Women in History: Victorian London’s Eliza Armstrong Case Against Human Trafficking

The Celebrating Women Series for 2017 continues with article #6 today. If this is the first article you’ve read so far, March was Women in History month and so I’ve been featuring writers and authors who sent in guest articles surrouding women and topics about women.  In fact, it’s now extending way past March we’ve had so much interest to feature strong, impactful women. You can find a main page for this with explanation and link to all articles here. I’ll add the articles as I schedule or post them.

Introducing JoAnne Shade and the Eliza Armstrong Case

I welcome my dear longtime and local friend of mine JoAnne Streeter Shade to my site and the series today! Retired from the Salvation Army, she’s continued writing a weekly column in our local newspaper and publishing books. She’s such an inspiration to me in her faith and her passionate stances for civil liberties and women.

Her article here surrounds the case of Eliza Armstrong, a child bought for immoral purposes in Victorian England. Eliza’s story has parallels to our own still fervent fight against human trafficking still in our generation. It’s also a story about community leaders, men and women, who fought to raise the age of consent.

Pall-Mall0006-feature

Copy of 1885 newspaper…photo taken from The Salvationist (online site of The Salvation Army) 

The Story of Eliza Armstrong and the Fight for Social Change
by JoAnne Shade, Author of Eliza and the Midwife

Writing in A Tale of Two Cities in 1859, Charles Dickens expressed a truth that applies to many times in history. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Dickens’ words could well have been written in the closing decades of the 1800s, as London faced incredible poverty and unimaginable wealth, moral degradation and crusading do-gooders. One story, that of Eliza Armstrong and the Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon, is a vivid example of the competing forces of good and evil at work in a historical moment in Victorian London.

In 1885, the presenting issue for the reformers was the law of the land that allowed for children to legally be prostituted, as the age of consent was thirteen. At thirteen, a girl could make her own decision about her sexual activity (or others could make the decisions for her), and there was no relief from the law. This led to many girls being sold into prostitution, with a high premium paid for those considered “virgointacto.”

In an attempt to get this law changed, a London newspaper editor (W.T. Stead of the Pall Mall Gazette), The Salvation Army’s Bramwell Booth, and long-time reformer Josephine Butler gathered to plan public pressure with the hopes of drawing attention to the need to raise the age of consent to sixteen. The plan was dependent on investigative reporting, and ultimately produced a sensationalized five-day series descriptive of London’s underworld. One component of the investigation involved a young Salvation Army woman, unnamed, who went undercover into a brothel, where she spent nine days gathering facts about its operation. As a part of their actions, a redeemed brothel owner (Rebecca Jarrett) was coerced into taking part in a covert action designed to draw attention to the ease at which children could be purchased for immoral purposes – by actually purchasing a child. Eliza Armstrong, age thirteen, was purchased for five pounds, taken to a brothel, and then spirited away to France for a number of months.

As a result of the ensuing outrage (as well as effective community organizing), 800,000 signatures were gathered to petition parliament for a change in the law, and within two months, the legislature acted on the bill, providing protection for thousands of at-risk children.

The story doesn’t end with the passage of the law, for while the motivation of the group wasn’t doubted, their methods were questionable. This led to a series of trials, in which Mr. Booth was exonerated, but Mr. Stead and others were sentenced to prison time. Tucked away in this drama was the minor role of midwife Louise Rose Mourez. Her willingness to verify the virginity of Eliza Armstrong resulted in an assault conviction and her subsequent death in prison.

Eliza and the Midwife: A Story in Human Trafficking, published by Frontier Press, presents an overview of the campaign to change social policy and the resulting consequences to Victorian London, W.T. Stead and the Pall Mall Gazette, the Salvation Army, and the individual lives of the plot’s participants. In the exploration of this fascinating snippet of history, Eliza’s story offers lessons from the past to inform the contemporary fight against human trafficking.

17310585_10211151637119716_555464379_oEliza and the Midwife: A Story in Human Trafficking, Synopsis –

In 1885, a London newspaper editor, a religious leader, and a redeemed brothel owner took part in a covert action designed to draw attention to the ease at which children could be purchased for immoral purposes. Tucked away in the sensational account of that transaction, publicized as “The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon,” was the small role of midwife Louise Rose Mourez. Her willingness to verify the virginity of Eliza Armstrong, the thirteen-year old girl who was purchased, resulted in an assault conviction and her death in prison. “Eliza and the Midwife” provides an overview of the planned purchase of the child and the subsequent consequences to Victorian London, the Salvation Army, and the individual participants. It draws upon trial transcripts, historical research, and the imagined voices of the child, the midwife, and an undercover prostitute to capture the essence of the scandalous scheme addressing the societal problems of child prostitution and trafficking plaguing London in 1885.

If you’re local to Ashland, Ohio, this book is available in Ashland at Local Roots. You can buy it used from third party sellers on Amazon HERE or you can let me know you want a copy and tell JoAnne.

JoAnne Streeter Shade, Biography

17342251_10211151650560052_1661613507_oJoAnn Streeter Shade has walked alongside many women in a variety of settings for more than thirty-five years, and enjoys writing about women from a historical perspective, as she did in Eliza Duncan: An Imagined Memoir; The Other Woman: Exploring the Story of Hagar; and WomenVoices: Speaking from the Gospels with Power. She has known of the story of Eliza Armstrong for many years, and is glad to have finally given voice to Eliza, Rebecca, Louise, Jenny and Florence.

She has ministered in Salvation Army congregations and social service programs in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio, and has served at North Coast Family Foundation, a Christian counseling center in Northeast Ohio. She provides development support to the Massillon Museum, and works with Doctor of Ministry students at Ashland Theological Seminary. She is also a weekly columnist for the Ashland Times-Gazette.

She is married to Larry, is the mother of three adult sons, Greg, Drew and Dan, and Lauren and Becky, beloved daughters-in-law, and is Nana to the lovely Madelyn Simone and the delightful Elizabeth Holiday. With a Master of Arts in Pastoral Counseling and a Doctor of Ministry in the Women in Prophetic Leadership track from Ashland Theological Seminary, she combines her academic training with a writer’s eye, a pastor’s heart, and a grandmother’s joy through Gracednotes Ministries.

Thank you for following this series!

Women in History

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