By the time of the Jack the Ripper murders, the problem of prostitution on the streets of London had been highlighted by several high profile cases that had received an awful lot of media coverage.
In June and July of 1887, a young lady by the name of Miss Cass was arrested on Regent Street for soliciting men. Although the case against her was dismissed by the presiding magistrate, he did suggest that no respectable woman should be seen out on Regent Street at night.
This lead to a huge backlash against the police, and the magistrate, both in the newspapers and in Parliament, and the Miss Cass case became the cause celebre of July 1887.
Victorian society was very much divided on the issue.
However, the case did lead to a glut of correspondence from letter writers, who bombarded the newspapers with missives opining on the issue of prostitution, and, in many cases, calling for the men who went out in search of prostitutes to be dealt with as harshly, if not more harshly, than the prostitutes.
HOW LADIES FARE IN THE STREETS OF LONDON
On Thursday, July 21st 1887, The Pall Mall Gazette published a letter from the Reverend Haweis, in which he complained that respectable women could not walk along many busy London thoroughfares without being solicited by men:-
“We have received a number of letters from correspondents of both sexes as to the molestation of modest women in the streets of London. We reserve the letters defending the practice for the present.
The following are a fair sample of the correspondence on the other side.
A SUGGESTION BY THE REV. H. R. HAWEIS
We now know that public opinion – newspaper public opinion, I mean – can move when parliaments and law courts are, in the words of the prophet Isaiah all “dumb dogs.”
“Le monsieur qui suit les dames” is undoubtedly about to have a rough time of it, for you have at last got on his scent, and you mean to fasten your fangs in his agile calves and to see that his footsteps slip not until they bring him, like a very Judas of the period as he is, to his own place – the police cell.
You have opened your columns to the poor hunted ladies of London. You will soon have to close them. Your paper would become monotonous, you might easily fill the Pall Mall Gazette with nothing else for months.
A young lady writes to me this morning, “I went for a walk yesterday, and had to take refuge in a friendly hansom from a rude brute of a man. On coming home I found the Pall Mall Gazette, with the street experiences of three ladies, which seem rather mild; I think I must send them mine.
Being a coward, the fright of being chased and insulted makes me quite ill, apart from people seeing it all. One feels shamed to speak of these things.”
ARREST AND CONVICT THE MEN
Just so; but there is no other way, and now the murder is out, it becomes a public duty to arrest, convict, and execute some of the criminals. About’ another week of your street revelations will do; the air is already quite electric.
The arrest of a man in Regent-street would, I believe, at this moment be received with acclamation; for we have now come to such a pass as this – that a young girl cannot stand aside at a railway station while papa takes tickets, nor a girt lead her blind relative through the streets, nor can a married woman go twenty paces in a London thoroughfare without the risk of insult or even assault.
Why, Sir, the Englishman of A.D. 680 was a more decent creature than your nineteenth century Londoner.
The astonished foreigner, whom we regard as the corrupter of our morals, must no longer be able to point to his boulevards and Elysian Fields as chaste and spotless resorts when compared with our Oxford-street and Piccadilly.
NOT SAFE FOR WOMEN
The growing misery of the situation has, at last, overcome the reticence of modest women; they have told us now – are telling us with an anguish we ought to pity, and with blushes that every father, husband, and brother should respect – what the state of our streets is for them, not after dark but in broad daylight; yes, while we are at our desks or on ‘change – too busy, mayhap, to think about them and their shopping and their enforced strolls.
And now, Sir, since the time for action has clearly arrived, a blow must be struck, and I venture to say that one or two blows would be quite enough.
THREE THINGS NEEDED
But for this, three things’ are needed – example, enterprise, combination.
By example, I mean that a woman hunter must be stopped.
By enterprise, I mean some young woman above suspicion must serve herself to give a man in charge: she must walk on quietly after distinctly declining advances, pounce on a policeman, and cause an arrest. This is a very difficult thing to do; it requires skill, coolness, and courage; it cannot be done without the utmost alacrity and co-operation on the part of the police. It should be attempted by some lady who knows by experience that she is going to be followed and has taken a policeman into her confidence, with the understanding that he will act, and act promptly.
Therefore, I say that combination is indispensable.
INSTRUCT THE POLICE
The Police in certain noted thoroughfares should have special instructions. The magistrates must be now alive to the crisis, and ladies who must go alone (and there are plenty of them in London), and are sure to be molested, should be placed under something like individual protection, until a few desirable arrests have been made.
The whole thing should not take a week if systematically attempted.
At present, it is clear the police will not act promptly against a well-dressed man; they have received no instructions, they have not been encouraged by public opinion, and they fear, in view of brother Endacott, the consequences of a mistake.
But these obstacles are very superable – they even disappear on close approach.
POSSIBILITY OF BLACKMAIL
The only formidable mistake which might be dreaded is the blackmailing of gentlemen by prostitutes who might pose as unprotected females; but such an attempt would be utterly abortive, the essence of the case turning on the demonstrated respectability of the woman who promotes the arrest. A disreputable female may blackmail a gentleman in a variety of ways, but not in that way. She has not the sine quit non for success – proven respectability.
The less this question is mixed up with related ones, the better -people who wish to make appointments in the streets will make them.
In England, at least, no one’s liberty can legally be interfered with until it interferes with someone else’s. The sheep and the goats will be allowed to walk the same streets at the same hours, but public decency should be respected, and private liberty protected – that is good law and that is good morals.
At present policemen and magistrates are in the passive mood, and neglect the law – while “oiled and curled Assyrian bulls,” Minotaurs, and Dandy-Devils are very much in the active mood – and publicly defy morals – how long?
Please God, the crack of doom wilt come before another week is over. Name, address, photo of the “gentleman” in the Pall Mall Gazette, and another victory for all good women.”
The Reverend Haweis’s letter met with mixed reactions.
Many men wrote in to agree with him, and gave examples of how their wives, daughters and female acquaintances had been openly solicited on the streets of London.
However, others wrote in to disagree with the moralistic stance taken by the Reverend gentleman.
One such dissenter’s letter was published in The Pall Mall Gazette on Saturday, 30th July, 1887:-
BY AN OBSERVER IN MAYFAIR
“The Rev. Mr. Haweis, who divides women into “ladies” and “females”, writes in the interest of the former, whom he, apparently from his experience, finds to be dangerously unprotected in the London streets.
My experience is exactly the reserve of his.
“Ladies” seem to me to require no protection at all, and are perfectly able to take care of themselves, whereas “females” are harried every day by their brethren in police attire and otherwise.
It would be very interesting to have the pictures of all the modest and refined-looking ladies who complain of molestation published in your columns.
A PENAL OFFENCE
Mr. Haweis would apparently make it a penal offence for a young man to look at a pretty girl. But Mr. Haweis’s ideas of morality were always peculiar.
I remember hearing of an impromptu utterance of Mr. Henry Sidgwick’s, when – not long after the publication of “Music and Morals” – he was introduced to one of Mr. Haweis’s little children.
As far as I recollect, it ran, as follows.
Little baby boy,
Sucking at your corals.
Papa will teach you music.
But who will teach you morals?
MY WIFE HAS NOT COMPLAINED
I have been married seven or eight years, and my wife – who is not, I am told, unattractive, and who is not yet five and twenty – has walked through the crowded London streets without even meeting with any gentleman kind enough to offer to carry her parcels.
THE DUCHESS OF LEINSTER
Not long ago, I met in Piccadilly the young Duchess of Leinster and her sister, quietly dressed, walking together. I doubt whether in all Europe two more striking or beautiful women could be found. I have no doubt that they were a good deal “stared ” at. Indeed, everyone, from the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster to a butcher boy, would have turned round to have another look at them. But I should be very much surprised to hear that they were “molested.”
SHOULD MEN COVER THEIR FACES?
The fact is that “to the pure all things are pure” even the gaze of mankind.
Pray, do not allow public attention to be diverted from the monstrous iniquity underlying the assault upon Miss Cass by the unhealthy complaints of ladies for whose woes no adequate remedies will be found until men go about with their heads enveloped in yashmaks.”