Tag: Law

A Victorian Wife's Best Friend: The Role of Cats & Dogs in Cases of Spousal Abuse

Her Favourites by John Charlton, 1881.

The nineteenth century news is filled with reports of hero pets rescuing their masters and mistresses from various catastrophes. Dogs routed burglars and saved children from drowning, while cats meowed the alarm when the house was on fire or when a family member had stopped breathing in their bed. Both cats and dogs were also known to intervene in cases of spousal abuse. For a battered Victorian wife, this animal intervention could sometimes mean the difference between life and death. […]Continue Reading

The Scent of Violets: Perfume, Cosmetics, and Crime in the Late Victorian Era

“The fondness for violets increases with time, and many women of fashion will tolerate no other fragrance.”
American Soap Journal and Manufacturing Chemist, 1895.

The Nosegay Of Violets by William Worcester Churchill, 1905.

In 1893, a woman by the name of Margaret Gainer was arrested, charged, and ultimately sentenced to thirty days imprisonment for stealing a bottle of violet perfume from a hairdresser’s shop. The hairdresser had seen her take the bottle and slip it into her pocket, but when he gave her the choice of putting the bottle back or facing the consequences, Miss Gainer steadfastly refused to relinquish the violet perfume. Her motivation for the theft—and her subsequent unwillingness to part with her ill-gotten gains—is not entirely clear; however, I suspect it had more than a little to do with the late Victorian violet fad.[…]Continue Reading

A Proposed 18th Century Tax Bill Targets 27-Year-Old Spinsters...And Their Cats!

‘As the supply alluded to is to be levied upon all old maids, beyond a certain age, and intitled to certain yearly or other income; I make no doubt but both Houses of Parliament will speedily manifest their hearty concurrence thereto.’
The London Magazine, 1777.

A Visit to Grandmother by John Raphael Smith after Thomas James Northcote, 1785.
(Five Colleges and Historic Deerfield Museum Consortium)

The 1777 edition of the London Magazine includes an interesting letter to the editor in which a gentleman—who signs himself as ‘A Friend to the Community’—has appended a proposed bill to levy a tax of ‘6d. in the pound’ on old maids. He claims that this tax will generate revenues of nearly £300,000 per annum, a sum which could then be used to help fund the British war against the American colonies. The proposed bill begins by stating:[…]Continue Reading

Death at the Needle: The Tragedy of Victorian Seamstress Mary Walkley

The Seamstress by Josef Gisela, 1897.

“Sir,—I am a dressmaker, living in a large West-end house of business. I work in a crowded room with twenty-eight others. This morning one of my companions was found dead in her bed, and we all of us think that long hours and close confinement have had a great deal to do with her end.” 

So starts the anonymous letter which brought the death of seamstress Mary Ann Walkley to the forefront of public attention. Originally printed in a June 17, 1863 edition of The Times, the letter—signed simply “A Tired Dressmaker”—details the miserable work and living conditions of seamstresses, not in the East End of London, but in one of the finest dressmaking establishments in London’s West End.[…]Continue Reading

Canines and Crinolines: Victorian Dogs Captured by Fashion

Portrait of Princess Dagmar of Denmark with her Dog, 1860s.
Portrait of Princess Dagmar of Denmark with her Dog, 1860s.

In January of 1865, a young charwoman appeared at the Lambeth Police Court in London seeking assistance from the magistrate after having been attacked by her employer’s favorite dog.  A January 7th edition of the Kentish Independent reports that her employer’s name was Miss Mary Baker, “a maiden lady of over 70 years of age.”  Two years prior, Miss Baker had inherited a substantial fortune, the bulk of which she now expended on “feeding and keeping” a large pack of dogs inside of her house.  As the article relates:[…]Continue Reading