“The great army of impure women”


Another instalment in the Ladies’ Handbook series! The initial post is here.

This instalment is part three of Chapter IV, “Sex Physiology and Hygiene”. (Part One, Part Two.)

This passage is quite dense with meaning, but a few things I picked out:

* Race. The author is concerned purely with the “White Slave Traffic”. Other prostitutes are “ruined”, white prostitutes are just “thoughtless young girls”.

* Homes are seen as safe havens, with sexual dangers only existing when girls venture outside to work.

* The book is perhaps a little revolutionary in that it advocates protective behaviours – but in a very sex-negative, virgin/whore, paternalistic way. Knowledge is defined as “how to stay ‘pure'”; the restriction of girls’ freedom is seen as the only way to protect them.

* There is a whole lot of magical thinking about knowledge being a shield against exploitation and rape. If only mothers would teach their daughters correctly, all of this would go away. The corollary, of course, is that mothers only have themselves to blame if things do not go as planned.

* Girls are warned not to become slaves and “impure”; boys are warned about STDs and offered Sir Galahad status should they stay “pure”. The ultimate cookie!

* Gender roles: girls’ options seem to be to go into domestic service or business; boys into school or business.

What do you notice?


The great army of impure women known as prostitutes is made up largely of persons who were ruined at an early age; but its ranks are also constantly recruited with just such thoughtless young girls who have not been warned by their mothers. It is the ensnaring and enslaving of these young girls and children which constitutes the White Slave Traffic. And this traffic can only continue, prostitution can only exist, so long as it is supplied with girls and children who have been ruined at a tender age.

This will be better understood when it is known that of the women who prostitute their bodies to earn bread, less than one-fifth have willingly chosen this life. The other four-fifths have been forced to lead impure lives by poverty and destitution, or have been betrayed, enticed, or sold into the traffic. So let mothers do their duty by their daughters, and let the girls be instructed, warned, and protected by knowledge as well as by the strong arm of the law – which, unfortunately, at present is but a poor protector of defenceless women and young girls, who appear to be accounted the fair play of shrewd, unprincipled men.

A few words further may help mothers to understand the true situation. The organised traffic in girls, which exists in the interests of vice, employs many agents, or procurers, who make it their business to decoy young girls. These girls are afterwards sold into dives, or houses of prostitution, where they become prisoners and slaves in very truth.

The methods by which girls are trapped are numerous. They include promises of employment, deceptive messages, invitations, and even marriage ceremonies. No device is too mean to be employed by the conscienceless procurers; and the laws of many countries actually help and in a way protect the criminals engaged in this business.

For example, the English law is such, or was until a year or two ago, that girls over sixteen years of age who had neither property nor rank could be decoyed and sold into this traffic without such action constituting a crime. Worse than this, orphans even under sixteen years of age could be decoyed in like manner. For such orphans there was no legal protection whatever. Conditions are such in some cities that this enslavement of and traffic in young girls is regarded as legitimate business by at least some of the authorities. Out of such conditions has arisen the need to teach young girls and even children how to take care of themselves.

Of the ordinary, every-day temptations of girls at school and in business we shall say but little, as these should be well known to every parent, and vigilantly guarded against. The young girls who leave their homes to go into domestic service or business are frequently exposed to great dangers. The more carefully their innocence has been guarded, in other words, the more ignorant they are of sexual matters, the greater is their peril. After the day’s work is done, such girls generally have unrestricted liberty to go where they like and do what they please, and they often spend their time on the streets. This gives many opportunities for chance acquaintances with men which are fraught with many dangers, and often lead to the ruin of innocent and ignorant young girls. Too often such a girl is betrayed, and she finds herself, almost before she knows, the prospective mother of an undesired child. Such pitiful tragedies, which are of almost every-day occurrence, could be easily prevented by a few words of advice and warning. It is knowledge which will keep the girls pure; knowledge and loving sympathetic counsel on the part of some older person who is not in ignorance of the world and its ways.

The boys who go to business and to school should also be well fortified with knowledge. Especially should they be warned against the perils of impurity. They should understand that one immoral act, one solitary indulgence in sin with an impure woman or girl may lead to the ruin of their bodies and the degradation of their characters. The story of Joseph and of his steadfast refusal to become the partner of his master’s wife in sin should be very familiar to all boys. Such an example of strength in resisting temptation will help them to be strong. Young men are wanted to-day who will purpose in their hearts, as did Joseph and Daniel, that they will not defile themselves in any way. Nothing defiles as does lust and impurity of every kind, and the young man who will not be contaminated by them, and steadfastedly adheres to this decision, is in possession of a strength which will make him a spiritual giant. He may say as did Sir Galahad of old: “My strength is as the strength of ten because my heart is pure.”

What power is in the hand of such a man with which to defend and protect his weaker brothers and sisters! Not only will he refrain from tempting others, but he can succour those who are tempted.

But, again, in youth as in childhood; and, indeed, throughout life, the sexual impulse has its physical basis.

Categories: gender & feminism, history

Tags: , , , , ,

7 replies

  1. This sounds like an advertisement for prostitution. Who wouldn’t want to join The Great Army of Impure Women?

  2. The Great Army of Impure Women

    lala: definitely one for the Possible Future Blog Subtitles file.

  3. What do you notice?
    OOH OOH OOH is it the way that young women’s turning to prostitution is entirely cast as a failure on the part of their mothers?

  4. I have to have this on a t-shirt. The rest of it is just brain-hurty.

  5. Needs a blog badge thing – Member of the Great Army of Impure Women.

  6. What struck me the most was that then, as now, The Law was seen as not being focused on women and as being inadequate in women’s lives.
    Yes, mother’s warnings were considered important but it appeared to me that, in a rather enlightened view for the time, a call was being made for sex education.
    O.K., exactly how that would be framed is problematic, but with sex education still being a bone of contention even today in some quarters, I felt this was somewhat innovative.


  1. Ladies’ Handbook: On quacks, hormones, abstinence, and the sexual double standard at Hoyden About Town
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