This feature from the Liverpool Mercury is a vivid first-person account of an extraordinary public meeting set up in Liverpool to discuss the moral, social and material betterment of the city’s prostitutes, known in this period as ‘fallen women’. The most extraordinary aspect of the meeting is that the women themselves were invited and came in large numbers.

Between 1812 and 1851 Britain’s population had doubled, with most of the extra population gathered in newly industrialised towns and cities. This led, if not to more prostitution, then to its greater visibility, which in turn changed the emphasis of the public debate around the subject. Prostitution went from being seen as a moral vice to a socio-economic problem. With urban unemployment high, and a general increase in the numbers of poor people, prostitution was for some an economic necessity.

At the Liverpool meeting, the women were offered the understanding of the church and the police, and assurances the organising committee would provide lodging and money if the women wished to take up ‘virtuous trades’ or rejoin their families. However, as the author notes:

Twenty-six beds are all the committee have at their service … and the house is far too limited for their operations … If this movement is to be carried on, funds must be forthcoming.