Monday, October 13, 2008

Park Women, or Those Who Frequent The Parks at Night And Other Retired Places

(From the book "London's Underworld", a 19th-century expose on London's seedier side; my current bedside reading)

"Park women, properly so called, are those degraded creatures, utterly lost to all sense of shame, who wander about the paths most frequented after nightfall in the Parks, and consent to any species of humiliation for the sake of acquiring a few shillings. You may meet them in Hyde Park, between the hours of five and ten (till the gates are closed) in winter. In the Green Park, in what is called The Mall, which is a nocturnal thoroughfare, you may see these low wretches walking about sometimes with men, more generally alone, often early in the morning. They are to be seen reclining on the benches placed under the trees, originally intended, no doubt, for a different purpose, occasionally with the head of a drunken man reposing in their lap. These women are well known to give themselves up to disgusting practices, that are alone gratifying to men of morbid and diseased imaginations. They are old, unsound, and by their appearance utterly incapacitated from practising their profession where the gas-lamps would expose the defects in their personal appearance, and the shabbiness of their ancient and dilapidated attire. ... The unfortunate women that form this despicable class have in some cases been well off, and have been reduced to their present condition by a variety of circumstances, among which are intemperance, and the vicissitudes natural to their vocation."

Seriously, the whole book is like that. It's hilarious. Here's part 1 of the table of contents (the portion dealing with prostitution):

Prostitution in London
General Remarks
Seclusives, or those that live in private houses and apartments
The prostitutes of the Haymarket
Board Lodgers
Those who live in low lodging houses
Sailors' women
Soldiers' women
Thieves' women
Park Women
The Dependents of Prostitutes
Followers of Dress Lodgers
Keepers of accommodation houses
Procuresses, Pimps, and Panderrs
Clandestine Prostitutes
Female Operatives
Ladies of Intrigue and Houses of Assignation
Cohabitant Prostitutes
Criminal Returns
Traffic in Foreign Women

Next time: Thieves!


Mehndimama said...

wow, it's like reading some of the manuals on education from the women's college I attended. Did you know that the steps on the grounds of Smith are 1/2 the height of normal steps for fear that us bouncing up and down them to and from class would somehow hurt our uteruses (uteri?)

Dave Y said...

Oh, I should mention that his definition of 'prostitute' actually includes any woman who has any sexual contact with any man she isn't presently married to. So, like, Flower Seller girl who lives with a dude? Prostitute. Girl who isn't allowed to marry the soldier she loves because he's not an officer, but who follows him on all his deployments? Yup, prostitute. So the number of 'prostitutes' in London being 80,000 out of a million people isn't as shocking a number as it was to begin with.

Also, awesome story about the steps, Kara. Can you be sure it isn't to keep boys from hanging about to watch girls bouncing down the steps?