Charles Dickens was a regular visitor to the home of Angela Burdett-Coutts where they discussed ways of working together. On 26th May, 1846, Dickens sent her a fourteen-page letter concerning his plan for setting up an asylum for women and girls working the London streets as prostitutes. He began the letter by explaining that these women were living a life "dreadful in its nature and consequences, and full of affliction, misery, and despair to herself." He went on to say that he hoped it could be explained to each woman who asked for help "that she is degraded and fallen, but not lost, having this shelter; and that the means of Return to Happiness are now about to be put into her own hands."
Dickens went on to argue: "I do not think it would be necessary, in the first instance at all events, to build a house for the Asylum. There are many houses, either in London or in the immediate neighbourhood, that could be altered for the purpose. It would be necessary to limit the number of inmates, but I would make the reception of them as easy as possible to themselves. I would put it in the power of any Governor of a London Prison to send an unhappy creature of this kind (by her own choice of course) straight from his prison, when her term expired, to the Asylum. I would put it in the power of any penitent creature to knock at the door, and say For God's sake, take me in. But I would divide the interior into two portions; and into the first portion I would put all new-comers without exception, as a place of probation, whence they should pass, by their own good-conduct and self-denial alone, into what I may call the Society of the house."
His idea was to begin with about thirty women. "What they would be taught in the house, would be grounded in religion, most unquestionably. It must be the basis of the whole system. But it is very essential in dealing with this class of persons to have a system of training established, which, while it is steady and firm, is cheerful and hopeful. Order, punctuality, cleanliness, the whole routine of household duties - as washing, mending, cooking - the establishment itself would supply the means of teaching practically, to every one. But then I would have it understood by all - I would have it written up in every room - that they were not going through a monotonous round of occupation and self-denial which began and ended there, but which began, or was resumed, under that roof, and would end, by God's blessing, in happy homes of their own."
Angela Burdett-Coutts had already become aware of the problem of prostitution. She had seen them parading every night outside her home in Piccadilly. It had been estimated by one newspaper reporter, Henry Mayhew, that London had around 80,000 prostitutes. Mayhew argued that one group that was particularly vulnerable were young female servants. He claimed that there was about 10,000 of them out on the streets on the move between jobs. If they did not have good character references from their last employer, they would be in danger of long-term unemployment and the temptation to become prostitutes. In an article in the Westminster Review by William Rathbone Greg wrote: "The career of these women (prostitutes) is a brief one, their downward path a marked and inevitable one; and they know this well. They are almost never rescued, escape themselves they cannot."
Burdett-Coutts's close friend, the Duke of Wellington, advised her against getting involved. As one biographer has explained: "He could not understand her enthusiasm for social reform, for popular education, for clearing slums and sewers, all these were outside his comprehension." Despite his protests, she eventually agreed to fund Dickens's proposal, which was estimated at costing around £700 a year (£50,000 in 2012 money).
As Claire Tomalin has pointed out: "She gave him almost free rein in setting it up. He needed to find a house large enough to take up to a dozen or so young women, sharing bedrooms, plus a matron and her assistant - his early plan to take thirty was given up as impractical... In May 1847 he came upon a small, solid brick house near Shepherd's Bush, then still in the country, but well connected with central London by the Acton omnibus. The house was already named Urania Cottage but from the first he called it simply the Home, the idea that it should feel like a home rather than an institution being so important to him. He liked the fact that it stood in a country lane, with its own garden, and saw at once that the women could have their own small flowerbeds to cultivate. There was also a coach house and stables which could be made into a laundry."
Charles Dickens continued to search for a property suitable for his home for prostitutes. The author author of Dickens: A Life (2011), has pointed out: "She (Angela Burdett-Coutts) gave him almost free rein in setting it up. He needed to find a house large enough to take up to a dozen or so young women, sharing bedrooms, plus a matron and her assistant - his early plan to take thirty was given up as impractical... In May 1847 he came upon a small, solid brick house near Shepherd's Bush, then still in the country, but well connected with central London by the Acton omnibus. The house was already named Urania Cottage but from the first he called it simply the Home, the idea that it should feel like a home rather than an institution being so important to him. He liked the fact that it stood in a country lane, with its own garden, and saw at once that the women could have their own small flowerbeds to cultivate. There was also a coach house and stables which could be made into a laundry."
The lease was agreed in June 1847 and soon afterwards Dickens started interviewing possible matrons. Miss Burdett-Coutts appointed Dr. James Kay-Shuttleworth, a Poor Law Commissioner, who had written about education and the working-class, to help Dickens with the task. However, the two men disagreed about the role of religious education in the home. Dickens told her that Kay-Shuttleworth's theorizing made him feel as if he had "just come out of the Desert of Sahara where my camel died a fortnight ago."
In October 1847, Dickens published a leaflet that he gave to prostitutes encouraging them to apply to join Urania Cottage: "If you have ever wished (I know you must have done so, sometimes) for a chance of rising out of your sad life, and having friends, a quiet home, means of being useful to yourself and others, peace of mind, self-respect, everything you have lost, pray read... attentively... I am going to offer you, not the chance but the certainty of all these blessings, if you will exert yourself to deserve them. And do not think that I write to you as if I felt myself very much above you, or wished to hurt your feelings by reminding you of the situation in which you are placed. God forbid! I mean nothing but kindness to you, and I write as if you were my sister." Dickens interviewed every young women who responded to the leaflet or who was recommended to him by prison governors, magistrates or the police. Once accepted she would be told that no one would ever mention her past to her and that even the matrons would not be informed about it. She was advised not to talk further about her own history to anyone else.
There were four girls to begin with, two were coming in the following week. Mrs Holdsworth had been appointed matron and Mrs Fisher as her assistant. Charles Dickens wrote to Angela Burdett-Coutts: "I wish you could have seen them at work on the first night of this lady's engagement - with a pet canary of hers walking about the table, and the two girls deep in my account of the lesson books, and all the knowledge that was to be got out of them as we were putting them away on the shelves." According to Dickens, the first girl who entered Urania Cottage, cried with joy when she saw her bed. Dickens wrote to Miss Burdett-Coutts on 28th October, 1847: "We have now eight, and I have as much confidence in five of them, as one can have in the beginning of anything so new."
The home was officially opened in November 1847. The women slept three or four to a bedroom, each with her own bed. They got up at six in the morning, and they had to make each other's beds, and were required to inform on anyone who was hiding alcohol. They had short prayers, twice daily. Dickens was determined to avoid preaching, heavy moralizing and calls for penitence. He told Miss Burdett-Coutts that they had to be very careful about the appointment of a chaplain: "The best man in the world could never make his way to the truth of these people, unless he were content to win it very slowly, and with the nicest perception always present to him... of what they have gone through. Wrongly addressed they are certain to deceive."
Charles Dickens later recalled the type of women he recruited for Urania Cottage. "Among the girls were starving needlewomen, poor needlewomen who had robbed... violent girls imprisoned for committing disturbances in ill-conducted workhouses, poor girls from Ragged Schools, destitute girls who have applied at police offices for relief, young women from the streets - young women of the same class taken from the prisons after under-going punishment there as disorderly characters, or for shoplifting, or for thefts from the person: domestic servants who had been seduced, and two young women held to bail for attempting suicide."
Angela Burdett-Coutts thought that the women should wear dark clothes. She was supported by George Laval Chesterton, the governor of Coldbath Fields Prison, who argued that the "love of dress is the cause of ruin of a vast number of young women in humble circumstances". Augustus Tracey, the governor of Tothill Fields Prison, agreed saying that in twenty years' experience he had found the excessive love of dress often resulted in an "early lapse into crime - for girls it was equal as a cause of ruin as drink was for men." Dickens rejected this advice and insisted they should be given dresses in cheerful colours they would enjoy wearing. He wrote: "These people want colour... In these cast-iron and mechanical days, I think even such a garnish to the dish of their monotonous and hard lives, of unspeakable importance... I have made them as cheerful in appearance as they reasonably could be - at the same time very neat and modest. Three of them will be dressed alike, so that there are four colours of dresses in the Home at once; and those who go out together, with Mrs Holdsworth, will not attract attention, or feel themselves marked out, by being dressed alike."
Dickens also arranged for the women to be well fed, with breakfast, dinner and tea at six, being their last meal of the day. There was schooling for two hours every morning where they were taught to read and write. They took it in turns to read aloud while they did their needlework, making and mending their own clothes. The women also had plots in the garden where they could grow vegetables. Dickens also paid for his friend, John Hullah, to give singing lessons. The inmates did all the household tasks, which were rotated weekly. They also made soup that was distributed to local people on poor relief.
Jenny Hartley, the author of Charles Dickens and the House of Fallen Women (2008) has pointed out that the women were not allowed out on their own and the matron would take them out individually or in small groups. Nor were they allowed unsupervised visits or private correspondence as Dickens was afraid that old associates might try to draw them back to the life they had left behind. They were given marks for good behaviour and lose marks for bad behaviour. These marks were worth money and this would be saved for them to use when they left the house.
Miss Burdett-Coutts was concerned about the religion of the staff. She objected to Dickens employing Mrs Fisher, a Nonconformist. Dickens, who had been impressed by her "mild sweet manners" agreed to sack her, but was not happy about it: "I have no sympathy whatever with her private opinions, I have a very strong feeling indeed - which is not yours, at the same time I have no doubt whatever that she ought to have stated the fact of her being a dissenter to me, before she was engaged... With these few words and with the fullest sense of your very kind and considerate manner of making this change, I leave it."
Mrs Holdsworth left her post but Charles Dickens was very pleased with his appointment of Georgiana Morson, as matron, in 1849. She was a widow of a doctor. She had three young children but her mother agreed to look after them so she could do the job. Morson provided them with good food, an orderly life, training in reading, writing, sewing, domestic work, cooking and laundering. It has been claimed that she looked after them so well that they wept when they parted from her.
Jenny Hartley, the author of Charles Dickens and the House of Fallen Women (2008) has pointed out: "Over the next five years Georgiana Morson proved herself the best matron Urania ever had.... At Urania she taught the girls to read and write, as well as all the household skills a servant needed. She presided over the dining table, and made mealtimes a social occasion the girls had not known before. They ate the good food she had taught them to cook and chattered about their future prospects. Senior girls about to emigrate sat at her end of the table, listening with amazement to her traveller's tales. They were both excited and reassured. If she could cope on her own, perhaps they could too."
Dickens expected that each of them would live at the cottage for about a year before being given a supervised place on an emigrant ship, by which time they would be well nourished, healthy, better educated and in a better state to manage their lives. Dickens hoped they would find husbands but Angela Burdett-Coutts had doubts about former prostitutes marrying. The first three young women, Julia Mosley, Jane Westaway and Martha Goldsmith, left for Australia on The Calcutta , in January 1849. It was an old, slow boat and the journey took nearly six months. They were to be met by the Reverend Augustus Short at the port of Adelaide. However, by the time that Short arrived at the dockside, the three women had disappeared. Short wrote to Dickens that he had been told by the captain that all three "had returned to their old ways and were totally unfit to be recommended as household servants." Dickens told Miss Burdett-Coutts that this news caused him "heavy disappointment and great vexation." He added: "God send we may do better with some of the others!"
In February 1849, Isabella Gordon arrived at Urania Cottage. Jenny Hartley argues: "Isabella comes across as a girl who liked to enjoy herself; she added to the gaiety of the house. This endeared her all the more to Dickens, keen as he was to foster an agreeable atmosphere... High-spirited Isabella was always the one who caught his eye. She was sparky and not at all intimidated by him... She brought colour and vivacity; she had a sense of humour and a sense of style... But she was pushing it, as Dickens eventually spotted." However, he continued to enjoy her company and wrote about my "friend Isabella Gordon".
Despite the favourable treatment she received, Isabella Gordon continued to rebel and when she insulted the matron, Georgiana Morson, in November, 1849, Dickens decided to send her away. "The girl herself, now that it had really come to this, cried, and hung down her head, and when she got out at the door, stopped and leaned against the house for a minute or two before she went to the gate - in a most miserable and wretched state. As it was impossible to relent, with any hope of doing good, we could not do so. We passed her in the lane, afterwards, going slowly away, and wiping her face with her shawl. A more forlorn and hopeless thing altogether, I never saw."
Dickens was aware that given her situation Isabella Gordon would return to a world of prostitution. A few days later he wrote that month's episode of David Copperfield, that included a passage about Martha Endell, who was returning to her life as a prostitute: "Then Martha arose, and gathering her shawl about her, covering her face with it, and weeping aloud, went slowly to the door. She stopped a moment before going out, as if she would have uttered something or turned back; but no word passed her lips. Making the same low, dreary, wretched moaning in her shawl, she went away." In the novel Martha later emigrates to Australia where she marries happily. It is unlikely that Isabella Gordon would have shared a similar fate.
Charles Dickens also had trouble with Sesina Bollard. He described her as "the most deceitful little minx in this town - I never saw such a draggled piece of fringe upon the skirts of all that is bad... she would corrupt a Nunnery in a fortnight." Another girl, Jemima Hiscock, "forced open the door of the little beer cellar with knives and got dead drunk". He accused Jemima of using "the most horrible language" and it was thought the beer must have been, "laced with spirits from over the wall". The most disturbing incident was when the matron found a police constable "yesterday morning between four and five... in the parlour with Sarah Hyam."
Dickens spent many hours interviewing the young women at Urania Cottage. As Jenny Hartley has pointed out: "He was a good listener; he had the motive for it. Hearing these young women's histories was a great privilege. How else could he hear out of their own mouths and at first hand these autobiographies from the underworld." Dickens's accounts of these women appeared in what he called his case-book. In July 1853, his sister-in-law Georgina Hogarth wrote to Georgiana Morson: "Mr Dickens begs me to write you a line to ask you, if any of the other girls leave, to take notes of their case before they go with a view to his book." Unfortunately, this book was later destroyed by Dickens.
Dickens used to trawl the streets looking for women to enter Urania Cottage. In April 1850, he wrote to Miss Burdett-Coutts about his "nightly wanderings into strange places". He tried to sell the idea by pointing out they would be prepared at the home for emigration to Australia. Dickens complained that in their "astonishing and horrible ignorance" the women he talks to are often confuse "emigration and transportation". In a letter to Daniel Maclise he admitted that he sometimes rejected women because they were not "interesting". We also know that in a letter to Ralph Waldo Emerson Dickens said he believed that if a man was "particularly chaste" he "could not be in good health".
In letters to the matron Georgiana Morson it has been argued by one observer that "some passages suggest that his interest in the girls was less than healthy." Jenny Hartley, the author of Charles Dickens and the House of Fallen Women (2008), rejects this view: "if Dickens had wanted to have sex with prostitutes and working-class girls, I do not think he would have set up a bordello". However, it is worth noting that a large number of the women who entered Urania Cottage were not prostitutes. They were young women who had been imprisoned for crimes such as stealing. The prison governors of Coldbath Fields Prison and Tothill Fields Prison, recommended them to Dickens as they feared that they would resort to prostitution as no other means of making money was available to them.
For example, Sarah Wood was an eighteen-year-old girl, had been sent to prison for fraud. Her scam involved calling at upmarket shops, fashionably dressed. She ordered several items of clothes and asked for them to be delivered to the family home in Finsbury Square, to be paid on delivery. However, she asked to take some of the dresses with her. She managed to deceive at least three shopkeepers with her fictional family and address before she was caught and sent to prison. Dickens took a great deal of interest in Sarah until she left the home, refusing to be sent to Australia.
Another woman who entered Urania Cottage who was not a prostitute was Mary Ann Stonnell. Newspaper reports described her as "a slight girl of thirteen" who was used by a criminal gang to get into houses and shops through the fanlight over the front door. When they were eventually caught, Mary Ann was given a short prison sentence and the men were transported for seven years. Dickens tried to develop a good relationship with Mary Ann but after several months was back in prison. Angela Burdett-Coutts went to visit her but Dickens suggested she was wasting her time: "Stonnell in prison, will always, I think be tolerably good. Out of it, until - perhaps - after great suffering, I have no hope of her."
Mary Ann wrote to Miss Burdett-Coutts while in prison: "I take the liberty of writing a few lines to thank you for the kindness you have shown to such an unworthy creature as I have been to leave such a good home and I thank you taking the trouble you have to come and see me who am not worthy of such a kind benefactress I hope Madam that you will forgive me for I am very sorry for what I have done." Dickens refused to take her back and after she left prison she returned to a life of crime.
In May 1858, Catherine Dickens accidentally received a bracelet meant for Ellen Ternan. Her daughter, Kate Dickens, says her mother was distraught by the incident. Charles Dickens responded by a meeting with his solicitors. By the end of the month he negotiated a settlement where Catherine should have £400 a year and a carriage and the children would live with Dickens. Later, the children insisted they had been forced to live with their father.
Charles Culliford Dickens refused and decided that he would live with his mother. He told his father in a letter: "Don't suppose that in making my choice, I was actuated by any feeling of preference for my mother to you. God knows I love you dearly, and it will be a hard day for me when I have to part from you and the girls. But in doing as I have done, I hope I am doing my duty, and that you will understand it so."
Charles Dickens wrote to Miss Burdett-Coutts about his marriage to Catherine Dickens: "We have been virtually separated for a long time. We must put a wider space between us now, than can be found in one house... If the children loved her, or ever had loved her, this severance would have been a far easier thing than it is. But she has never attached one of them to herself, never played with them in their infancy, never attracted their confidence as they have grown older, never presented herself before them in the aspect of a mother."
In June, 1858, Dickens decided to issue a statement to the press about the rumours involving him and two unnamed women (Ellen Ternan and Georgina Hogarth): "By some means, arising out of wickedness, or out of folly, or out of inconceivable wild chance, or out of all three, this trouble has been the occasion of misrepresentations, mostly grossly false, most monstrous, and most cruel - involving, not only me, but innocent persons dear to my heart... I most solemnly declare, then - and this I do both in my own name and in my wife's name - that all the lately whispered rumours touching the trouble, at which I have glanced, are abominably false. And whosoever repeats one of them after this denial, will lie as wilfully and as foully as it is possible for any false witness to lie, before heaven and earth."
Angela Burdett-Coutts, like Elizabeth Gaskell and William Makepeace Thackeray believed that publicizing his domestic problems was as bad as the separation itself. Elizabeth Barrett Browning was appalled by his behaviour: "What a crime, for a man to use his genius as a cudgel against his near kin, even against the woman he promised to protect tenderly with life and heart - taking advantage of his hold with the public to turn public opinion against her. I call it dreadful." Catherine Dickens wrote to Angela: "I have now - God help me - only one course to pursue. One day though not now I may be able to tell you how hardly I have been used." Angela later told a friend: "I knew Charles Dickens well, until after his separation from his wife - she I knew after that breach."
Miss Burdett-Coutts broke off contact with Dickens and she stopped funding Urania Cottage. It eventually closed down in 1862. Jane Rogers, the author of Dickens and Urania Cottage, the Home for Fallen Women (2003), has taken a close look at the women who stayed at Urania Cottage. She quotes one source that claimed: "Of these fifty-six cases, seven went away by their own desire during their probation; ten were sent away for misconduct in the home; seven ran away; three emigrated and relapsed on the passage out; thirty (of whom seven are now married) on their arrival in Australia or elsewhere, entered into good service, acquired a good character and have done so well ever since as to establish a strong prepossession in favour of others sent out from the same quarter."
In reference to the Asylum, it seems to me very expedient that you should know, if possible, whether the Government would assist you to the extent of informing you from time to time into what distant parts of the World, women could be sent for marriage, with the greatest hope for future families, and with the greatest service to the existing male population, whether expatriated from England or born there. If these poor women could be sent abroad with the distinct recognition and aid of the Government, it would be a service to the effort. But I have (with reason) a doubt of all Governments in England considering such a question in the light, in which men undertaking that immense responsibility, are bound, before God, to consider it. And therefore I would suggest this appeal to you, merely as something which you owe to yourself and to the experiment; the failure of which, does not at all affect the immeasurable goodness and hopefulness of the project itself.
I do not think it would be necessary, in the first instance at all events, to build a house for the Asylum. There are many houses, either in London or in the immediate neighbourhood, that could be altered for the purpose. It would be necessary to limit the number of inmates, but I would make the reception of them as easy as possible to themselves. I would put it in the power of any Governor of a London Prison to send an unhappy creature of this kind (by her own choice of course) straight from his prison, when her term expired, to the Asylum. I would put it in the power of any penitent creature to knock at the door, and say For God's sake, take me in. But I would divide the interior into two portions; and into the first portion I would put all new-comers without exception, as a place of probation, whence they should pass, by their own good-conduct and self-denial alone, into what I may call the Society of the house. I do not know of any plan so well conceived, or so firmly grounded in a knowledge of human nature, or so judiciously addressed to it, for observance in this place, as what is called Captain Maconnochie's Mark System, which I will try, very roughly and generally, to describe to you.
A woman or girl coming to the Asylum, it is explained to her that she has come there for useful repentance and reform, and because her past way of life has been dreadful in its nature and consequences, and full of affliction, misery, and despair to herself. Never mind Society while she is at that pass. Society has used her ill and turned away from her, and she cannot be expected to take much heed of its rights or wrongs. It is destructive to herself, and there is no hope in it, or in her, as long as she pursues it. It is explained to her that she is degraded and fallen, but not lost, having this shelter; and that the means of Return to Happiness are now about to be put into her own hands, and trusted to her own keeping. That with this view, she is, instead of being placed in this probationary class for a month, or two months, or three months, or any specified time whatever, required to earn there, a certain number of Marks (they are mere scratches in a book) so that she may make her probation a very short one, or a very long one, according to her own conduct. For so much work, she has so many Marks; for a day's good conduct, so many more. For every instance of ill-temper, disrespect, bad language, any outbreak of any sort or kind, so many - a very large number in proportion to her receipts - are deducted. A perfect Debtor and Creditor account is kept between her and the Superintendent, for every day; and the state of that account, it is in her own power and nobody else's, to adjust to her advantage. It is expressly pointed out to her, that before she can be considered qualified to return to any kind of society - even to the Society of the Asylum - she must give proofs of her power of self-restraint and her sincerity, and her determination to try to shew that she deserves the confidence it is proposed to place in her. Her pride, her emulation, her sense of shame, her heart, her reason, and her interest, are all appealed to at once, and if she pass through this trial, she must (I believe it to be in the eternal nature of things) rise somewhat in her own self-respect, and give the managers a power of appeal to her, in future, which nothing else could invest them with. I would carry a modification of this Mark System through the whole establishment; for it is its great philosophy and its chief excellence that it is not a mere form or course of training adapted to the life within the house, but is a preparation - which is a much higher consideration - for the right performance of duty outside, and for the formation of habits of firmness and self-restraint. And the more these unfortunate persons were educated in their duty towards Heaven and Earth, and the more they were tried on this plan, the more they would feel that to dream of returning to Society, or of becoming Virtuous Wives, until they had earned a certain gross number of Marks required of everyone without the least exception, would be to prove that they were not worthy of restoration to the place they had lost. It is a part of this system, even to put at last, some temptation within their reach, as enabling them to go out, putting them in possession of some money, and the like; for it is clear that unless they are used to some temptation and used to resist it, within the walls, their capacity of resisting it without, cannot be considered as fairly tested.
What they would be taught in the house, would be grounded in religion, most unquestionably. It must be the basis of the whole system. But it is very essential in dealing with this class of persons to have a system of training established, which, while it is steady and firm, is cheerful and hopeful. Order, punctuality, cleanliness, the whole routine of household duties - as washing, mending, cooking - the establishment itself would supply the means of teaching practically, to every one. But then I would have it understood by all - I would have it written up in every room - that they were not going through a monotonous round of occupation and self-denial which began and ended there, but which began, or was resumed, under that roof, and would end, by God's blessing, in happy homes of their own.
I have said that I would put it in the power of Governors of Prisons to recommend Inmates. I think this most important, because such gentlemen as Mr. Chesterton of the Middlesex House of Correction, and Lieutenant Tracey of Cold Bath Fields, Bridewell, (both of whom I know very well) are well acquainted with the good that is in the bottom of the hearts, of many of these poor creatures, and with the whole history of their past lives; and frequently have deplored to me the not having any such place as the proposed establishment, to which to send them - when they are set free from Prison. It is necessary to observe that very many of these unfortunate women are constantly in and out of the Prisons, for no other fault or crime than their original one of having fallen from virtue. Policemen can take them up, almost when they choose, for being of that class, and being in the streets; and the Magistrates commit them to Jail for short terms. When they come out, they can but return to their old occupation, and so come in again. It is well-known that many of them fee the Police to remain unmolested; and being too poor to pay the fee, or dissipating the money in some other way, are taken up again, forthwith. Very many of them are good, excellent, steady characters when under restraint - even without the advantage of systematic training, which they would have in this Institution - and are tender nurses to the sick, and are as kind and gentle as the best of women.
There is no doubt that many of them would go on well for some time, and would then be seized with a violent fit of the most extraordinary passion, apparently quite motiveless, and insist on going away. There seems to be something inherent in their course of life, which engenders and awakens a sudden restlessness and recklessness which may be long suppressed, but breaks out like Madness; and which all people who have had opportunities of observation in Penitentiaries and elsewhere, must have contemplated with astonishment and pity. I would have some rule to the effect that no request to be allowed to go away would be received for at least four and twenty hours, and that in the interval the person should be kindly reasoned with, if possible, and implored to consider well what she was doing. This sudden dashing down of all the building up of months upon months, is, to my thinking, so distinctly a Disease with the persons under consideration that I would pay particular attention to it, and treat it with particular gentleness and anxiety; and I would not make one, or two, or three, or four, or six departures from the Establishment a binding reason against the readmission of that person, being again penitent, but would leave it to the Managers to decide upon the merits of the case: giving very great weight to general good conduct within the house.
If you have ever wished (I know you must have done so, sometimes) for a chance of rising out of your sad life, and having friends, a quiet home, means of being useful to yourself and others, peace of mind, self-respect, everything you have lost, pray read... attentively... I am going to offer you, not the chance but the certainty of all these blessings, if you will exert yourself to deserve them. And do not think that I write to you as if I felt myself very much above you, or wished to hurt your feelings by reminding you of the situation in which you are placed. God forbid! I mean nothing but kindness to you, and I write as if you were my sister.
Five years and a half ago, certain ladies, grieved to think that numbers of their own sex were wandering about the streets in degradation, passing through and through the prisons all their lives or hopelessly perishing in other ways, resolved to try the experiment on a limited scale of a Home for the reclamation and emigration of women. As it was clear to them that there could be little or no hope in this country for the greater part of those who might become the objects of their charity, they determined to receive into their Home only those who distinctly accepted this condition: that they came there to be ultimately sent abroad (whither was at the discretion of the ladies); and that they also came there to remain for such length of time as might, according to the circumstances of each individual case, be considered necessary as a term of probation, and for instruction in the means of obtaining an honest livelihood. The object of the Home was twofold. First, to replace young women, who had already lost their characters and lapsed into guilt, in a situation of hope. Secondly, to save other young women who were in danger of filling into the like condition, and give them an opportunity of flying from crime when they and it stood face to face.
The projectors of this establishment, in undertaking it, were sustained by nothing but the high object of making some unhappy women a blessing to themselves and others instead of a curse, and raising up among the solitudes of a new world some virtuous homes, much needed there, from the sorrow and ruin of the old. They had no romantic visions or extravagant expectations. They were prepared for many failures and disappointments, and to consider their enterprise rewarded, if they in time succeeded with one third or one half of the cases they received.
As the experience of this small Institution, even under the many disadvantages of a beginning, may be useful and interesting, this paper will contain an exact account of its progress and results.
It was (and is) established in a detached house with a garden. The house was never designed for any such purpose, and is only adapted to it, in being retired and not immediately overlooked. It is capable of containing thirteen inmates besides two Superintendents. Excluding from consideration ten young women now in the house, there have been received in all, since November 1847, fifty-six inmates. They have belonged to no particular class, but have been starving needlewomen of good character, poor needlewomen who have robbed their furnished lodgings, violent girls committed to prison for disturbances in ill-conducted workhouses, poor girls from Ragged Schools, destitute girls who have applied at police offices for relief, young women from the streets; young women of the same class taken from the prisons after undergoing punishment there as disorderly characters, or for shoplifting, or for thefts from the person; domestic servants who have been seduced, and two young women held to bail for attempting suicide. No class has been favoured more than another; and misfortune and distress are a sufficient introduction. It is not usual to receive women of more than five or six-and-twenty; the average age in the fifty-six cases would probably be about twenty. In some instances there have been great personal attractions; in others, the girls have been very homely and plain. The reception has been wholly irrespective of such sources of interest. Nearly all have been extremely ignorant.
Of these fifty-six cases, seven went away by their own desire during their probation; ten were sent away for misconduct in the Home; seven ran away; three emigrated and relapsed on the passage out; thirty (of whom seven are now married), on their arrival in Australia or elsewhere, entered into good service, acquired a good character, and have done so well ever since as to establish a strong prepossession in favour of others sent out from the same quarter. It will be seen from these figures that the failures are generally discovered in the Home itself, and that the amount of misconduct after the training and emigration is remarkably small. And it is to be taken into consideration that many cases arc admitted into the Home, of which there is, in the outset, very little hope, but which it is not deemed right to exclude from the experiment.
The Home is managed by two Superintendents. The second in order acts under the first, who has from day to day the supreme direction of the family. On the cheerfulness, quickness, good-temper, firmness, and vigilance of these ladies, and on their never bickering, the successful working of the establishment in a great degree depends. Their position is one of high trust and responsibility, and requires not only an always accumulating experience, but an accurate observation of every character about them. The ladies who established the Home hold little confidential communication with the inmates, thinking the system better administered when it is undisturbed by individuals. A committee, composed of a few gentlemen of experience, meets once a month to audit the accounts, receive the principal Superintendent's reports, investigate any unusual occurrence, and see all the inmates separately. None but the committee are present as they enter one by one, in order that they may be under no restraint in anything they wish to say. A complaint from any of them is exceedingly uncommon. The history of every inmate, taken down from her own mouth - usually after she has been some little time in the Home - is preserved in a book. She is shown that what she relates of herself she relates in confidence, and does not even communicate to the Superintendents. She is particularly admonished by no means to communicate her history to any of the other inmates: all of whom have in their turns received a similar admonition. And she is encouraged to tell the truth, by having it explained to her that nothing in her story but falsehood can possibly affect her position in the Home after she has been once admitted.
The work of the Home is thus divided. They rise, both in summer and winter, at six o'clock. Morning prayers and scripture reading take place at a quarter before eight. Breakfast is had... immediately afterwards. Dinner at one. Tea at six. Evening prayers are said at half-past eight. The hour of going to bed is nine. Supposing the Home to be full, ten are employed upon the household work; two in the bed-rooms, two in the general living room; two in the Superintendents' rooms; two in the kitchen (who cook); two in the scullery; three at needlework. Straw-plaiting has been occasionally taught besides. On washing-days, five are employed in the laundry, three of whom are taken from the needlework, and two are told off from the household work.
I wish you could have seen them at work on the first night of this lady's engagement - with a pet canary of hers walking about the table, and the two girls deep in my account of the lesson books, and all the knowledge that was to be got out of them as we were putting them away on the shelves.
I have no sympathy whatever with her private opinions, I have a very strong feeling indeed - which is not yours, at the same time I have no doubt whatever that she ought to have stated the fact of her being a dissenter to me, before she was engaged... With these few words and with the fullest sense of your very kind and considerate manner of making this change, I leave it.
A collection of 14 letters demonstrating Charles Dickens's fascination with fallen women goes on sale today.
The correspondence, addressed to Georgina Morson, the proprietress of a refuge for women in distress, was found in the Devon home of one of her descendants.
In one letter the author requests Mrs Morson to ensure one girl is "perfumed" before he sees her. In another he asks: "Will you send underclothing to Eliza Wilkin, with money for her to get a warm bath or two so that she may be perfectly clean and wholesome and make her an appointment to call."
As with Gladstone, Dickens's interest in fallen women has been the subject of debate. Some have argued it was sexual in nature, although his biographer, Peter Ackroyd, maintains the fascination was innocent.
The letters going on sale were written between 1849 and 1854 and were sent to the refuge in Shepherds Bush, west London, which was a red light district at the time.