Prostitution in Victorian England

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Judith Walkowitz’s book Prostitution and Victorian Society: Women, Class, and the State, deals with the social and economic impact that prostitution had on English society in the mid to late 19th century. Throughout her piece Walkowitz illustrates the plight of women who are in the prostitution field and that are working the streets throughout England. She starts with the background of most of the prostitutes in Victorian England then talks about the Contagious Disease Act in 1864 that attempted to curb the venereal diseases being spread by prostitutes. Walkowitz also discusses two specific cities in England that prostitution was a ‘social evil’, Southampton and Plymouth, where the repeal campaigns were successful.

Most of the women who turned to prostitution in England in the mid to late 19th century did so for economic reasons. Women, mostly single women, were excluded from many industrial jobs in factories because these jobs were typically given only to men. Frustrated with women mostly as domestic services for low pay, women became prostitutes to supplement their income and to make ends meet for them. The average age of women entering into prostitution was sixteen because by this time they were out of their parent’s house and were forced to fend for themselves. They were also mostly working class women, not of the middle-class, and worked mostly in working class towns, commercial ports, or in leisure towns.

In response to the growing problem of prostitution the government passed the Contagious Diseases Acts in 1864. This Act, referred to Walkowitz as the C.D., was passed by the Parliament to attempt to curb the transmission of venereal diseases to soldiers and sailors in the English armed forces. Many enlisted men would frequent the prostitutes and would catch a venereal disease, mostly syphilis or gonorrhea which could have drastic effects on their military careers. The act allowed police to place women suspected of prostitution under arrest. These...
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