Op Ed

Polly Nichols and the Republican Platform

Here’s one thing I think we all know: I want to be a writer. I’m working on something else right now, but the next novel I’ll be concentrating on is a paranormal historical concerning the Whitechapel murders of 1888. This means I had to do a lot of research into the time period, including the social conditions of London’s East End at the time, which we all know weren’t pretty. There was no social safety net, and since women had no legal rights at the time, they were pretty much left to fend for themselves, particularly after their marriages broke up.

What does a century-old series of murders have to do with anything? You’re probably going to ask yourself this, and believe me, I have an answer for you. It’s probably a roundabout answer, but hear me out, because it’s very easy to make the connections from point A to point B when you think about it.

It’s quite interesting to note that August 30, 2012, the very last day of the Republican convention, was the very last night that Mary Ann “Polly” Nichols would be seen alive on the same date in 1888. By the early morning of August 31, 1888,  she would be discovered dead in the middle of Berner Street, having become the first canonical victim of Jack the Ripper.

Just who was Polly Nichols? According to Ripperologist and author Melanie Clegg, Polly was “a 43-year-old prostitute, who had led a life of alcoholism, petty theft and misery on the streets after separating from her cheating husband who kept custody of their five children. A shocking existence by anyone’s standards but not an unusual one in Victorian times when poor women without male support often found themselves in such dire straits and a rejected wife would usually lose her children as well as her husband.” Many times women turned to prostitution because they was hardly any other work open to them, and unlike today, there was no social safety net for women like Polly to turn to.


Engraving of a well-to-do woman and a slovenly woman, captioned: The Great Social Evil  Time – Midnight. A Sketch not a Hundred Miles from the Haymarket.  Bella: "Ah, Fanny! How long have you been gay!" (Gay meaning a prostitute.)
The Great Social Evil by John Leech. Via:

The Republican party, however, has made it a part of their platform to cut the social safety net. They believe that “expectation that low-income parents and individuals should strive to support themselves” and that the government shouldn’t be giving out as much aid to people as it presently does. While there are problems with the current system that do need to be taken care of, taking away the social safety net isn’t going to make the problem any better. Polly Nichols was supporting herself, all right, and look what happened to her. Should people have to degrade themselves that much just to be able to survive? After all, it was work, but there was much danger that came with it, and Polly eventually fell victim to someone who was preying on desperate women like herself, women who had to sell their bodies just to survive.

Clegg’s post on Polly ran again this past August 30, and she also points this out:

People (Daily Mail readers!) complain about the benefits system in the UK all the time, whining on about the feckless poor who laze about all day long, refusing to work and squandering everyone else’s taxes on Sky television and illegal dogs. However, I think I would much rather live in a country in which those in need are helped (and a very very few play the system) than one in which people are left dispossessed, homeless and impoverished after the breakdown of their family.

This paragraph, right here, points out the problem with the Republican philosophy. Quite ironic that a Ripperologist from across the pond can blow one of the tenets of the Republican party’s platform out of the water, particularly during the Republican National Convention, isn’t it?

5 replies on “Polly Nichols and the Republican Platform”

It’s interesting to think about this in light of countries that don’t have any social safety net in place. A lot of poor people sell themselves or their children into some form of slavery (not always sexual) because they have no other way to make ends meet.

As always, great article, Linotte!

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