Review: Birkbeck Professor’s talk on WWI London prostitutes @ Durning Library

The setting was intimate but there wasn’t a spare seat to be found as London historian and Birkbeck Professor Jerry White spoke with quiet authority, keeping his audience entirely captivated.

Initially he talked about the ‘Britain virtues’ defended during World War One, a morality that people felt had been lost due to ‘vices’ like prostitution.

He effortlessly went from one anecdote to another but the content was never too academic, the occasional joke intertwined to keep the audience involved.

Prostitution was rife across London and especially in Lambeth. One of the most notorious areas was Waterloo Road which was referred to at the time as ‘whoretoloo.’

But perhaps the subject that caught the most attention was that of female equality – during that women were largely expected to be subservient.

“I thought the unequal treatment of women during the war about sex was one of the themes I was trying to convey, especially in regards to the spreading of venereal disease which created mass hysteria with the media at the time,” said Professor White.

Professor Jerry White
PROFESSOR: His specialty is London history from 1700

The irony of the situation was that prostitution actually gave women the chance to have independent money, and a career of sorts, even if it was frowned upon.

The talk concluded to applause but the audience still wanted to know more, questions were put forward about women being condemned for being sex workers, and ones about morality.

Questions were capably answered by Professor White, a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society of England who specialises in the history of London from 1700 to the present day.

“I thought it was a lovely audience, they were very appreciative and listened intently. There was hardly a rustle in the room and they seemed to enjoy it as there was a lot of applause. It was a very enjoyable evening,” he said.

These sentiments were echoed by Veronica Ledwith, a member of Durning Library, who had heard him talk before and invited Professor White along to share his expertise.

She said: “It was a very informative and enjoyable talk which was well received by the people who attended.”

Featured image courtesy of Ogoco, with thanks

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