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Women in the courts: crime, punishment and charity in nineteenth century Hull

Chilman, Joanne


Joanne Chilman


Rod Ambler


This is a study about the responses of the law courts, police and social reformers in Kingston upon Hull in the nineteenth century to the ‘problem’ of female sexual immorality, crime and deviance, uncovering the considerable concerns and gendered ideological beliefs which lay behind the responses. A philanthropic culture and pioneering medical profession in nineteenth century Hull operated alongside a culture of repression and regulation based on fears of the sexual and economic independence of women, fed by a sexual double standard. The testimonies of the targeted women of the poor who were brought before the Hull courts reveal how women challenged the daily surveillance of their lives in the economic and cultural spaces of their world. Women’s stories are brought to life; their poverty and subjection, but also their agency, their will to survive. The middle class desire for power and control in the urban space which placed women into prisons and female penitentiaries also saw women fight back, and refuse to carry the shame and stigma heaped upon them by moral reformers. Hull was a nineteenth century town and port with its own agenda, operating its own unique responses to social problems before the advent of national legislation and welfare reforms. The rise to prominence of middle class women in the male dominated world of philanthropy helped make improvements to a greater number of women’s lives in Hull, paving the way for a new era of social welfare in the town at the dawn of a new century.


Chilman, J. (2019). Women in the courts: crime, punishment and charity in nineteenth century Hull. (Thesis). University of Hull. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Apr 25, 2023
Publicly Available Date Apr 25, 2023
Keywords History
Public URL
Additional Information Department of History, The University of Hull
Award Date 2019-08


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