Fallen Women

Open Access
Jurczyk, Kimberly Ann
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Lisa Ruth Sternlieb, Thesis Supervisor
  • Marcy Lynne North, Honors Advisor
  • English
  • creative writing
  • women
  • feminism
  • victorian
Many know of Florence Nightingale as The Lady with the Lamp, a heroic nurse who took care of wounded soldiers during the Crimean War in the 1850s. Nightingale was not only lauded for her hospital reform but also coined the founder of modern nursing. However, what is not widely known is Nightingale’s fight against the Contagious Diseases Act of 1864. The Contagious Diseases Act was passed by Parliament in England in 1864 and had alterations and editions in 1866 and 1869. This Act allowed police officers to arrest women believed to be prostitutes without any form of evidence or testimony. Officers took women off the streets in the name of public health, believing that their actions would address the outbreak of venereal diseases spreading throughout the country. Once arrested, the women underwent a compulsory examination by medical professionals, a process likened to instrumental rape. If determined to be infected, the women either were forced to be kept in lock hospitals (institutions meant solely for treating venereal diseases) or, if they refused to be hospitalized, were jailed. Florence Nightingale fought against the unjust nature of the legislation, believing that it unfairly targeted and treated women. Nightingale joined forces with other Victorian feminists, including Josephine Butler and Harriet Martineau, who also argued that women were not given a voice as to whether they should be treated or not. This novella tells the story of Nightingale’s struggle against the Contagious Diseases Act, its proponents, and the strict society that disapproved of her association with England’s fallen women.