Welcome to another round of Files on Film, our film competition designed to bring diverse records in our collection to life. This post will showcase just one of ten documents you can choose to creatively explore using film.
In line with this year’s centenary the competition is themed around the First World War. The extracts from HO 45/10724/251861 illustrate the war time occurrences of ‘camp followers’ – civilians who followed travelling troops – and the creation of the Women Police Volunteers partially in response to this.
She ‘ought not to crimp her hair and must put her hat on straight’
In March 1916 a complaint was received at the Home Office from the mother of a 14 year old girl, objecting that two members of the Women’s Police Service had stopped her daughter due to her crimped hair and stated she was ‘dressing herself up and walking about to attract the attention of men’ (HO 45/10724/251861).
The complaint was one of many from ‘respectable’ women and girls who were out late in the time of the Defence of the Realm Act (DORA). This legislation allowed greater Government control, this covered everything from enabling the Government to requisition buildings for the war effort to banning the flying of kites. Amongst these there were several regulations introduced under DORA which aimed to regulate the spread of venereal diseases, culminating in the June 1918 with the controversial regulation 40D.
This legislation was provocative, it essentially enabled women suspected of having venereal diseases (VD) (in essence this could be any woman) to be checked for these diseases at the will of the authorities. It harked back to the Contagious Diseases Acts of the 1860s which had awakened feminist campaigners in the nineteenth century. Repeated files in the Home Office correspondence demonstrate that women could be held in ‘Lock Hospitals’ (which were designed to specialise in the treatment of VD), against their will if they were found to be infected (HO 45/10724/251861).
The Women’s Freedom League objected to the regulation, and held a public meeting days after its introduction. The flyer publicising the meeting advertised it under the dramatic heading ‘The regulation undoes the work of Josephine Butler, and introduces STATE REGULATION OF VICE’ (WO 32/11403).
Throughout the war there was recognition of the detrimental affect of venereal diseases. Browsing through hospital registers in the series MH 106 it is not uncommon to see a form of VD listed as the cause of a soldier’s hospitalisation, ultimately taking these men away from the front line. Because of this, ‘camp following’ – such as by prostitutes – was seen as a threat to the health of soldiers through the potential spread of venereal diseases. Continue reading »