London's Pulse: Medical Officer of Health reports 1848-1972

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London County Council 1920

Annual report of the Council, 1920. Vol. III. Public Health

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was raised as to whether in fact some at least of the refuges and rescue homes could not undertake the
kind of work for which hostels were instituted. It was also felt that the time had come when what
might be called the preventive aspect of the venereal diseases problem, from the sociological point of
view, ought to be considered, and, if possible, co-ordinated with the scheme for the treatment
of venereal disease. An effort was made, therefore, in the latter half of this year, to investigate, so
far as was possible in the short time available, the work actually being done at the refuges and rescue
homes, and by various religious and charitable societies in the same direction. Accordingly, a fairly
representative selection of refuges and rescue homes, etc., was made and each one visited. In addition,
the official representative of several of the societies, and a number of persons actively engaged daily in
rescue and preventive work, were interviewed. Several conferences were also attended, which were
specially convened for the purpose of discussing certain aspects of this work, and the practicability of its
co-ordination with the venereal diseases scheme. By these means a vast amount of extremely
valuable and useful information has been accumulated, and although it is impossible within the limits
of this report to deal adequately with all these important activities, it is proposed to indicate in broad
outline some of the more important features of the work which is going on in London.
Refuges and rescue homes.—There is a very large number of refuges and rescue homes
in London, probably 100, or more. It is difficult from the incomplete information available to say what
their total accommodation amounts to, but probably 2,000 beds would not be an over-estimate. They
are managed and financed by quite a number of different bodies, e.g., the Church of England, the Church
of Rome, the Church Army, the Salvation Army' the Wesleyans, the Young Women's Christian Association,
the Jewish Community, etc., etc. The general principles which animate the various bodies managing
the homes are much the same, though, in certain respects, there are important distinctions to which
attention should be drawn. In a small number of the homes, strict isolation from the outer world is
the rule, whilst in others, the practice varis from occasional outings and visits from relatives and
friends to a considerable amount of outdoor freedom and latitude in regard to visits from relatives and
friends. The truth seems to be that there is a definite tendency nowadays in the direction of a modification
of the old regime of strict isolation and an iron discipline within the four walls of the home. There
is still a good deal of difference of opinion as to which is the right policy in the best interests of the inmate,
and owing to the very limited amount of reliable information available as to the after history of women
who have been inmates of these institutions, it is impossible at the moment to express any opinion
on this point, further than to say that it is believed that the policy of strict isolation and rigid discipline
is probably not the one best calculated to deal successfully with girls of the present day.
The usual practice is for a girl to remain in the rescue home for a long period of time—eighteen
months to two years is common—and even much longer periods in certain cases. In this connection it
is very important to note what appears to be an outstanding defect in the rescue homes, viz., the
fact that very little advantage seems to be taken of this long period of residence to train the inmates
for some definite occupation which would enable them, on leaving the home, to earn an honest, independent
In practically all rescue homes the inmates carry out all, or most, of the necessary domestic work,
and, apart from religious and moral instruction, this may actually represent the routine of their daily
lives. In a limited number of homes a special feature is made of laundry work, and this in addition
to giving useful instruction and much needed exercise to the inmates, is generally a considerable, and
indeed, it may be, a vital source of revenue to the home. In still others, efforts have been made to
instruct the girls in needlework of various kinds, etc., but it will be obvious that the amount of training
available is on the whole very limited. In any event, however useful a good training in domestic
work, laundry or needlework may be to the majority of the girls, there must be many to whom these
occupations are unsuitable, and in view of the immense importance during such a long period of residence
of doing everything possible to place them in a sound economic position at the time of leaving the home,
it is highly desirable that an effort should be made to introduce into the homes some more comprehensive
system of education and training. In making this recommendation, the fundamental importance of
the moral and spiritual training and instruction provided in rescue homes is full recognised. But it
is suggested that the economic value of the girl at the moment she leaves the home is a factor of immense
importance in her own interest, and that she would be greatly assisted on re-entering the world, after a
long period of seclusion, freedom from temptation, anxiety and worry, etc., if during this period something
could be done to place her in a position to secure her own economic independence. The gravity
of this question has been greatly increased recently by the higher cost of living, accompanied, as it is
also, by a greater demand for higher standards of educational attainment and technical skill on the part
of all wage earners. It is not proposed to indicate in this report the kind of training and education
which is needed or the methods by which they should be made available to the inmates of rescue homes,
as this is clearly a matter for investigation and report by educational experts.
Rescue homes and venereal disease.—Enquiries show that as a rule rescue homes exclude girls
suffering from venereal disease. It is interesting to note that in many of the homes the exclusion is
based not upon the result of a careful medical examination, but entirely on the opinion of the matron,
or some other lay person in charge of the home, as to the presence of venereal disease.
It need hardly be pointed out that on the one hand, such a practice must lead to the exclusion
of some who are not suffering from venereal diseases, and, on the other, to the admission of others
who are suffering from venereal disease. The principal reasons for the policy of exclusion appear to
(а) The fear of infection being transmitted from sufferers to non-sufferers.
(b) To objections raised by the inmates to the presence of girls suffering from venereal
disease amongst their number.