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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 4: The London Lock Hospital and the Contagious Diseases Acts: Reports and Accounts


← 80 | 81 → CHAPTER 4

The years before the passing of the Contagious Diseases Acts were a period of change both for the Hospital and society, and a premonition of the turmoil and social uproar of the forthcoming decades. The sentimentalism that pervaded the first decades of the nineteenth century concerning the figure of the prostitute and fallen woman gave way to other considerations. The notion that a woman’s sexual fall should be attributed to masculine depravity began to lose preponderance, although the idea of seduction was ever present in the discourses of Magdalenism that impregnated the rescue work of the middle decades of the century.1 However, connections between health and disease, morality and immorality were further established and the power relations between men and women concerning their sexuality were similarly upheld by the medical and religious discourses that became essential by the middle of the century. The functioning of Institutions like the London Lock was an example of the Foucauldian idea of power as both “regulatory and productive” in terms of “bodies, pleasures and desires”, that is, in terms of knowledge.2

With the passing of the Public Health Act of 1848 and the creation of the General Board of Health, a turn in the medical and moral policies concerning the regulation of sexuality gathered pace. Immorality was identified with working-class life and with uncontrollable behaviour that could spread to the rest of the “decent” remainder of the population. In the 1840s, ← 81 | 82 → sexual depravity was...

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