‘Fallen women’ was a term used to describe a woman who had lost her innocence and fallen from the grace of God. Specifically, this meant the loss of a woman’s chastity outside wedlock and in the nineteenth century it came to be seen as a very large social and moral problem. Women were supposed to be homemakers, protected by a man, and the society of the time looked down on those who had sexual experience before marriage. To be termed a ‘fallen woman’ was a disgrace which could not be easily recovered from, although especially during the 19th century various organisations were set up to attempt to offer help and ‘reform’ the unfortunate women.
Much literature and art of the period explores the fallen woman, often seeing her as a victim. Famous examples include Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Dickens’ David Copperfield and Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton. More information can be found in the following online essays: