The two women featured in this website, namely Belle Adams and Edna Farnsworth, share little in common besides their chosen profession. Both were prostitutes living and plying their trade in the red light district of 1880's and 1890's Victoria, British Columbia.
On conducting the research for this topic, we have discovered that such women, although apparently numerous, have not left the modern-day historian with much information about themselves in the form of photographs, diaries, etc If they do appear in Victoria's census and directories, they usually misrepresent themselves as being "seamstresses" and are therefore difficult to track down. For this reason, they are as invisible now as they were when they were alive.
Belle Adams and Edna Farnsworth are two exceptions to
this in that they caused such scandal during their lifetimes (or after
her death in the case of the unfortunate Miss Farnsworth) that they became
highly visible both to contemporaries and by extension to historians.
Belle Adams gained a certain level of notoriety after she slit the throat
of her lover's throat when he threatened to leave her for another woman
while Edna Farnsworth became relatively well known after she committed
suicide. The newspaper articles in which their scandalous doings were
reported allow their lives to bear witness to a time in Victoria's history
when such women were hardly the topic of conversation among polite society.
Being a society in which the legs of chairs were covered lest men became aroused by what resembled a woman's bare legs, the Victorians have been characterized as having a hyper awareness of sexuality and gender roles. However, they were far from being truly prudish as this was a time when child prostitution and pornography were rampant. They certainly did not practice what they preached! There was a veneer of respectability on the surface but if one scratched through it, one realized that the very same people who looked askance at "fallen women" were themselves committing a whole lot of sins!
The residents of Victoria epitomized this double standard.
Although they purported to be fine, upstanding citizens who upheld the
rigorous moral codes of Victorian England, they were just as likely as
their English counterparts to engage the services of such women as Edna
Farnsworth and Belle Adams. They did far more in their spare time than
have tea parties and play cricket in Beacon Hill Park. By examining the
treatment of Belle Adams and Edna Farnsworth in both the court system
and the press, we have effectively "aired Victoria's dirty laundry."
Click HERE to view the sources page.