Women & "Disorderly Conduct" in the First Capital

1838-1850
"Lillie Williams alias Harrington" from Arresting Images. Source: The OPP Museum. Pinterest
"Lillie Williams alias Harrington" from Arresting Images. Source: The OPP Museum.

In a report by the Grand Jury on the state of the District Gaol (attached to the court house, King at Clarence), there are no less than 35 to 40 criminal prisoners, accommodated four to a cell in seven cells (plus the “black hole”) forcing the gaoler to use some of the cells usually reserved for debtors.

There was only one cell for women, yet four were committed in less than one month for assault, being drunk or being disorderly. They would have joined others still incarcerated for crimes committed earlier. The Grand Jury urged the establishment of a House of Industry to take in the idle and disorderly instead of being locked up in the county jail.  It would take another four years for such an institution to be in operation, but it catered, on the main, to poor widows and children and was antagonistic to unchaste women of bad character. A temporary House of Industry is opened in Mr Weeks’s extensive premises opposite St Andrew’s Church in December 1847 in hopes of stopping street begging.

Kingston was replete with drinking establishments, sailors, soldiers, and a growing population during the capital years, and women found no scarcity of liquor and male clients wanting their services. Better alternatives for many women were thwarted by poor educations, lack of employable skills and opportunities, child bearing, poverty, abandonment by husbands and exploitations by male predators and pimps. Four women are brought in November 1841 (to the county jail) for disorderly conduct in the streets. Because of snow and frost, two of them are suffering greatly by actually being in a state of nudity. Described as helpless and misguided persons, the newspaper writer asks the mayor and magistrates for a temporary house of refuge “to rescue unfortunate, unprotected persons from perishing in our streets.”

In the next decade, women may have been more harshly judged than men or at least a large proportion of the accused were female while clients of “disorderly houses” appear not to have been charged (unless they ran the houses).