The Dissolute Female

Given the weak nature of the Angel in the House it was believed that women should be protected from their fallen sisters – the dissolute.

The Boards of Guardians responsible for running the Workhouses in the county were careful to ensure that the dissolute women would not mix with the virtuous poor.

In 1852, the Lismore Union resolved:

That a classification of the female Inmates being deemed necessary so as to separate the notoriously dissolute females from those whose misfortunes compelled them to become inmates of the House – a portion of the Workhouse be allotted to their use to be called “The Dissolute Ward”. BG/LISM/11

and Dungarvan Union in 1855 :

Dissolute Characters – Master submitted a list of the Wet Nurses now in the House, having illegitimate children with the view of the Guardians selecting from amongst them those to be placed in the Dissolute Ward". BG/DUNGN/

The Dissolute Wards of the Workhouses housed, in particular, unmarried mothers and prostitutes.

On the 17th January 1856 the Dungarvan Board of Guardians resolved that:

"…Anne Sullivan and Bridget Curreen – prostitutes; admitted this day be sent to the Dissolute Ward."

The price women paid for being regarded as Dissolute can be seen in the courts. On 28th July 1841, the Waterford Mirror newspaper reported on the Waterford Assizes where the Hon. Baron Pennefather and the Hon. Justice Torrens, Judges of the Leinster Circuit arrived to hear the Assizes. The newspaper reported on the direction of the Judge who said:

"There were only 3 cases requiring any particular attention, which were offences against females. They ought accurately to examine the evidence in these cases and not find the bills if, they had any serious doubt – he meant that all cases should be accurately examined into, but these cases particularly so."

This concern on the part of the Judge is clarified by the newspaper which provides the information that “The prosecutrix was a woman of uneasy virtue…”.

These views of the place of women in society appear in all aspects of life in the nineteenth century and can be seen in how women were treated in poverty, in poor health and in violence.