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The London Lock Hospital in the Nineteenth Century

Gender, Sexuality and Social Reform

Maria Isabel Romero Ruiz

Based on archival research, this volume is concerned with the treatment of «fallen women» and prostitutes at the London Lock Hospital and Asylum throughout the nineteenth century. As venereally-diseased women, they were treated in the hospital for their physical ailments; those considered ripe for reform were secluded in the asylum for a moral cure. The author analyses the social and cultural implications arising from the situation of these female inmates at a time when women’s sexuality was widely debated, using a gender-informed and postmodernist approach.
The volume covers notions of purity and deviancy, issues of gender and sexual identity, the social and cultural issues connected with so-called fallen women and prostitutes, and descriptions of venereal disease and treatments for women patients at the time. The Contagious Diseases Acts and their impact are examined, as are the social and cultural implications of the creation of specialised hospitals and places of moral confinement. The book provides a complete picture of the Lock Hospital and Asylum and is an important contribution to the history of hospitals in the Victorian period.
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CHAPTER 2: Fallen Women, Prostitutes and the Treatment of Venereal Disease in the Nineteenth Century


← 24 | 25 → CHAPTER 2

To understand the operations of the London Lock Hospital and Asylum and other similar institutions in the nineteenth century, it is necessary to analyse various aspects connected with women’s sexuality and behaviour. According to the ideology of the double spheres, women were identified with the private domain of home and the family as wives and mothers, or unmarried dependants; men, on the other hand, were associated with the public sphere of paid work, politics, and business, and with economic and legal responsibility for their wives and children. Women were dependant, inferior and subordinate to men. As June Purvis states:

The influence of middle-class domestic ideology in Victorian society helped to create and maintain gender stereotypes. Thus, femininity became identified with domesticity, service to others, subordination and weakness, while masculinity was associated with life in the competitive world of paid work, strength and domination.1

Idealised femininity was asexual and chaste. Women were supposed not to know anything about sex before marriage, and they represented the moral strength that contained men’s sexual impulse. In other words, and following the double standard model, unchastity, that is, premarital or extramarital sex, was acceptable in men but unpardonable in women, who could fall into serious disgrace. Once married, women were expected to look the other way regarding their husbands’ promiscuous sexual life outside marriage; similarly, sex with their husbands was considered as a woman’s duty for the ← 25 | 26 → act of procreation.2 Woman’s nature was...

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