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In this illustrated lecture outlining an aspect of York’s history previously ignored, Dr Frances Finnegan corrects the myths surrounding the nineteenth century ‘social evil’; and discusses the research, writing and particularly the repercussions of her book, Poverty and Prostitution: A Study of Victorian Prostitutes In York, published by Cambridge University Press in 1979. Based on a systematic examination of a variety of sources (weekly newspaper reports of Magistrates’ Court Proceedings, Poor Law Guardians’ Application and Report Books, records of the York Quarter Sessions and census enumerators’ notebooks), the book details all recorded circumstances of the l,400 prostitutes and brothel keepers documented as operating in York between 1837 and 1887. It examines too, the history of York’s main attempt at reform - the Bishophill Refuge or Female Penitentiary Society (founded in 1845), whose records include letters from former inmates. The lecture is illustrated with photographs of the now demolished haunts and houses of the women, and pictures of contemporary rescue workers and the institutions they ran.
Frances Finnegan (formerly Frances Beechey) obtained a BA in History from the University of York in 1970. Her DPhil (1976) was in Social and Economic History and was on the Irish community in York - 1840-1875. She moved to Ireland in 1978 and lectured in Social History at the Waterford Institute of Technology for 27 years. Her publications include: Poverty and Prostitution: a Study of Victorian Prostitutes in York (Cambridge University Press, 1979); Poverty and Prejudice: a Study of Irish Immigrants in York, 1840-1875 (Cork University Press, 1982, and to be re-published by York University Press later this year); Do Penance or Perish: Magdalen Asylums in Ireland (Oxford University Press, 2004); and Introspections: the Poetry & Private World of Dorothea Herbert (Congrave Press,2011). She has also written on working-class communities in South Wales, South Yorkshire and Liverpool.