Slumming In Whitechapel

Belva Ann Bennett Lockwood (1830 – 1917), was a tireless campaigner for the rights of women, and was one the first female lawyers in America.

She was a teacher, an author, a journalist, a temperance campaigner and a politician, and, as if all that wasn’t impressive enough, she also holds the distinction of being the first woman to run for the office of President of the United States, running in the Presidential elections of 1884 and 1888.

A portrait photograph of Belva Lockwood.
Belva Ann Lockwood.


In 1889, she paid a visit to London, and during her time here, she paid a visit to Whitechapel to see, first hand, the streets of the East End where the Jack the Ripper murders had occurred the previous year.

She subsequently wrote an article about what she had seen, and this article was reprinted by several English newspapers, amongst them  The Wigton Advertiser, which reproduced her report on her experiences in the following article that appeared on Saturday, 24th August, 1889:-


“Mrs. Belva A. Lockwood, the American lady lawyer, has been slumming in East London.

She writes to Galigani:-

“I rode down the other day to see if the Whitechapel district were half as bad as painted.

It lies just outside of the Old City of London, about one mile from St. Paul’s Cathedral, and ten minutes’ walk perhaps from the Bank of England, the Manion House, and the Royal Exchange.

Going through the main thoroughfare of this locality, where coaches and trams pass every few minutes, you see nothing except that the locality is a poorer one; and for a little while, I was disposed to think that matters had been misrepresented.


I went into the White Chapel itself, as the doors were invitingly open, as they are on certain afternoons for prayer, and found a spacious edifice capable of seating a thousand persons, with stained glass windows, a beautifully carved marble pulpit, an inlaid floor, cushioned seats, and each one supplied with kneeling stools, Bible, hymn book and prayer book, and the whole place clean and sanctified.

No sound disturbed the stillness.

I asked the beadle, who seemed when I entered to be in meditation or prayer, where the locality was in which the murders had been committed, and he told me to walk two blocks below and to turn to the left.


I crossed the street and turned to the right, going through street after street, all of them dark and dingy and each one swarming with children who seemed to come out of the doorways, the cellars, and the alleys, with, here and there, idle women and men, and occasionally someone who seemed to be attending to the ordinary duties of life.

A few shopkeepers and hucksters were plying their trade.

A view of St Mary's Church, Whitechapel.
Looking South Towards St Mary’s Church Through Green Dragon Yard.


Suddenly the street was impeded so as to be impassable, by a general neighbourhood row.

I do not know what it was about, but think it was between a man and his wife, in which the other inhabitants of the miserable tenement joined.

There was a great deal of talking and gesticulation, above the din of which a woman’s voice was constantly heard.

Finally, a woman with a babe in her arm escaped from the crowd and took refuge in the adjoining house.

Then, a man raised his fist and dealt the talkative woman, who was constantly being egged on by a woman in the next doorway, a blow in the face, from which she bled freely but still continued to talk.

As though infuriated by the sight of blood, the man rushed through the crowd and knocked a man down.


For a moment, the row seemed to be general, and I thought somebody would be killed, when an undertaker, who had been waiting on the other side, drove through the crowd, separating the combatants.

Then, a policeman appeared.

I said to him, “Sir,  you should have come before.”

He remarked, “Oh! madam, this is a matter of hourly occurrence. I have just taken two men from this locality to the station!”


Sick of this brutal picture I turned my steps back to Whitechapel, going this time through a square below the main street on the left.

Returning, I beheld the garden gate around behind the chapel open, and walked in.

Here I found a yard full of poor children, ragged and dirty, some of them minding babies, while disfigured and distorted men and women were resting or sleeping on the seats.


Seeing another gate open I passed on into another garden ornamented with fragrant flowers, with comfortable seats and shady bowers.

There were no children but it was a veritable lazar house of pestilence and death.

Vagabond men and women, whose countenances betrayed their calling, were sitting or lying in every available spot, trying to sleep off the potions and the dissipation of the night before.”