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Was Alice Mackenzie A Prostitute?

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  • Was Alice Mackenzie A Prostitute?

    The police and the press certainly seemed to think so, but they provided virtually no evidence in support of their belief.

    In a report dated 17/7/1889, Inspector Henry Moore stated:

    She is believed to be 39 years of age and used to go out at night; but whether as a prostitute or not is not known to Mrs Ryder; although the police looked upon her as such. She was addicted to drink.

    The Gloucester Echo of 17/7/1889 expressed no doubts in the matter.

    The victim, like all those who have been done to death previously by the same murderous hand, was a woman of the lowest class of unfortunates in the East End of London.

    And to emphasise the point later in the report they described,

    ...the ?unfortunate? class to which the woman belonged.

    Further down the report there is a somewhat cryptic comment attributed to John McCormack, the man with whom Alice had lived for six years. It?s the nearest thing there is to an informed opinion that Alice was at least a ?casual? prostitute.

    McCormack, while admitting that the wretched woman was addicted to drink, denied that she was a prostitute in the ordinary acceptation of the term.

    The Shepton Mallet Journal of 17/7/1889 also ?supposed? that Alice was an unfortunate, and provided its reasoning.

    The unfortunate woman appears to be about 40 years of age, and from her dress it is supposed that she belonged to the unfortunate class.

    Other papers expressed the same supposition, but without providing an explanation for their opinions.

    At the inquest, both McCormack and Betsy Ryder, the deputy of Tenpenny?s lodging house, denied that Alice had been in the habit of staying out late. But it?s possible that their comments were restrained by an unwillingness to ?speak ill of the dead?.


    So what are we left with?

    The police believed Alice was a prostitute.

    The press assumed she was, either on the basis of her clothes or possibly because she appeared to be yet another victim of a Whitechapel prostitute slayer.

    John McCormack felt unable to give a categorical denial of the accusation.

    Not a lot, is it? Considerably less than Nichols or Chapman, I?d say.

    In this case, I?d be inclined to ignore most of the press reports, there?s nothing behind them. But I wouldn?t ignore the opinion of the police. I don?t go along with view that they automatically assumed every woman alone on the streets at night was a prostitute. And the wording ?the police looked upon her as such? suggests she was known to them.

    As for McCormack?s statement, that?s very suggestive, assuming it wasn?t a journalistic invention (which I doubt it was).

  • #2
    The whole prostitute-or-not controversy is ridiculous. Women--and to some extent men--of today, especially those who have 'substance abuse' issues, still live the lives of 'unfortunates', selling their bodies as needed to survive. All of the C-5 were known to have issues with alcohol and four of five were known to have been at least tipsy within their last hours.

    There are or were some YouTube videos about young women in modern England who were living similarly to the C-5, largely due to drug problems. We certainly have the same in the U.S. It makes more sense to look at the real issues instead of cleansing history. IMO, the story should be told via source material and some of the profits should go to aid women today who could well end up just like the C-5.
    The wickedness of the world is the dream of the plague.~~Voynich Manuscript

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    • #3
      Good thread, Gary....thanks
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      • #4
        Have to agree with Anna on this one. Trying to define what does and doesn't constitute a prostitute is silly - most likely, Alice was like just about everybody else of her station in life, doing whatever she had to do to survive. If she had the opportunity to make a few extra pennies by doing some sexual favour on one of her late night outings, then she shouldn't be looked down upon for doing so. I doubt that very many women of her type would've chosen street prostitute in the Victorian East End as a profession if they'd had the choice. But, for one reason or another, that's the position they found themselves in, and there was little else in the way of help in Alice's time. Her apparent addiction to drink probably didn't help the vicious cycle, but it would've been some sort of escape from reality.

        Cheers,
        Adam.

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        • #5
          Alice had apparently been living with McCormack for six years. He was in steady employment and was open-handed enough to give her 1/- to spend over and above the 8d she was supposed to have paid to Elizabeth Ryder for their night’s doss. At least that’s what he said. He’d also been drinking that afternoon and so presumably had spent some of his wages before he returned to Gun Street. Furthermore, according to McCormack, Alice worked hard herself, washing, and charring for jewish families, so their combined incomes should have kept the wolf from the door and left a little over for drink. But perhaps Alice’s prodigious thirst outstripped her disposable income on occasion and she made up the shortfall by prostitution. That sounds perfectly plausible to me.

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          • #6
            As and when the need arose I would presume. Is there any evidence available to suggest that she was soliciting on the night of her murder?

            I have to admit that I don't know too much about Alice, bless her.

            Tristan

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Tristan Hardman-Dodd View Post
              As and when the need arose I would presume. Is there any evidence available to suggest that she was soliciting on the night of her murder?

              I have to admit that I don't know too much about Alice, bless her.

              Tristan
              I don’t think there is, Tristan. She apparently approached a man in a pub for a drink and he said ‘yes’. I think that’s about it.

              Bearing in mind that she had apparently (unless she was robbed) blown the money given her by McCormack, some of which she was supposed to have paid to Mrs Ryder as rent, she couldn’t have expected a warm welcome back at Gun Street if she returned empty handed. So she could have been attempting to earn a few coppers when she was attacked.

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              • #8
                Women have long been something like property in patriarchal societies. No, I am not going to go all feminist in my comment. Women have been raised for millennia to need men, to find protection in marriage, etc. Going back to the 1800's for example, when was it England allowed women to inherit property in their own right? As I recall, Queen Victoria ruled the nation before women had the right to inherit property and certainly before women had the right to vote.

                Not to mention that women's wages were generally very low since a woman's place was in the home as a wife and mother. Societies that supported this system frequently forgot what to do with widows and children.

                Even in my own lifetime in small town USA, girls wanted to marry young and "old maid" was still a term meaning if a girl was not married by about 21, she was undesirable.

                A rationale I have read for female prostitution, especially casual prostitution as needed, is that women are somewhat prostituted by social norms. Some women choose to charge for their services and considering male sexuality, there is usually a ready market.

                A number of the 1880's cases that involved casual prostitution seemed to involve a woman wanting a man to "treat" her, to buy her drinks at the pub. The man in turn asked her to "walk with" him to a quiet court or passage. This sort of thing happens frequently in modern bars where men buy drinks for women and they go somewhere together afterward.

                Increasingly science describes various conditions as on a spectrum ranging from weak to strong. If this principle was applied to prostitution in 1888 or any time including the present, what might we see? If a woman in a modern bar --I use the US term because I have no idea what life in UK pubs is like--gets free drinks from a man, dances with him and goes to his place for sex afterward, is she a prostitute at the lowest/weakest end of the spectrum? Probably. At the far end we would have women who deliberately earn most or all of their income from selling their bodies.

                I suggest four of the C-5 were at the lowest end of the spectrum, selling their favors as needed. Mary Kelly might be higher on the spectrum but what information we have indicates she did not want a career as a prostitute. Forget the argument about prostitute-or-not! Define prostitution as a spectrum, say one to ten, occasional to intense. Interestingly there are some feminists who make a case that marriage is a form of prostitution if the women enter marriages primarily or entirely for financial security.
                The wickedness of the world is the dream of the plague.~~Voynich Manuscript

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                • #9
                  Hello all,

                  Perhaps avoiding the issue a little, I've come to the conclusion that these women were more likely destitutes than prostitutes.

                  Do destitute women sell themselves for money in order to survive? At times, likely.
                  Are they compelled to sell themselves to survive? At times, possibly.
                  Are they compelled to do it on a regular basis? Less likely.
                  Is this their only means of support at all times? Unlikely.

                  So, as usual, one asks, what constitutes the lable "prostitute" in 1888 /1889?
                  Are all women who have felt forced to sell themselves "prostitutes"? Unlikely.
                  Did they, out of choice, decide to start doing this? Doubtful.

                  It seems to me it comes down to a needs must situation.
                  Would these women have chosen to sell themselves if their income, through regular work, had been sufficient to survive? That is where the term "prostitute" becomes clearer, imho.

                  Let's face it. These unfortunate women were not good lookers, were not dressed to attract men in a regular, night by night way. They were homeless, and had no stable lodging. They were, in fact destitute.

                  We are clouded in our modern definition of what a prostitute today is. However, we must also consider that destitute women in 1888 were labelled, easily, as prostitutes by the police and those standing on a higher social platform. Whether a woman took money for sexual favours once a month, week or day made no difference to those who judged them in 1888.
                  To them, ALL destitute women were prostitutes, under the colloquial euphemism of "unfortunate".

                  We must remember that they may have been Hawkers, Washer-women or matchstick sellers at one or another time near to when they were murdered. If the Hawking business was slow one week, how would they eat? Drink? Etc.

                  So on balance, and I'm careful to try to not avoid their mis-deeds, I will stick with destitutes. And that way, the meaning of the word "unfortunate" has more to do with their fortune, not their supposed income methods.

                  I include Alice in the above description. A destitute woman in unfortunate circumstances.

                  I, personally, can find no real solid evidence for the term prostitute.


                  Phil
                  from 1905...to 19.05..it was written in the stars

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Phil Carter View Post
                    Hello all,

                    Perhaps avoiding the issue a little, I've come to the conclusion that these women were more likely destitutes than prostitutes.

                    Do destitute women sell themselves for money in order to survive? At times, likely.
                    Are they compelled to sell themselves to survive? At times, possibly.
                    Are they compelled to do it on a regular basis? Less likely.
                    Is this their only means of support at all times? Unlikely.

                    So, as usual, one asks, what constitutes the lable "prostitute" in 1888 /1889?
                    Are all women who have felt forced to sell themselves "prostitutes"? Unlikely.
                    Did they, out of choice, decide to start doing this? Doubtful.

                    It seems to me it comes down to a needs must situation.
                    Would these women have chosen to sell themselves if their income, through regular work, had been sufficient to survive? That is where the term "prostitute" becomes clearer, imho.

                    Let's face it. These unfortunate women were not good lookers, were not dressed to attract men in a regular, night by night way. They were homeless, and had no stable lodging. They were, in fact destitute.

                    We are clouded in our modern definition of what a prostitute today is. However, we must also consider that destitute women in 1888 were labelled, easily, as prostitutes by the police and those standing on a higher social platform. Whether a woman took money for sexual favours once a month, week or day made no difference to those who judged them in 1888.
                    To them, ALL destitute women were prostitutes, under the colloquial euphemism of "unfortunate".

                    We must remember that they may have been Hawkers, Washer-women or matchstick sellers at one or another time near to when they were murdered. If the Hawking business was slow one week, how would they eat? Drink? Etc.

                    So on balance, and I'm careful to try to not avoid their mis-deeds, I will stick with destitutes. And that way, the meaning of the word "unfortunate" has more to do with their fortune, not their supposed income methods.

                    I include Alice in the above description. A destitute woman in unfortunate circumstances.

                    I, personally, can find no real solid evidence for the term prostitute.


                    Phil
                    Thanks, Phil.

                    But if, say, a man only kills women who approach him in the street with offers of sex for money and who are prepared to go off with him to dark corners to conclude the transaction, is he a prostitute killer? And if he is, how do we describe his victims? What if every woman he killed had been trying to sell him matches on the night they were murdered, would we get hot under the collar if they were described as match sellers - even if they had a dozen other casual jobs on the go?

                    I’m not sure on what grounds Alice could be considered ‘destitute’. She was apparently in a long term relationship with a man in regular employment, she worked hard herself and had a roof over head (albeit a doss house). Poor, certainly, but ‘destitute’? Are we suggesting that better off society considered every poor woman a prostitute?

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                    • #11
                      This is going a bit off topic, but what if William Nichols had said that he stopped paying Polly’s allowance when he learned she had a steady job at a laundry, the Thrawl Street women had said that they didn’t know much about her other than that for the past few weeks she’d been working in a laundry, the police described her as a laundress, and her body had been found outside a laundry shortly after it had closed? Oh, and she was one of a group of laundry workers apparently killed by the same man. Would anyone be saying that it was inappropriate to describe her as a laundress because there was no ‘hard’ evidence to that effect? Or because she may have had other jobs in between stints at laundry work?

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                      • #12
                        Alice's problems were probably related to alcohol. Workhouse records show her being picked up by police for drunkeness in Dorset Street and being treated for alcoholism and fits on all the occassions she has been found in workhouse records.

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Debra Arif View Post
                          Alice's problems were probably related to alcohol. Workhouse records show her being picked up by police for drunkeness in Dorset Street and being treated for alcoholism and fits on all the occassions she has been found in workhouse records.
                          Yes, that’s right Debs. Ditto her prison sentences.

                          So we add into the mix a probable addict who on occasion may have been desperate to obtain her poison.

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Gary Barnett View Post
                            Yes, that’s right Debs. Ditto her prison sentences.

                            So we add into the mix a probable addict who on occasion may have been desperate to obtain her poison.
                            I'd also add in that alcohol would have impaired her judgment.

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Debra Arif View Post
                              I'd also add in that alcohol would have impaired her judgment.
                              That’s very true.

                              I have to say that when I saw Alice introduced as a prostitute in The Ultimate, my hackles rose. But when you put all this stuff together, especially the fact that she may have blown McCormack’s 1/8 on drink, the possibility that she was trying to obtain money when she met her killer seems quite high.

                              We’ll never know, I suppose. And, of course, it doesn’t really matter precisely what ignominies she suffered in life.

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