The "Gateway to Adventure": Women, Urban Space and Moral Purity inLiverpool c. 1908-c. 1957

  • Samantha Caslin-Bell

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis examines the regulation of women in public space in Liverpool between 1908 and 1957. It considers the complex relationship between the laws used to police solicitation, governmental debate about female prostitution and local purity campaigners' concerns with the moral vulnerability of young, working-class, urban women. It is argued that the ways in which prostitution was understood and managed had an impact upon all women's access to and use of public space, together with wider definitions of female morality and immorality. The thesis adds to historical understandings about the implications of prostitution regulation in the twentieth century, by moving away from London-focused histories to offer a detailed analysis of the ways in which national debates about vice were taken up at local level and with what consequences. I begin by exploring the problems with policing prostitution in the early-twentieth century and argue that increasing concern about the difficulty in differentiating prostitutes from 'ordinary' women provoked anxiety amongst law makers and government officials alike. It is argued that the debates canvassed by the 1927 Macmillan Committee indicate the degree to which moral codes about female sexuality informed official approaches to prostitution. The thesis considers the implications of these broad debates in Liverpool. Focusing on the work of the Liverpool Vigilance Association (LVA), it is proposed that fears about the moral threat of prostitution fuelled the organisation's belief in the necessity of preventative patrol work centred on the moral surveillance of young, working-class women. This thesis shows that in interwar Liverpool, women's movements were circumscribed first and foremost by their gender. Traditional, nineteenth-century ideas about women's place within the domestic sphere created a sense among local purity campaigners that female morality was being threatened by women's visibility in urban spaces. Other aspects of social status, such as class, race and employment experiences, heightened the interest of the LVA in targeting distinctive groups of women. The thesis demonstrates that in their efforts to regulate women's movements through the city of Liverpool, local purists singled-out working-class and immigrant (especially Irish) women, as they believed them to be the most susceptible to corruption. This thesis draws on a wide range of archival sources, especially Home Office Records relating to the Public Places (Order) Bill and the establishment of the 1927 Macmillan Committee, as well as the LVA archive, in order to show how national and local policies on prostitution were both interdependent and distinct.
Date of Award1 Aug 2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorFrank Mort (Supervisor) & Carol Smart (Supervisor)


  • National Vigilance Association
  • Association for Moral and Social Hygiene
  • Liverpool Vigilance Association
  • white slavery
  • trafficking
  • historical sociology
  • cultural history
  • philanthrophy
  • history of sexuality
  • history
  • women
  • women police
  • social control
  • feminism
  • Liverpool
  • purity
  • vice
  • vigilance
  • prostitution
  • Macmillan Committee
  • Wolfenden Committee
  • Irish
  • domestic work
  • morality

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