly growing.

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