Harbouring Harlots: The Role of the Magdalen and Misericordia Hospitals in Preserving Britain’s Empire

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Issue Date
2013-04-20
Authors
Nolan, Emily
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Abstract
This presentation examines how elites viewed prostitutes in eighteenth-century London. Much of the existing scholarship pertains particularly to the policing of London’s sex trade industry or lack thereof. However, there has been little examination of the way in which a prostitute’s age and social standing prior to her induction into the sex trade impacted the way in which she was viewed by English society. Scholarly neglect of such factors has impeded historians’ ability to account for why, there was not a noticeable reduction in the number of prostitutes in London despite widespread support for costly philanthropic projects, such as Magdalen and Misericordia Hospitals, which aimed to morally reform and physical rehabilitate London’s fallen women. This presentation will demonstrate that these philanthropic projects only intended to reform seduced young maidens from the upper echelons of English society. The founders and the benefactors of these projects did not however seek to eliminate the prostitution industry from London entirely. The reformation of these fallen women was so enthusiastically supported because it would ensure the moral stability of the empire, as these women were expected to become the mothers of England’s future leaders. Whereas prostitutes seasoned by years of experience represented a necessary evil in society in that, their existence prevented men from turning to dissolute means, such as rape or sodomy to vent their sexual frustrations.
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