Conferences, Events

The ‘Fallen Woman’ in Victorian Britain

Exhibition: The Foundling Museum, 40 Brunswick Square, London WC1N 1AZ
This major exhibition explores the myth and reality of the ‘fallen woman’ and reveals the untold stories of the women who gave up their babies to the Foundling Hospital

In an age when sexual innocence was highly valued and sex for a respectable woman was deemed appropriate only within marriage, the loss of chastity for an unwed woman had multiple repercussions. The figure of the ‘fallen’ woman was popularly portrayed in art, literature and the media as Victorian moralists warned against the consequences of losing one’s virtue.

This exhibition draws together the work of artists including Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Richard Redgrave, George Frederic Watts and Thomas Faed, who considered the subject of the fallen woman in their work and helped propel the myth. In addition, newspaper illustrations and stereoscopes demonstrate how depictions of the fallen woman in popular culture also helped define a woman’s role and limitations within society.

The exhibition also explores the written petitions of women applying to the Foundling Hospital at the time. During the early nineteenth century, London’s Foundling Hospital changed its admission process to focus on restoring respectability to the mother. Only the petitions of previously respectable women bearing their first illegitimate child were considered. A specially-commissioned sound installation by musician and composer Steve Lewinson offers a new and engaging interpretation of the Hospital’s archive and brings the women’s voices to life.

The Fallen Woman is curated by Professor Lynda Nead in collaboration with the Foundling Museum’s curatorial team.

The Foundling Museum
40 Brunswick Square
London WC1N 1AZ
+44 (0)20 7841 3600 /

Image: G F Watts, Found Drowned, c.1848-1850, © Watts Gallery