Louise Mourey and the ‘Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon’

  • Caroline DerryEmail author


Mourey, the first known prosecution of a woman for indecent assault upon another woman, did not directly involve lesbianism. The accused midwife had carried out a ‘virginity test’ on a girl in 1885. She was prosecuted alongside journalist W. T. Stead, who had ‘purchased’ the girl, apparently for the purposes of prostitution but in fact to expose child abuse. The resulting case was highly publicised, although Mourez’s role and conviction attracted relatively little attention.

This chapter locates Mourey within nineteenth-century social, medical, and legal changes. The policy of silencing lesbianism reached its height as new discourses around women’s sexuality, rooted in gender, race, and imperialism, gave fresh significance to the ‘harms’ of sex between women. Sexual offences law was developing within an increasingly professionalised criminal justice system while the broader societal context included both medical regulation of lesbian sexuality and women’s movement campaigns against the sexual double standard.


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© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Law SchoolThe Open UniversityMilton KeynesUK

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