Rescue of Fallen Women


Published in 1868, this pamphlet lists all of the refuges for ‘fallen women’ in London. A ‘fallen woman’ could be a prostitute (occasional or professional), or a woman who had had sex out of wedlock, whether voluntary or against her will – in short, a woman who transgressed Victorian sexual norms. ‘Fallenness’ was associated with a downward spiral that began with sex and led to loss of social position, ruin, and death. 

In the latter half of the 19th century many middle class philanthropists joined the cause to ‘rescue’ women from prostitution. As well as holding ‘meetings’ for women, support was provided in the form of free accommodation – interchangeably known as penitentiaries, refuges or houses – mostly run according to Christian principles; their aim was to rehabilitate women by providing religious and moral instruction and practical training for the service profession. Note that rescue work solely focused on regulating women's, not men’s, sexual behaviour. This pamphlet reveals the increase in rescue work mid-century, listing the majority of London refuges as established in the 1850s. In total, these refuges could accommodate 1286 women and girls. 

The ‘fallen woman’ cause was supported by many high-profile Victorians including Charles Dickens, Prime Minister William Gladstone and Christina Rossetti, who volunteered at the London Diocesan Penitentiary, listed in this pamphlet.

Full title:
Rescue of Fallen Women. A statement containing a proposal, etc.
1868, London
Alfred Phillipps Ryder
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library

Full catalogue details

Related articles

Christina Rossetti: gender and power

Article by:
Simon Avery
Victorian poetry, Gender and sexuality

The Victorian period witnessed massive changes in thinking about women’s roles in society. Dr Simon Avery asks how Christina Rossetti's poetry sits within this context, looking at her representations of oppression, female identity, marriage and the play of power between men and women.

Christina Rossetti: religious poetry

Article by:
Simon Avery
Victorian poetry

With close readings of 'Up-Hill' and 'A Birthday', Dr Simon Avery explores the tensions and questions that characterise the quest for spiritual fulfilment found in Christina Rossetti's religious poetry.


Article by:
Judith Flanders
London, Poverty and the working classes, Gender and sexuality

What was the place of prostitution in 19th-century society? Judith Flanders looks at documents and publications that provide an insight into attitudes towards the profession.

Related collection items