19th Century Prostitute Dispute

View’s of prostitution as I have experienced throughout my life have generally been negative. Society likes to shine a negative image on prostitution because of its deviation from cultural and ethical norms. Mrs. Warrens Profession, a play written in the nineteenth century by Bernard Shaw concentrates on redefining the public image of prostitution.



The central argument in Mrs. Warrens Profession is that prostitution should be considered a reasonable avenue of making a living. In Act 1, Mrs. Warren says “ Do you think we were such fools? As to let other people trade in our good looks by employing us as shop girls, or barmaids, or waitresses. When we could trade them in ourselves and get all the profit, instead of starvation wages. ” while trying to appeal to her distraught daughter. Vivie held strong against her mothers’ argument, on the other hand The Lexicon Universal Encyclopedia actually was congruent with the views held on prostitution in Mrs. Warrens Profession. The Lexicon Universal Encyclopedia claims that “The conditions of vocational and familial life for lower class women were sufficiently appalling [and that] prostitutes working conditions seemed to be less physically damaging than either work in the factories or the exhaustion brought about by repeated childbearing.”.  Hearing this material extended out into my personal views and doubts regarding prostitution. In order to understand the concept further I will break it down into a moral and physical test of whether prostitution’s benefits outweigh its negative attributes.


In order to keep with the theme of Mrs. Warrens Profession, I believe it is appropriate to consider the beneficial aspects of prostitution first. Starting with the claim that prostitution is a “Victimless crime” (Lexicon), meaning that in a normal transaction both parties walk away unharmed and happy with the result. While this may be true in some instances, it can be said that the welfare of the prostitutes is not taken into account when it comes to personal and physical conflicts. Sure, the prostitute may walk away with a large wad of cash in her purse but to what avail? The Lexicon Universal Encyclopedia claims that “The aging process tends to be accelerated in the prostitute by irregular sleeping and eating habits” and also that “venereal infections and the aftereffects of abortions may produce pelvic disorders and speed physical deterioration.”. So, If you want to believe that prostitution is a victimless crime you have to deny the repercussions on the employees. Another and more compelling argument regarding prostitution is that it’s illegality has proven to drive the profession underground and co-mingle it with crime. I believe that this claim holds significant standing in contemporary society, yet not as much for Mrs. Warrens Profession. The play was written during the nineteenth century during a time where brothels and such were considered more of a social norm, seeking out one was neither challenging and rarely had social implications for the customer. The prostitute on the other hand has to combat the familial values that society wishes to portray if they chose to succumb to the profession. This is the battle that the author is attacking. By portraying prostitution as a profession Shaw is attempting to reeducate the public and change views that have been set in society for centuries.

Where’s the resolution? The argument has deep roots for both parties, but where can we draw the line for acceptable subsistence and the dehumanizing effects that prostitution presents? A carpenter does not have to worry about being condemned by society, nor does any other respectable profession.  During the nineteenth century and even in contemporary society prostitution has proven to be combated by many a person with outspoken moral values. Time I would say has been the ultimate answer for this dilemma. Take a look at the laws against prostitution in many countries and you will see that they have significant standing in the polls. The reason for their popularity is because men and women see that prostitution is not a good job opportunity. The side-effects could result in death, addiction, and depression; who in their right mind would sail into an opportunity such as that. Vivie understood this, and tried to press it on her mother, Mrs. Warren on the other hand rightly explained that one does not simply become a prostitute, but that it is driven by a need to survive in a time and place where surviving for many was not easy. Thus it can be said that prostitution under certain conditions can benefit people in a society, but that these conditions oftentimes lead people to other extravagances as well, such as thievery and other crime.  Ultimately what you should take away from this is an understanding of the rights of humans, a women has the right to do what she wishes to her body short of suicide. Like the carpenter employing his skills to build a cabinet, the prostitute takes advantage of her skills in order to make a living. Mrs. Warren has every right in the world to pursue her profession, the heart of the problem is that sexist views of the time kept women from pursuing professional jobs or educational opportunities.




Works Cited:


Schlesinger, Benjamin. “prostitution.” The Lexicon Universal Encyclopedia. 1984 ed.


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