Ladies Harassed in the Street: 1887

La modiste ou Jeune femme en manteau portant un carton, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, c. 1879

La modiste ou Jeune femme en manteau portant un carton, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, c. 1879


The lawless freedom with which men approach or assail women in some American cities, while women on the other hand are subjected to the meddlesome and domineering interference of policemen, lends some interest to the case of Miss Cass in London, one of the victims of police brutality, which has excited an inquiry and comment in Parliament, and is likely to result in the punishment of the policeman. The New York Sun says:

“The case of Miss Cass, who was arrested in Regent Street as a disreputable character, has started in the Pall Mall Gazette a discussion of the annoyances to which decent women are subjected in the streets of London. It will be remembered that she was a respectable girl recently arrived in London, where she had obtained employment in a milliner’s shop, and that while waiting in Regent Street early in the evening she was arrested by a policeman, who insisted in regarding her as a professional street-walker, as which, also, she was held by a magistrate, who refused to listen to her denials and explanations.

“Many women have accordingly written to the Pall Mall Gazette to ask why, if a woman is liable to arrest on the mere suspicion of having addressed a man, men are allowed to annoy and insult women in the London streets with perfect impunity. The testimony of them all is that, even in the daytime, a lady with any claims to good looks, and who walks alone, is always liable to such treatment, no matter how modest her apparel and reserved her demeanor. It is not merely of insolent and persistent staring that they complain, for they have grown to expect that as a matter of course; but they are actually spoken to by men who are strangers to them, in the most insinuating and offensively flattering terms. These men are commonly described as ‘gentlemen’ in appearance; ‘a tall, distinguished, military-looking man ; ‘ ‘a youthful diplomat;’ ‘a government official, a man holding a lucrative appointment,’ and the like. They are not roughs; from them ladies have nothing of the sort to fear; but men who think to have the greater success and to enjoy the complete immunity because they wear the garb of gentlemen.

“Rev. Mr. Haweis writes that ‘you might easily fill the Pall Mall Gazette with nothing else for months, for we have come to such a pass as this, that a young girl cannot stand aside at a railway station while papa takes tickets, nor a girl lead her blind relative through the streets, nor can a married woman go twenty paces In a London thoroughfare without the risk of insult or even assault.'”

These evils are a relic of the old ideas of woman s Inferiority, and their only sure remedy is the destruction of that inferiority by the industrial and professional education, which will make the woman the par of her brother, and enable her to maintain her equal rights everywhere.

Buchanan’s Journal of Man October 1887: pp 15-16

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Alas, today one can still read accounts of modern-day street harassment that sound virtually identical to those of 1887. Plus ça change…

The case of Miss Elizabeth Cass was a London cause célèbre for months. PC Endicott arrested her as a common prostitute in Regent street in late June and swore under oath that he had been watching her for six weeks. Magistrate Newton accepted his testimony and refused to have Miss Cass’s employer sworn to vouch for her. The young lady was released with a stain on her character, but questions were asked in Parliament and it was found that Miss Cass, who worked for a respectable milliner, had only been three weeks in London. There was talk of charging PC Endicott with perjury, but Mrs Daffodil is uncertain if anything came of it. One suspects not. No doubt Magistrate Newton felt that the officer had merely made an honest mistake in the zealous pursuit of his duties.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.



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