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Old January 9th, 2017, 06:30 AM   #1
Nicole Sheerin
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Default Victorian Street Prostitutes

Hey everyone,

There was an estimated 80,000 prostitutes working in Victorian London and it was said you saw them openly plying their trade in almost every street.

But how did they easily distinguish between a streetwalker and just a woman on walking the street? Would it be through clothing such as gaudy colors, low necklines and shorter skirts as depicted in Victorian movies or would it be from subtle signals like red shawls or handkerchiefs (for instance all the ripper victims had something like a red shawl, handkerchief or necktie so is there something in this myth?).

What about the use of makeup? we know this had been a sign of prostitutes for centuries but its hard to tell if the women are powdered and rouged in old black and white photographs.

Iv added some photos of LVP photos of what I think could be street prostitutes or if not actual ones a more realistic view of what they would possibly look like (compared to the stereotypical movie version).

Please let me know your thoughts and if you have a photograph to share please do.
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File Type: jpg Homeless in park.jpg (201.5 KB, 35 views)
File Type: jpg Striped stockings.jpg (21.8 KB, 36 views)
File Type: jpg Vagrant.jpg (12.8 KB, 35 views)
File Type: jpg Woman in alley.jpg (194.0 KB, 35 views)
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Old January 9th, 2017, 03:36 PM   #2
Howard Brown
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Nicole:

Its a little tricky trying to pin down a definite 'look' to prostitutes.
For example, would we think, at first glance, that a woman walking down a street wearing an apron would be a female domestic or pross ?

In the Whitechapel Murders, we know, as one example, Eddowes wore one...and so did at least one of Neill Cream's poisoning victims, all of whom were prostitutes....just 3 years later, Ellen Donworth was described as having one on by two women by the names of Masters & May.

Donworth, unlike Eddowes, wasn't murdered while wearing one, but she did have it on when she met the psycho Cream.

Personally, I don't see much to distinguish between women on the game and those who didn't solicit in what they wore. In fact, it seems to me that the rank and file woman wore essentially standard issue garb. I will say that I recently posted an article ( might be in the Irish papers ) in which Stride was said to have not worn the typical ornaments prostitutes wore ( I'm guessing jewelry, maybe the cheap stuff, or beads) when her corpse was examined.
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Old January 9th, 2017, 06:43 PM   #3
Kattrup
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Hi Nicole


I answered this over on the other site, but here's some thoughts about the photos, based on Danish history:

The situation in Copenhagen was that 1874-1906 prostitution was semilegal, provided the woman was registered and underwent regular medical examination.

I believe a similar system was in effect in England with the Contagious Diseases Act.

Therefore, the photos of prostitutes at the time were not regular mugshots, taken after an arrest, but rather staged portraits of the women, who of course aimed to present themselves as well as possible. The clothes and hair etc. seen in the "official" photographs of brothel-based prostitutes cannot therefore be compared to the streetwalkers' attire, i.e. the preponderance of photos showing opulent and stylish prostitutes are a direct result of the womens' own self-advertising. (Duedahl et al, Forbrydelsens ansigt, 2013, pages 154-165).

A gallery of Copenhagen examples can be seen here: https://www.dr.dk/nyheder/kultur/his...ets-koebenhavn


And the Danish National Archives have put up a police phto albumdated 1880, with 242 photos of women either registered as prostitutes or suspected of being prostitutes. It's available here. (there's a slew of blank pages, but it picks up again around page 30).
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Old January 9th, 2017, 07:52 PM   #4
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Great find, Kattrup.....thanks very much !!
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Old January 9th, 2017, 08:39 PM   #5
Nicole Sheerin
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Iv added some mugshots of some prostitutes arrested for drunk and disorderly (early 1900s in Birmingham, I believe). Although its a little later than the 1880s the fashion had not changed a whole lot. I think this is a closer representation of the kind of prostitutes in Jack the ripper's Whitechapel.
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File Type: jpg Eliza.jpg (95.6 KB, 42 views)
File Type: jpg Elizabeth.jpg (128.0 KB, 42 views)
File Type: jpg No name.jpg (55.8 KB, 42 views)
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Old January 9th, 2017, 08:47 PM   #6
Nicole Sheerin
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kattrup View Post
Hi Nicole

I answered this over on the other site, but here's some thoughts about the photos, based on Danish history:

The situation in Copenhagen was that 1874-1906 prostitution was semilegal, provided the woman was registered and underwent regular medical examination.

I believe a similar system was in effect in England with the Contagious Diseases Act.

Therefore, the photos of prostitutes at the time were not regular mugshots, taken after an arrest, but rather staged portraits of the women, who of course aimed to present themselves as well as possible. The clothes and hair etc. seen in the "official" photographs of brothel-based prostitutes cannot therefore be compared to the streetwalkers' attire, i.e. the preponderance of photos showing opulent and stylish prostitutes are a direct result of the womens' own self-advertising.

Hello Kattrup, that was a nice find I found it very interesting, thank you. In regards to photographs of prostitutes being brothel advertisements, not all were. Some of them were of high class ladies working in luxury establishments but you easily spot this by their dress and surroundings. But, there were other prostitutes who doubled as low class 'pose models' for photographers (usually dabbled in pornography aswell) and of course there are lots of photographers who focused on the east end and 'unfortunates', For example Jack London and his 'people of the abyss' work, so Im sure they would have photographed the prostitutes aswell.
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Old January 9th, 2017, 10:32 PM   #7
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It's an interesting question. I know there have been certain colours or styles of clothing that have been used as signals, but these women were desperately poor, so it seems likely that they wouldn't necessarily have money to spare for makeup or special items of clothing, right? But it may boil down to something as basic as body language. A woman who is walking with her eyes straight ahead and with a brisk stride, seeming to be purposeful and not interested in dallying, would project a different attitude than one who is strolling or using more suggestive gestures towards the men she is hoping to entice. And of course, they could also be calling out to the men they are viewing as prospective customers. If a man saw two women, one of whom walked past him without speaking and one who paused and asked if he was interested in some company, I think he'd be more apt to see her as a prostitute as opposed to the first woman. (And then there's the sad fact that for a lot of women in that time and place, the possible avenues of financial support were pretty limited, and a *lot* of women would have been forced to fall back on prostitution from time to time just from sheer desperation.)

I ought to see if I can find a book about prostitution in the Victorian era, because you have me interested in reading more about that.
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Old January 9th, 2017, 11:49 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nicole Sheerin View Post
Hey everyone,

There was an estimated 80,000 prostitutes working in Victorian London and it was said you saw them openly plying their trade in almost every street. . .
Hello Nicole

Many thanks for your worthwhile contributions. I would challenge the notion that Victorian London saw prostitutes "openly plying their trade in almost every street." Rather, I believe it was more that, just as today, certain districts would be known for prostitutes plying their trade.

Best regards

Chris
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Old January 10th, 2017, 01:55 AM   #9
Nicole Sheerin
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Originally Posted by Lene Colbert View Post
It's an interesting question. I know there have been certain colors or styles of clothing that have been used as signals, but these women were desperately poor, so it seems likely that they wouldn't necessarily have money to spare for makeup or special items of clothing, right?
Well not necessarily. If prostitution was their main form of income then surely that would play some part in the clothes they did wear (even if they were 2nd/3rd/4th hand clothing). Mary Kelly (as alot of the girls) were low class but not necessarily destitute. She had her own place and was young, known to be clean, attractive looking and she dressed well. A constable stated "she always wore a splotless white apron" and we know from the photograph of her crime scene that she owned some sort of wash tub, so she clearly took pride in her appearance. I doubt she would have struggled finding men to pay her. Cosmetics and 2nd/3rd hand clothing were not as expensive as we think and 'successful' street prostitutes would see these as a necessary for their business, the better you look the more you can charge. Its easy to assume all streetwalkers were destitute victims surviving night to night but its not the case. Compared to manual labor jobs (workhouse, factory, hawking, ect) prostitution would have seemed an easier and more profitable way of working and its why so many young women chose to do it.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Lene Colbert View Post
I ought to see if I can find a book about prostitution in the Victorian era, because you have me interested in reading more about that.
I have a collection of books regarding this subject, my recommendation would be 'The London Underworld - Authentic first-person accounts by beggars, thieves & prostitutes' by Henry Mayhew. Its written by a Victorian journalist who went around the east end and interviewed its inhabitants, it has alot of information on the different forms of prostitution back then aswell as interviews with prostitutes.
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Old January 10th, 2017, 02:02 AM   #10
Nicole Sheerin
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Originally Posted by Chris G. View Post
Hello Nicole

Many thanks for your worthwhile contributions. I would challenge the notion that Victorian London saw prostitutes "openly plying their trade in almost every street." Rather, I believe it was more that, just as today, certain districts would be known for prostitutes plying their trade.

Best regards

Chris

Hey Chris,

Maybe not on every street but certainly on every major street, in most of the markets, most pubs, all along the waterloo, all around the theaters and parks of the west end. The east end was a free for all. Yes there would have been more infamous 'pick-up' areas but rather than a certain street or two, just as today, it was widespread throughout that area. Thats just the street walkers, brothels were to be found in abundance everywhere, some streets even had several. High class girls and courtesans would be found in most of the elite entertainment establishments (casinos, restaurants, theatres, ect). Today prostitution is largely managed by the police but back then it was so rampant they were struggling to deal with it.
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