Forty Lady Thieves

I was going to blog about rewriting today, as I am in the middle of rewriting something I wrote last year, but quite frankly it’s extremely painful and I came across a lady this morning who is far more interesting.

Here she is:

crime, gang, inglaterra, mulheres

Isn’t she lovely? Okay, well she looks lovely (which as anyone who reads the Daily Mail will know, is the key thing for anyone born female). Chances are, however, she isn’t someone you would want to meet down a dark alley. Florrie Holmes was a member of a notorious all girl gang that operated in London in the late 1800’s (and possibly even earlier, if rumour is to be believed). Hiding items in pockets concealed in their voluminous skirts, they shoplifted their way through the expensive end of London, then sold the goods and spent the money on posh frocks and parties. Jewellery, furs, hats – if it could be hidden in a pair of knickers, they took it. These women were no strangers to violence, either – one of the members, Maggie Hughes, was sent to prison for stabbing a policeman in the eye with a hatpin. Ouch.

They were ruthless, successful and powerful – at a time when women were shunned if they had a child out of wedlock. In 1864, the Contagious Disease Act was passed, which meant that any woman suspected of being a prostitute could be locked up in hospital and examined against her will.  We didn’t get the same voting rights as men until 1928. At a time when women had so few rights, the Forty Elephants were doing things their way. Seducing wealthy men, then blackmailing them. Working as maids in well heeled households then stealing jewellery from the lady of the house. The police tried to break up the gang and failed. Prosecutions led nowhere, and the women who were sent to prison got straight back to work as soon as they were released.

It’s hard to condone their behaviour. They were, after all, a bunch of violent thugs who took stuff that wasn’t theirs. It’s also hard not to feel a grudging sense of respect for a group of women who broke all the rules.

And pretty much got away with it.


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