chapter  Chapter 7
14 Pages

The Inside Story: Crime, Convicts and Careers for Women

WithBarbara Onslow

he causes and consequences of crime have always been a staple subject for the journalist. This chapter examines how mid-century women activists and reformers, who engaged in journalism, harnessed the press to argue the cause of that sector of the prison population publicly regarded as particularly depraved—the female convict. It begins by indicating the variety of press treatments of crime, criminality and prison conditions, and the narrative structures developed to attract readers. The popularity of reports of crime, trials and executions in the Victorian press is well attested. Whilst some of this might justify itself as straightforward recounting of current events in the public interest, it also exploited personal fears and moral anxieties, and appealed to a salacious taste for sensation. Harriet Martineau came of an earlier generation than the activists of the English Woman’s Journal, but her writings like those of the Langham Place women were important catalysts in aiding the social shift to the acceptance of career women.