The Jack the Ripper murders impacted on Victorian society in several ways. As far as some of the wealthier citizens who lived in the west of London were concerned he was the embodiment of all the fears and prejudices they held about the East End of London. He terrified them because he came to symbolise the the threat that they perceived the East End to be.
If the ripper could cross the boundary that separated the crime-ridden and poverty-stricken east, they reasoned, then so too could the vast underclass that dwelt in the area and, in so doing, they might spark of the English revolution that many middle and upper class citizens were convinced was inevitable.
But in some respects the ripper murders served as a force for change. The fact that this particular set of murders generated a huge amount of press coverage that, in turn, led to a massive surge in public interest, meant that many journalists entered the area to cover the murders and were confronted by the horrific social conditions in some of the Victorian Metropolis’s worst slums.
Reporting back to their readers on the conditions they encountered, some these journalists began calling for change, and several newspapers began focussing public attention on the efforts of the philanthropists who were battling to improve the living conditions of the poor of Whitechapel and Spitalfields.
It is almost certain that several of the changes that took place in the area over the next ten years came about as a direct results of the attention that the Jack the Ripper murders attracted.
George Bernard Shaw even went so far as to suggest, albeit very tongue in cheek, that this was the reason that the murders were committed, to attract attention to the area and bring about social change.
Of course, many suspects have been put forward, and will continue to be put forward. But Shaw’s suggestion that Jack the Ripper’s was a social reformer has to be one of the more intriguing!