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1912: Local women hear of shocking White Slave trade

Mid Sussex Times - Tuesday 10 December 1912



A crowded meeting, for women only, to support the Criminal Law Amendment Bill, was held on Thursday at the Queen’s Hall, Cuckfield, under the auspices of the Ladies’ National Association. In the absence of Dr. Louisa Martindale, owing to an urgent Professional engagement, the chair was taken by Miss M.E. Verrall, Chairman of the Central Sussex Federation for Women’s Suffrage (N.U.W.S.S.). After giving a brief account of the history of the Bill, Miss Verrall expressed the hope that, as it had aIready passed from the Commons to the Lords, and received most favourable treatment in the Upper House, it might shortly become law. She said it still needed strong support from the best men and women in the country —(1) to withstand weakening amendments; (2) to enforce its action as a law of the land.

Mrs. Clare Goslett, as the chief speaker, then read the resolution, which thanked the Government for affording facilities for the consideration of the Bill in Parliament, deprecated any weakening amendments, and emphasised the need for legislation to provide punishment for the owners of flats used solely for the purpose of prostitution.

After referring to the magnificent speeches in support of the Bill by the Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Willoughby de Broke, Mrs. Goslett gave short account of the discovery in Brussels of the abominable traffic in girls which has been going on regularly since 1857. She congratulated her audience for assembling in such large numbers to discuss such an unpleasant subject, and appealed to all present to make such sacrifices as might be needed to help and protect their less fortunate sisters.

Queens Hall in the High Street c1900 - colourised (photograph courtesy of Cuckfield Museum)

The speaker then dealt with the important question: Who are the people involved in the White Slave Traffic? She said there are (1) the men and women who decoy young girls to ruin—(a) by advertisements; (b) by meeting them at railway stations; (c) by enticing girls away from villages and towns with promises of an easy life in idleness. She related several stories within the range of her own personal experience in illustration of the various methods used, and warned her hearers of other tricks for capturing innocent victims. To give some idea the money to be made out of the trade, she mentioned that 5,000 girls a year are wanted for Chicago, and one English girl has been sold for £300. (2) There are the owners of the houses where the girls are kept. These people make the girls pay for clothes given them in exchange for their own, and keep them hopelessly in debt. Mrs. Goslett then described (3) the kind of girls who are caught, and laid great stress on the dangers arising from ignorance. “We are not speaking," she said,”of the women who voluntarily lead a bad life; that is a different matter altogether." After relating instances of girls victimised by their employers she referred to the law which now treats such an offence as a misdemeanour instead of a felony. Lastly, among those involved in the traffic are (4) the parents of the victims.

After dealing with this aspect of the question, the speaker reminded her audience of two others to be answered: Why does the trade exist, and who wants the girls? She concluded her remarks by appealing to all those who have the management of children to safeguard the boys well as the girls by refusing to acknowledge the double standard morals. She also showed that the possession of a Parliamentary vote can be used to bring pressure to bear upon Members of Parliament.

Miss Verrall seconded the resolution, and spoke of the duty of women to know and to care about these social questions, and of their need of power to mend things. While women have no voting power they must influence the men of their families to use their votes on the side of purity; women can also help by subscribing to the National Vigilance Association, and encouraging the members of the Church of England Men’s Society.

Mrs. Darby proposed a vote of thanks to Mrs. Clare Goslett, and related the danger and escape of girl this neighbourhood.

Miss Chute Ellis seconded the vote of thanks, confirming the remarks made by Miss Verrall, and spoke of the need of high ideals, quoting the verse; “Where the vision faileth there the people perish," and "lines from St. Paul," by F. W H. Myers

Whoso hath felt the Spirit of the Highest

Cannot confound, nor doubt Him, nor deny;

Yea, with one voice, O world, tho' thou deniest,

Stand thou on that side, for on this am I.

A letter from Mrs. Burrows (wife of the Bishop of Lewes), expressing warm sympathy with the meeting and regret at not being present, was received too late to be read aloud.

A good collection proved sufficient to cover expenses.

Owing to the crowded state of the Hall many people could not see the literature for sale. It may be had within the next seven days from Miss Spooner, Red House, Muster Green, Haywards Heath.



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