Meeting of Ladies
March 10, 1870 —Women’s Meeting, Lecture Theatre, the Midland Institute, Birmingham, England
It is generally said that prostitutes are lost to shame. Many years’ experience has shown me that every variety of character exists among them. There are those of fourteen or fifteen years of age, comparatively innocent, sold into slavery — poor children, who know but little of evil. Then there are women of splendid character, of shrewd intellect, who would have done credit to any class of society, who have been betrayed in the madness of sorrow for some disappointed affection. For the police to register these as public prostitutes, would drive them to insanity. There are also poor girls almost sunk in idiotcy, born of generations of drunkards, with no chance for them but evil courses. I have spoken to these poor idiotic girls; I knew one, and convinced her that I loved her. The poor stupid girl did not speak, but she bent forward and kissed me. Some may feel shocked at this familiarity, but I assure you I felt that kiss more than I should have done the greeting of many well-to-do people. What are these poor idiots to do? They have no facility for work, they can neither read nor write, there seems nothing for them but sin, unless the Spirit of God works on their hearts. I have seen great multitudes of prostitutes; they possess generosity and a readiness to respond to kindness. 1 have a number of presents given me from those in the haunts of sin. One of the worst girls from the streets of Liverpool, who used to fight in the docks, saw in a print shop window a picture of the Crucifixion; she seized her companion’s arm, gave a great scream, and rushing on in a passion of grief, dashed her head against a wall. I met with her in the hospital. She said, “Oh! that face, that face,” referring to the tenderness and compassion expressed in the countenance of our Lord. And these are the people who are to be put under the espionage of the police. The women who have been under the operation of this Act it seems too late to attempt to recover. In garrison towns there is a hardness among them not found in Liverpool. They call themselves ‘The Queen’s women.’ Their custom is much increased; they walk in silks and satins, and assume an arrogant manner. A missionary agent who lately visited some of them said that the last rays of conscience seemed to have been extinguished. When warned of the sin in which they were living they seemed surprised, and answered, “O! it is quite different now: we don’t need to be ashamed.” This agrees with what Mr. Berkeley Hill said of them, in those awful words of his: “Some of them have known no other condition than this law, and would sorely feel any change.” What a terrible thing, by legalising sin, to drown souls in perdition like this! These poor souls feel themselves the protected pets of the officials so long as they are perfectly obedient to the rules, and profoundly civil to the doctors by whom they are periodically outraged.
This is very suggestive and instructing. So, also, is the following —
What suggestions do we make to meet the evil? These require much thought and prayer; we must strike at the root; the remedies are many. The laws against seduction need alteration. The seducer is generally older and superior in social station to the girl seduced. A slave trade is carried on in London! Girls of twelve years of age are bought and sold, and lodged in houses of ill-fame. These houses should be put down; but there is immense opposition to encounter, though darker and more horrible scenes would be brought to light than we can imagine. I cannot conceive how the blessing of God can rest on this country while such enormities exist. There is an objection to borrowing hints from the Scotch, but they are in advance of us in one respect — they have a public prosecutor in every town. Any one assaulted — child or woman — can have justice. Many women are quite unable to bear the expense of prosecuting. A public prosecutor prosecutes in the interest of justice and public morals, free from private motives; and men of the highest character are appointed for this office. In conclusion, Mrs. Butler spoke of the many complaints that are made by mistresses against domestic servants, and said, the responsibility of mistresses is not sufficiently considered. She said, my own rules are to treat them as children in the family, to give them protection, not to be too strict, and to err rather on the side of kind treatment, and not to discourage an honourable suitor; and most of my servants have married respectably — indeed that has been the only cause of their leaving me.
Source: Shield, 28 March, 1870), p. 32.