Jack the Ripper: Class and Gender in Nineteenth Century London

The Jack the Ripper murders of the nineteenth century elicited numerous reactions from the public at the time.  While these reactions had an effect on many aspects of society, the two that were most interestingly affected were class and gender. The known Jack the Ripper murders occurred between August and November of 1888 and involved five women from Whitechapel, London. Each of these women was a member of the working class and most were prostitutes.  The culture of nineteenth century London was dominated by tension between the upper/middle class and the working class.  The Jack the Ripper murders created a perfect setting that heightened the already existing division. The tensions between middle class and working class extended even further into the realm of gender.  The Social Purity Movement of the nineteenth century created a division between the middle class women and working class women.  The Jack the Ripper murders pushed the middle class stigma of working class women even further.  The middle class women already saw working class women as beneath them because of their practices and professions, but the murders added even more consequences to the lifestyle of a working class woman.  To research this topic, I have looked at a number of newspapers, such as The Times, The Pall Mall Gazette, and The Manchester Guardian for articles from the 1880’s about Whitechapel and reports on the murders.  From these newspapers, I looked for articles that covered different topics pertaining to the crimes such as possible suspects, women, and London culture.  This topic is important because it shows how a series of violent murders can turn into much more than a scandalous and interesting story when the setting is right, and the setting of nineteenth century London was right.  While the Jack the Ripper murders continue to be of interest to people because of the ambiguity surrounding the suspect, the people of the nineteenth century were interested in the crimes for much deeper reasons than that.  The upper and middle class saw the crimes as a lens through which they viewed the working class and vice versa.  The Jack the Ripper murder brought to light many of the deeper conflicts in London society.

 

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