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RSA History: Magdalen Hospital for Penitent Prostitutes

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Back in 1758 the Society set up a "Magdalen Hospital for Penitent Prostitutes". The original advert they posted is quite a read:

"The miserable condition of common prostitutes, and the ruin they spread around, much raise compassion and horror in every humane mind; in order therefore to put some stop to that torrent of distemper, vice and villainy, which sweeps away multitudes of both sexes, the Society's medal in gold will be given for a plan ... for the effectual establishment of a charity house, or charity houses, to receive and employ such common prostitutes as are desirous to forsake their evil courses, and are inclinable to put themselves into a way of life, which, by a mixture of piety and useful industry, will in a few years render them worthy members of the community."

The Magdalen Hospital from 1778 also admitted "victims of seduction" for moral correction, and it lasted until the 1930s. Inmates were organised into wards based on behaviour, and were only known by their first names. They wore a uniform and their correspondence was inspected by the matrons.

The member of the Society who proposed the initiative was the merchant and philanthropist Jonas Hanway (incidentally, the person who introduced the umbrella to Britain).

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  • Very interesting! I would like to know what happened to the 'Hospital', why it was closed down and what is the current alternative for taking care of such vulnerable women?

  • In fact the RSA did not set up the Magdalen Hospital but offered the premium for a plan to encourage the establishment of a safe environment to get young girls out of prostitution.   Robert Dingley established the Magdalen Hospital.  For the full story see: D.G.C. Allan and John L. Abbott, ‘Compassion and Horror in Every Humane Mind’, Studies in the Society’s History and Archives,

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