Victorian Ladies of The Night, Prostitution: According to the Lancet Medical Journal of 1887, it was estimated that there were around 80,000 prostitutes in London which is 3% of the total population of 2,360,000.
It was only in nineteenth-century that prostitution was termed as social evil. However, the period between mid-1700 up to late 1800 is said to be the golden years of prostitution in London. They were termed as the ladies of the night.
Prostitution in the Victorian Era
History books and novels written during the Victorian era portray a sophisticated and classy society, but in reality, there were more brothels than schools in London during this time.
Prostitutes were considered “fallen women” because it was believed that women of the society would never opt to become a prostitute. However, the profession was legal and in some section, it was even encouraged.
It was believed that men needed an outlet for their sexual desires which they had to keep suppressed in their daily life. On the other hand, it gave a way to earn for women who would never have earned otherwise.
Career Options for Women
The career options available for women in the Victorian era was low paid and most of them had dangerous working conditions. There were vendors on the street who mostly helped their husbands, shop girls, factory workers and some of the lucky ones could become a household servant in the house of a Lord or a Lady.
Even some educated women who learned high-level skills like typing and shorthand could not earn enough to raise their children in the absence of their husbands.
Prostitution was the only profession in which women were paid high, in cash and working hours were shorter as well. She was not forced to stay dependant on her husband and if the lady was beautiful, she could earn for total financial independence also.
Three Levels of Prostitutes
Although all prostitutes were supposed to do the same kind of work, there were three levels that women could fall into in societies of the eighteenth century.
Lowest Class Prostitutes
This was the class where women were forced to sleep with the men the Madame selected for them. The working and living conditions were also poor.
Middle-class prostitutes were independent and had their own apartments and streetwalkers as well. They had the leverage of choosing their own clients and no Madame was there to take the huge percentage of profit. They did not get the protection of brothel community or medical examination which was available on-site.
The highest class of prostitutes were those who were very beautiful and worked for high society men like aristocrats and members of parliament. Many worked for single men and these courtesans often needed up marrying their benefactors.
Apart from this, many married women, especially of street vendors, worked as prostitutes as their side income. Some of these women readily agreed to the work, while for some their husbands worked as the pimp. Also, many single working women would work as a casual prostitute to supplement their low income.
Child Prostitute – legal in the Victorian era
The age of consent during the Victorian era was 13 years. Child labor was common during those days.
Middle-class people even sold their children as commodities to get some income for the family.
Men during Victorian era also had varying sexual desires which they couldn’t express in the confines of marriage because women at that time were not encouraged to be sexual at all and sex was reserved for having children.
So, a variety of brothels worked on different themes and were ready to fulfill the kinky fantasies of their customers. Virgin girls were highly expensive and only wealthy men could afford them.
Education For Prostitutes
One of the amazing facts of prostitutes of 1800s was that they were educated. They actually received a formal education from governesses. In fact, high-class girls were sent to learn some social skills, etiquettes, learned to draw, dance, play the piano as these made them attractive for marriage.
However, they were not taught any skill that would help them earn money. Many middle and high-class women did not know to read and write which the prostitutes took advantage of showing themselves off as more knowledgeable and cultured in front of the world around them.
Victorian Ladies of The Night, Prostitution
Although prostitution was legal, arrests were made because of gathering in the streets and public drunkenness. The prostitutes were sent to jail or reformatories which were designed to rehabilitate fallen women.
These were often run by religious groups and had strict rules. The women there were prepared to seek forgiveness from God for their sins and had to follow a strict routine accompanied by hard labor.
However, Charles Dickens wrote about these fallen women as victims of circumstances which made people sympathize with them on a human level.