This exhibition presents ten stories about individual women’s lives in the past. All of the women could be described as ‘wayward’. Either intentionally, or through force of circumstance, they transgressed society’s rules in some way. Some prospered, but others paid dearly for their actions. The women and girls featured in this exhibition all lived in Victoria in the decade from 1894–1904. It was a time of great privation for many people, with the economy in deep depression and unemployment high. There was little in the way of government assistance for those in need and the charitable organisations that tried to help had scant resources. Many were turned away.
It was also a time when women and men were judged by very different moral standards. While a man’s indiscretions might be ignored, even expected, ‘fallen women’ were often judged harshly, at least by officialdom. Pregnant unmarried women could expect little sympathy and little help. The result was both predictable and tragic – what historians now call ‘reproductive crime’ was extremely common.
Wayward Women? is presented by Old Treasury Building in partnership with Public Record Office Victoria.