Robert C. Long,
Thank you very much Gene it’s a pleasure to be here. I wonder Gene, I wish to start so rapidly if perhaps I could turn this over to you for a moment if there are any introduction guests. I have a guest. I have a very distinguished guest and I know Joan has a very distinguished guest and others may have very distinguished guests also. Would that be appropriate sir? We better do a little of that. Thank you. All right.
First of all, maybe you would introduce your guest. My guest is Mr. Homer Martin known to all of us for many years. We do have another distinguished guest. Miss Tilley has brought up the President of the University and we are pleased to have him with us this evening. Gentlemen I am very delighted to bring our first guest to the Innominate Society Meeting Dr. James Miller.
_______ _____ has a guest. My guest is quite distinguished because he has a young daughter named Kate and a young wife named Kate. George Burroughs is one of my first year residents. Most of you know him. We are delighted to have him. George. After we have the presentations we go around the table and we would be delighted to have your guests as well as the members participating in the discussion. All right. Robert, all that’s taken care of. Thank you very much.
Before I begin my formal address I think it is only appropriate to pay tribute to you Joan. I don’t know how many others of you have depended on Joan for help in preparing a paper to present before this distinguished society. I am relatively new member of this Society and when it came my turn to do so I simply called Joan and I said, “help, here’s what I have in mind,” and she said, “yes we can help”, and indeed she has been very helpful and Joan, not only you do I wish to thank but also to your magnificent staff and especially Miss Marion who you assigned to me and I hope if you will thank her for me. I thanked her before and I’ll thank her again. Next thing that I wish to say is that I have a relatively short period of time to prepare this paper. I was asked to substitute one of our distinguished members who has been ill and I was delighted to do so, and I do not intend to publish this paper and, therefore, I do wish to say that much of which is in this paper of mine, much of which is in this paper are quotes from the material which Joan and Miss Marmion provided for me out of books in this era. So, I want that clearly understood. There are no attempted papers then obviously. And finally, as I expect most everyone has said who has stood in this position, I have had more fun and learned more than I can possibly tell you and I hope that which I have to present to you now you find enjoyable and perhaps educational and acceptable.
SEXUALITY IN THE VICTORIAN ERA
Sexual repression exists throughout our society today and we are told that its origins are to be found in the 19th century England during the Victorian era. Does anyone here think that we are now a sexually liberated society? I would remind you that (a) sex remains a taboo subject both in the home and at school dissolving that little worthwhile sex education; (b) sexual dysfunctions occur commonly among both sexes; (c) as Kinsey stated so well twenty five years ago, and in my opinion it is still true today, if all the laws concerning sexual behavior were enforced ninety percent of us would be in jail; (d) all sexual jokes are dirty, our stories without sexual connotations are clean; and (e) since we can not talk openly about personal sexual matters we use non-verbal meanings to communicate our sexual messages. Perhaps we can agree that sex is being discussed, exploded, and commercialized to an extent never before known in this country whether this is necessarily healthier or better serves society’s needs remains to be seen.
I wish now to examine certain aspects of the 19th century England the Victorian age if you please, with special emphasis on sexuality and the Victorian woman and then examine briefly the origins of a sexual mores of that period.
Queen Victoria’s long reign began in 1834 and ended with her death in 1901. It starts as Kitts and Clark so graphically epitomized it “with gentlemen fighting duels, it ends with gentlemen playing golf.”
This reign was characterized more by rapid change by anything else. For an example: England was an agrarian country when Victoria ascended the throne and long before her death she had become a highly industrialized country. Again, in the early part of the century the greatest distance which man could travel by horse or by sailing vessel was about 125 miles in 24 hours about the same distance covered by man some 5,000 years before the end of the century with the discovery of the steam engine he had traveled hundreds and hundreds of miles in a 24 hour period. What was the life style and fate of the Victorian woman during these turbulent times? To better understand the discussion which follows, I shall review with you the stratification of English society; first, peerage in the upper middle class next, the lower middle class, and finally the poor. Now the stereotype of Victorian woman is gone from the upper middle class. Before marriage a young girl was brought up to be perfectly innocent and sexually ignorant. The predominate etiology of the age insisted that she have little sexual feeling at all, although family affection and the desire of mother-hood were considered innate. Morally, she was left untested and kept under the watchful eye of her mother in her father’s home. Milton’s Lost Emotion of tried virtue rather than blank virtue would have meant few responsive cards in the hearts of Victorian men looking for an ideal helpmate. Once married the perfect lady did not work but had servants. She was mother only at set times of the day even at set times of the year. She left the heirs in the hands of nannies and governesses. Her social and intellectual growth was confined to the family and close friends. Her status was totally dependent upon the economic positions of her father and then her husband. In her most perfect time, a lady combined total sexual innocence conspicuous consumption, and the worship of the family heart. The corner-stone of Victorian society, therefore, was the family. The perfect lady’s sole role was marriage and procreation. All her education was to bring out her natural submission to authority and innate maternal instincts. Young ladies were trained to have no opinions, thus they seem too foreign and too definite for a young man’s taste, thereby unmarketable as a commodity.
Weston’s visions of girls as flowers to be plucked is the norm and Mills marriage between intellectuals and emotional equals the aberration. Needless to say, many a flower was plucked who knew nothing about sex except perhaps of those superstitions surrounding menstruation. Marriage can often prove a sexual and emotional disaster and to those trained to be affectionate yet asexual and mentally blank. While Mrs. Ellis a popular writer of etiquette books at the time counseled the unhappily married woman who remember that “her highest duty is so often to suffer and be still.” Many must have felt themselves as the domestic slaves which John Stuart Mills described.
Throughout the Victorian period the perfect lady as an ideal of femininity was tenacious and all pervasive in spite of its distance from the objective situations of countless women. The main difficulty with the perfect lady is a model of behavior even in the middle class and it came to be accepted in an altered form in the working class was the narrowness of the definition. Few women could afford to pursue the course laid out for them either economically, socially or psychologically. If marriage often proved a disappointment what of those who failed to marry? The unmarried woman was an important source of humor in music halls and in operettas. Society praised women for one function, “marriage”, and then mocked those who sought this idyllic state after having reached maturity. No longer innocent and ignorant, it was obscene and comic in performance for the middle-aged woman should want marriage or that any man would want her. The Saturday Review violently anti-feminist throughout the century passed judgment on women in one article declaring that they could not be offered an alternative unless they never married. Furthermore, the woman who proved herself unsuccessful in catching a husband, or who had the misfortune to lose him after marriage was dismissed with the comment, “folks she has failed in business and no social reform can prevent such failure”. In an age of laissez-faire capitalism there could be no greater failure than this. The more charitable, however, argued that the training to be a wife and mother, being a lady all was necessary in moral precepts and after all she was surely to become a helpful aunt in a brother’s home. Unfortunately the problem was not moral but economic. Everywhere there was evidence that not all women could find places at their brother’s fire-side. Elderly distressed women, impoverished seamstresses, and the poor governesses all sought work because they had no alternative and few survived at the same social level to which they had been born.
The alternative debasement, should moral precepts give way to economic necessity was prostitution which even the respectable might be forced into. Only the exceptionally fortunate and courageous might succeed through immigration but society’s offering assisted passage for women of good character was small and infinitesimal. All social forces combined to leave the spinster socially, emotionally, and financially bankrupt; add the fact that because of war and immigration, there were many, many more women in England than men during this period and is only emphasized as the precarious position in which woman, already so severely discriminated against because of sex, found themselves. Economic and social circumstances made it impossible for the working class woman to obtain the ideal of a perfect lady, nevertheless, this idea was admired by members of the working class girls. They live in cramped houses and went to work early and everywhere saw the lavish lives of those overcome by poverty, alcoholism, and prostitution. But, the better off embraced premarital chastity and the family even more ardently than their superiors. They knew the dangers beneath them. One false step and the family’s reputation was lost. For the respectable, a bad sister could mean the loss of work for other members of the family. So moral purity had an added economic edge somewhat different from the market value of virginity in the middle class. The family fireside was an island of purity and peace under constant threat in a society undergoing such rapid change as nineteenth century England.
Knowledge without experience and a marriage centered in the home became the twin ideals for trade by respectable working class writers. Middle class writers who were popular among the working class wrote about the moral purity of the reputable working class and the deserving poor. Dickens, like Mrs. Glass and George Elliott portrayed the sanctity of the working class home in the face of the moral carelessness of upper class men who thought that they could freely dally with women beneath them, while the full opprobrium of society never fell upon gentlemen who considered poor women fair game. Middle class novelist presented a moral ideal which they hope society would recognize and which many working class families adhere. Thus there emerged from this era a clear and irrefutable fact; woman was considered inferior to man in every way except morally and she was only considered morally superior because of the belief that women lacked sexual drive. The legal position of women was inferior to that of men in every aspect. They were classed as infants in financial matters. They could be barred from colleges and universities, from the learned professionals and from government posts. They were denied suffrage and were intelligible for service on the municipal and Parrish councils and, although by 16th century law of inheritance the women might occupy the throne, no woman could become a civil servant, a mayor, a doctor, a lawyer. A woman’s place was in the home and more precisely in a home of her own. This principal naturally held good for the women of the well-to-do middle class as for other women according to the census of 1851, 9000,000 were employed in domestic service, half a million in the textile industry, 370,000 were seamstresses or worked in the shoe factories, and 145,000 were washer women. There was only one respectable way for a poor, better class, mid-Victorian girl to earn a living she could become a governess, a lady companion in a better class household. I believe too, although I am not certain, that women could possess no money of their own. If a woman inherited money it went to her husband and finally if divorce occurred, and this was considered the greatest evil which could befall a family, the children went to the husband if he so chose. Later in the century the law was amended so that under certain conditions the mother could have the children or at least see them from time to time. This position of women were instituted and women no longer had to defy convention if they wished to become a hospital nurse for example, especially after the example of Florence Nightingale. In 1876 women were allowed to enter the medical profession. The development of three devices; the telegraph, the telephone, and the typewriter came to the rescue of better class English girls without means. By 1901 forty percent of all those employed in the telephone and telegraph services were women. A number of female office workers had jumped from 18,000 in 1891 to 56,000 in 1900. Enabling G.K. Chesterson, looking back, to make a typical quip about the “emancipated woman”. Twenty million women rose to their feet with the cry we will not be dictated to and promptly became stenographers”. In spite of all this there was little general change in women’s position of marked inferiority or in the middle class, women’s bondage to the home. Female emancipation made little headway with regard to legal and money matters. Women have few champions in their demand for equality with men. Their most emanate spokesman was John Stuart Mills, whose book THE SUBJECTION OF WOMEN proved both a sensation and a great source of vexation to most Victorian ladies and gentlemen when it appeared in 1869. The reason given by men was male of course objecting, for the inequality of the sexes was that women were physically, intellectually, and morally quite different from themselves. The dogmatic opinion pops up again and again in the writings of the period and women too tended to echo such sentiments in their literary, political, and social activities. The textbook of physiology most in use among early Victorian medical students was written by a Dr. John Elliottson of the London medical faculty. In this book HUMAN PHYSIOLOGY, published in 1840, he said, “woman is greatly inferior to man in reasoning powers, extent of use, originality, and grandeur of computation, as well as in corporeal strength. Women possess a small range of intelligence and less permanence of complexion, less consistency, impetuosity courage, firmness of character except were affection subsist. She is more disposed to believe all things compared to all persons, to adopt the opinions and habits of others, has no originality, but follows and imitates men.
Again, Alexander Walker the author of WOMEN PSYCHOLOGICAL CONSIDERED AS TO MIND, MORALS, MARRIAGE, MATRIMONIAL, SLAVERY, INFIDELITY, AND DIVORCE which published in 1840 declared, “It is evident that man possessing reasoning faculties must give her power and courage to employ if he is qualified for being the protector. The woman being little capable of reasoning feeble, timid, requires protection; under such circumstances than naturally governs woman as naturally obeys”.
Since this is a medical audience I thought you might also be interested to know what the Victorian male thought about menstruation. It is hard for us to comprehend how little even scientists and physicians knew about human reproduction in the 19th century. In the first half of the century we generally believe that the menstrual flow came from an excess of nutrients in the female. The egg was have thought to descend from the ovary only as a consequence of intercourse. However, inaccurate that might be, it would appear rational enough to dispel the mystical taboo but this was not the case. An early authority again, Dr. John Ellitson, wrote in 1850, “to regard women during menstruation as unclean is certainly very useful,” and he noted without comment, “in this country it is firmly believed by many that meat will not take salt if the process is conducted by a menstruating woman.” Clearly scientific fact and scientific theory were being influenced by the prevailing social and ethical doctrine of woman’s inferiority, so the even relatively progressing investigators like Milburn and Drysdale were governed by prejudice rather than scientific truth. The same arguments, professedly exaggerated, were put into service by ardent anti-feminist by James McGrager Allen who, addressing the prestigious Anthropological Society of London in 1869 said, “although the duration of menstrual period differs greatly according to race, temperament, and health, it will be within the mark to state that women are unwell from this cause on the average of two days a month or let’s say one month of the year. As such times as women are unfit for any great mental or physical labor. They suffer under a languor and depression which disqualifies them for thought or action and renders it extremely doubtful how far they can be considered responsible beings while the crisis lasts. Much of the inconstant conduct of women; petulance, caprice, and irritability, may be traced directly to this cause. It is not improbable that the instances of feminine cruelty would startle us as being inconsistent with their normal gentleness of the sex are attributable to mental excitement caused by this periodic illness. __________________ defines women as an invalid, such she emphatically is, as compared with man. At intellectual labor man has surpassed, does now, and always surpassed woman for the obvious reason that nature does not periodically interrupt thought and application. Menstruation was even used as a basis for an attack on the education and professional aspirations of women. Menstruation provided a scientific justification for anti-feminists. If it could be demonstrated that education caused a constitutional degeneration in women they could be denied education on apparently humane grounds. A certain Henry Maudsly made menstruation a major evidence of his argument that, “women are marked out by nature for very different offices in life than those of men, that the healthy performance of her special functions rendered it improbable that she should succeed, and unwise for her to persevere and running over the course and at the same pace with him”. Maudsley concluded that, “women would never hope to equal masculine accomplishments because their physiology acted as a handicap, body and mind being classed for one quarter of each month during the best years of life, more or less sick and unfit for hard work”. Now what make this all so incredible is while these statements were being made and believed, printed and reprinted thousands of times there were, at the very same time, millions of women daily in factories without time off during their menstrual periods.
In regards to sexuality of the poor, the over-riding impression one gets in literature in that a disproportionate number of poor women resorted to prostitution from time to time in order to stay alive. No one, of course, knew then how many prostitutes there are in New York. But the lowest figures given to London prostitutes in the middle of the 19th century was 50,000 and the highest about 80,000.
Furthermore, one cannot say whether the incidence of prostitution was increasing or decreasing during the 19th century or compare that century with other periods. It nevertheless seems clear that Victorians in 1840’s and the 1850’s thought that both prostitution and venereal disease were increasing. Lets us consider the problem of prostitution on both the supply and demand sides of the equation. As to supply, contemporaries pointed to certain expanding classes of female unemployment women in the needle trades, shop girls, domestic servants, women employed in factories or in agricultural gains. Their common characteristic was to work long hours for low pay. The low wages were themselves a reflection of the lack of opportunity for female employment but sharpened the competitive forces while depressing rate of pay; low earning, even when employed, it was argued that one of the compelling temptations to supplement income with receipts from prostitution. As a widowed slop worker related to make you in his investigation among needle women “one of my boys was alive at this time and we really could not live on the money. I applied to the Parrish and they wanted me to go in the house but, I knew if I did so they would take my boy from me and I rather suffer anything first. At times I was so badly off, me and my boy, that I was forced to resort to prostitution to keep us from starving”. When employment was not available, the compulsion was more acute, during seasons of prosperity debauchery is merely the trade of prostitutes by profession. But in times of stress necessity alone has driven them to the streets. An unemployed fifteen year old girl related to an author of the following:
The girl: “I buy things to eat, I can’t eat what mother gives me she’s poor and works very hard. She would give us more but she can’t so I buy foods and give the others what mother gives me. They don’t know no better, if mother is there I eat some, sometimes we have only gruel and salt. If we have a fire we toast the bread, but I can’t eat if its not the time I’m dreadfully hungry”. What do you like? “Pies and sausage rolls, said the girl smacking her lips and laughing, oh, my ain’t they fine!” That’s what you went gay for? “I’m no gay said she softly.” Well, what do you let men fuck you for? Sausage rolls.” Yes, meat pies and pastries too”.
Apart from poverty itself the further potent factor helping to swell the supply of prostitution was environment of the urban poor who so often lived, loved, slept and died together in overcrowded slums. Devoid sanitary amenities the families living in squalid and packed houses and the children acquired from an early age intimate knowledge of the facts of life.
In such an environment virginity was fleeting, fragile, and cheap. It may be commented, and I quote “the philanthropist may exert himself in their behalf, the moralist may inculcate even the worldly advantages of the better course of life, and a minister of religion warned them of eternal penalties which they are incurring, but there is an instructor in mischief of which they must get rid ere they make any real progress in their laudable efforts and that is the single bed chamber in the three room cottage.
On the demand side of the market, no doubts surrounded the existence of the male sexual appetite probably those which questioned sexuality of women. The essence of the problem was how to gratify those appetites in situations in which either the cause of social or institutional pressures, marriage was deferred or after marriage if the wife proved, as so much contemporary opinion proved to be the case, sexually inadequate, unsatisfying to her husband, among the middle class man there is a repeated body of opinion that the deferment of marriage was increasing and this increasing gap between on onset of purity and morally sanctioned sex and marriage given the undoubted sexual appetite of the male was causing an increase in demand for female prostitutes. Aside for the alleged growth in demand from the unmarried male to the middle classes has existed another important source of demand, the Army and the Navy for whom legislation rather than social pressure dedicated celibacy.
The demand of married men for services of prostitutes received relatively much less attention in contemporary literature and those arrived at in spite of the enforced celibacy or members of the armed forces. Yet, it would seem likely that the married man also formed an important element in the demand for prostitutes. In relatively wealthy classes, the common phenomenon of the domestically or economically arranged marriages would likely to lead the situations of mutual sexual dissatisfaction, especially if as contemporary mythology would have it “the woman regard her sexual role as one of duty rather than a pleasure”.
Further, during the period of enforced celibacy the husband might well have become inclined of prostitutes who, if their powerful sexual gratification was indeed superior to that of the wife but very likely continued to exercise an attraction after marriage.
It must also be remembered that marriage was sexually harmonious, other wise, when it was once contracted it was difficult to end by divorce. Divorce rates kept rising after 1857, sill remain very low.
Finally, prostitution not only satisfied the sexual appetite to the middle class male but also performed an important social function but in the context of the Victorian family of preserving the virgin of the wealthier classes and shielding their married women from the grosser passions of their husbands who, of course, had considerable risks of infection with venereal disease.
From this brief discussion of the 19th century England, three images emerged: (1) the inferior position of marked and like discrimination against women of all classes, (2) the stern moral character in the age of the upper and lower middle classes with preponderant sexual repression; (3) the hypocrisy of the period especially among the upper class.
My interests lie in the origins concerning the moral reformation of England. When did it begin? What were the forces, which generated it? There is one popular image of Victorianism which does need amending and that is the image of the innocent young Queen pure and unworldly, converting by her example, first the cynical and debauched court and then several estates of her elms; it is an beguiling image and in itself not unlikely only, as it happens, untrue, or in fact the moral reformation of long anteceded Victoria’s reign. It anteceded her, not in the sense that we are often told, historical events are necessarily remote and in persons origin, their roots being too deep and diffuse for any single attribution of time, place, or person. There was nothing remote or impersonal about the moral reformation of England. It happened, however, to be John Wesley rather than Queen Victoria who was largely responsible for that reformation in the 28th century rather than the 19th.
Victorianism before Victoria one historian has described the phenomenon. Wesley who used Methodism used a term first to apply to by his opponents and then adopted by its adherents. Started in the 18th century as an evangelical reform movement within the established church. Although Wesley never dissociated himself from the Church of England, many of his followers did. Leading the ranks of the same sect or establishing, an independent bodies, of their own. Thus, the movement left its stamp upon the whole spectrum of English religious institutions. It had no firm theological doctrine. The Anglican church at the start of Victorian age claimed allegiance from the vast majority of professed Christians. The stern religious attitude toward English morality, however, was formed a generation earlier not by high Anglicans in an established church, but by low church Anglicans and a group of Methodists preferred true love who had been expelled from the state church during the reign of George III. Although leaders of the evangelical movement were dead by the time Victoria’s end of the throne the movement was a fountain-head of repressing forces which swamped the 19th century.
After careful study of Methodism mainly from 1790 to 1830 Edward Palmer Thompson concluded in his book THE MAKING OF THE ENGLISH WORKING CLASS and I quote, “Methodism is permeated with teachings as to the sinfulness of sexuality and as to the extreme sinfulness of the sexual organs. These, convention that women could not feel the lust of the flesh were the visible fleshy citadels of Satan”.
In the eyes of the evangelizing Methodists the only sexual activity permissible was conjugal intercourse with the purpose of procreation.
In closing, it would seem appropriate to note how much of the 19th century England, the so called Victorian era, remains with us today. Women are still considered inferior to men and while the present feminist movement has accomplished a great deal for women, especially in the field of sexual rights and sexual equality, it remains nonetheless an obvious fact that there is great discrimination against women in our society today in the areas of education, job opportunity, and pay for work that is done. I mention but a few.
Last week I picked up a local newspaper here and there was an long article about “Sexes Education”. Did any of you see it? I didn’t read it, but I thought, gee, I could use this as an example, and I scanned it only and this woman’s these was that women and girls were discriminated against in education and then the very next day or day after I was reading the sports page and here is Billy Jean King testifying before a subcommittee of the Senate saying the same damn thing about did some of you see that on the sports page? Something about Physical Education classes in primary and secondary schools, perhaps especially the secondary schools education the woman is greatly discriminated against. I don’t know if this is true or not but there is no question that people within our society today who thinks it is true.
Secondly, sexual repression remains the order of the day in spite of all the rhetoric and all that is written about it in the great increasing pornographic materials in the last ten or fifteen years. A wit once said that a conservative is a liberal with a teenage daughter. Surely all of us sitting around this table fathers may agree that (a) we hope that our teenagers are not having sexual intercourse; (b) if they are having sexual intercourse we don’t want to know about it, and (c) we hope to God that they are on the pill or using some other means of contraception so that pregnancy doesn’t ensue. There is little or no meaningful sex education occurring in the home, masturbation is still considered to be evil and unhealthy etc., etc., etc.
Finally, hypocrisy abounds. This is not to say that hypocrisy was unknown to western civilization before the Victorian era. It is to say, however, that there are few instances of western civilization where hypocrisy was more frequently employed. The quotations which follows describes some of the meanings of hypocrisy in the Victorian era and perhaps you may agree with me that the same applies to our society today. First quote: “they, the Victorian can conceal or suppress their true convections and their natural tastes. They said the right thing, or did the right thing. They sacrificed sincerity to propriety. Second, and worse, they pretended to be better than they were. They passed themselves off as being incredibly pious and moral. They talked noble sentiments and live quite otherwise. Finally, they refused to look at life candidly. They shut their eyes to whatever was ugly or unpleasant and pretended it didn’t exist. Conformity, moral pretension, and evasion, those were the hallmarks of Victorian hypocrisy”.
And now, the second and last quote may strike a familiar note to you all, for you all, to me, the discrepancy between Sunday and Monday was the conspicuous example of that utter divorce between practice and profession which has made the entire life of modern England a frightful lie. The same man, who was on Sunday, a pious and devout Christian, a pillar of the church, supporter of foreign missions, distributor of bibles, on Monday was a tough business man and a hard bargainer whose creed was “each for himself the devil take the high and most”. And words echo by all the prophets, Kingsley charged the Victorians with the hypocrisy of worshiping one God and following another. It’s most sad but most certain that we are like those old Pharisees of olden days that we, too, have made up our minds that we can serve God and man at once. The very Pharisees among us who are most utterly given up the money making are the very classes which in all the denominations make the loudest religious professions that our church and chapels are crowded on Sunday by people whose souls are set a whole week through upon gain and nothing but gain. Clearly the revival of the evangelical Christianity existing, side by side, in the middle classes of the new commercial spirit and a political economically of self interests and unlimited competition widen the eternal disparity between the ideals and reality. One more cynical than I might conclude while the world moves on with great changes from one era to another, from one century to another human nature, nonetheless, remains constant and changeless.