William Morris

Speech on W. T. Stead's Exposé of London Prostitution

WILLIAM MORRIS: Two things are to be noticed. First, that the children of the poor are always the victims. Second, the terrible and miserable unhappiness of the whole affair. There is much talk of immorality. Whatever is unhappy is immoral. It is unhappiness that must be got rid of. We have nothing to do with the mere immorality. We have to do with the causes that have compelled this unhappy way of living; the causes that drive girls and women into the streets, to sell their love, not to give it. These causes are the same that make a man degrade himself by over-hours and competition. There is the closest of relations between the prostitution of the body in the streets and of the body in the workshops. Women's wages are not even subsistence wages. They are intended to cheapen labour for the manufacturers. The first thing that is necessary, is that all women should be freed from the compulsion of living in this degraded way. We aim at the real liberty of every human creature, not the liberty to starve or to sell oneself or one's child. Society to-day is like a wrecked ship where people eat one another. The real Minotaur is Capital - not one man, but the whole system is guilty. To get rid of this system is our serious business. We desire that all should be free to earn their livelihood - with that freedom will come an end of these monstrosities, and true love between man and woman throughout society.

Bibliographical Note


Speech on W. T. Stead's Exposé of London Prostitution


  1. 5th August 1885 at the Farringdon Hall, 13 Farringdon Road, sponsored by the SL


May have been published in Commonweal, September 1884 (not in our Commonweal collection)