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Hounded To Death

The Dawn Volume 2, Number 12. Sydney, April 5, 1890

IN an English village lately the coroner's jury returned a verdict of suicide in the case of a girl found drowned. The usual charitable verdict of temporary insanity could not be given, for it was clear from the confession she left behind her, that she had deliberately premeditated death, she had estimated her future and elected to die. Being a schoolmistress she had set apart her holidays for the purpose of a last visit to some good friends, with the resolve that when the visit was over life should end too. In her letter she said her keenest pain was the knowledge that in dying where she did she would bring disgrace on those who had been kind to her. The letter unquestionably revealed that the suicide was deliberate but it showed too that she who died was a sensitive, loving, and gentle soul whom the world could not afford to lose. The explanation is simply this — that she had been seduced and deserted, and that she knew the world well enough to be aware that, though it winks at a great deal of vileness, and though it keeps some remnant of pity and charity for the utterly abandoned, it does not allow unwedded mothers either tolerance, pity, or charity. To those with sympathy enough to enter into the heart of a girl like this there are few things more sad or more pitiful than she. In her life there came a day when she realized that the love she looked to for help was gone, the love for whose sake she had been weak had stabbed her and fled, that it had not been love at all but only lust, perfidy and cowardice miscalled a man. She saw that though with the help and sympathy of love she could have borne all, yet alone the world showed a face of stone to her. Looking ahead she saw the agony of shame, of discovery, of public disgrace, then the rejection by friends and acquaintances, her position lost, no work to be had, no hope at all. There is little enough work for women at any time. What can one do from whom all faces are averted? That a girl should take to the streets seems a natural continuation of a life thus diverted, and we must not forget that it is the natural continuation because no other way of livelihood is left. This is no new story, nor does it belong to England alone. There have been broken hearts and good lives thrown to the death clutch of the waters in how many places? Accursed blood-stained Mrs Grundy! Tyrant, undiscriminating and unjust! Must you preserve your reputation for chastity by hounding girls like this to death? The woman has been weak, perhaps ignorant, perhaps the victim of opportunity, at any


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rate too loving, and too foolish in that she trusted a man. She has proved weak; he has proved base. We punish the already wounded, we beat the helpless, we smite the suffering, but the other whose guilt is at least equal, does he find himself cast out from decent society, is life so miserable that he seeks death? Does every man kick him downwards? No; he who brought disaster to her life under the sacred name of love, who repaid trust by desertion, who abandoned a helpless girl to a merciless world, he who is not fit to be buried with a dog, escapes harmless, when she, who in pain and misery has already almost expiated the sin, bears the burden of contempt which is as heavy as the fear of death. Does she not claim help and pity; does he not merit vengeance? The purity of society is not worth preserving if we have to keep it by the sacrifice of victims like this. By what habits and long-preserved traditions we have grown used to action so unjust matters not; it is time, at any rate we commenced to judge by the light of reason, sympathy, and charity. But leaving the man out of the question, what warrant have we for condemnation of the woman? The stain on the soul is not ineffaceable. If she falls further it is because we impel. There are not many elements of meanness about her crime, and her sorrows deserve pity. Few of us are unspotted and shall we decree that for this sin only among the long category of mankind's errors, the punishment shall be banishment, dishonour, or death? No “home for fallen women” is of use here, no public institution can stand between a breaking heart and suicide, just public opinion alone can show the door to hope, can offer the chance of restoration. But at this time the world's conduct shows a visible anomaly; the benevolent are giving money to homes for the fallen, while, with the cold shoulder of respectability they urge another unfortunate into the gulf from which such homes are filled. We build the refuges and prepare the inmates at the same time; for whosoever speaks bitterly of these, or who suffers scornful speech in others to go unchallenged, who denies work, aid, or sympathy to a woman because she has sinned in the one way deemed unpardonable, is driving her along the road which ends either in death to the body or degradation to the soul.

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