Unfortunate Females

Women as angels were considered the moral guardians of society but this role carried with it the responsibility for any lapse in morality. A number of efforts were made in the nineteenth century to control the spread of venereal disease. This was a particular concern of the military, given the spread of the disease among young men throughout their ranks.

Prostitution was often a feature of garrison towns where a large supply of custom could be found among the young men stationed there. Dungarvan in County Waterford was a garrison town and on 24th September 1877 the Dungarvan Town Commissioners resolved:

"that our attention having been called by the inhabitants of Bridge Street to the state in which the street is kept by being made the resort of prostitutes whose conduct is such that the inhabitants have to remove from the front rooms of their houses to the rear so as to avoid hearing the fearful expressions of those unfortunate females, we request the attention of the Constabulary to the removal of such a fearful state of the locality." DUDC/1/5

In response to the spread of venereal diseases the government introduced between 1864 and 1869 the Contagious Diseases Acts. These gave the authorities the right to declare any women living in certain garrison towns prostitutes and forcibly examine them for venereal disease.

The authorities continued to look towards the treatment of women in the prevention of the spread of venereal disease and in 1918 re-affirmed this policy in Regulation 40d Defence of the Realm Act (DORA) which prompted the Irish Women’s Franchise League to protest vehemently against the introduction of the compulsory medical examination of women which they felt was an attempt to:

“make vice safe for men…and is…an outrage against the liberty, honour and integrity of every woman and as a deliberate attempt to perpetrate the evil double moral standard” WCC/GNA/92