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Victorian Back Street Sex: Cause and Effects | John F. Wake

Not to put to finer point on certain aspects of marriage a century or two ago, there seemed no equality in sex life as far as married women were concerned.

Traditionally, a man could claim his conjugal rights when he wanted them and the feelings of the wife were secondary in the bedroom. It seems she did not have the power to demand hers, the feelings of satisfaction etc., went just one way. Therefore, outside of religious reasons and with no credible birth control, many women brought more children into the world, with no hope of providing for them economically. The majority of the poorer women were simply left to cope, the more children, the more problems, the more anger, depression and ill-health.

Feeding the poor became a major part of Christian mission by well-meaning people searching among the slum-dwelling families who were ravaged with poverty.

Many women escaped their awful world by drinking alcohol which resulted in behaviour that affected their family or resulted in them coming to the notice of the police.

Alcohol devastated lives, but became a popular coping mechanism. Photo credit: Thomas Picauly

Mary Kitchker of 11 Wells Street, Cardiff, was a forty-three-year-old housewife who had been charged with willfully neglecting her six children in such a manner as to cause them unnecessary suffering or injury to health.

The evidence was that Mary had been drinking alcohol to such an excess that she was a danger to her children and it rendered her incapable of looking after them. The jury, on hearing the evidence, convicted her of the offences.

Today a court would have several compassionate options as to how to deal with Mary and her responsibilities towards her children.

The judge in this case thought it was in her best interests to send her to gaol for four months with hard labour.

One wonders what happened to her children, whether the father, or fathers assisted, or if they were sent to the poor house. Alcoholism was then deemed by many an infirmity which could be cured with a period of punishment.

  • Abridged from the book The Cruel Streets Revisited: A Case File of Cardiff’s Lawless Past, Its Growth, Its Characters, Its Murders, and Its Mean Streets.

Featured image credit: Dawid Zawiła

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Victorian Back Street Sex: Cause and Effects | John F. Wake

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