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Was Jack the Ripper a Social Reformer?

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Was Jack the Ripper a Social Reformer?
Jack the Ripper’s identity still remains unknown, even after a century his identity still remains unknown even after killing five poor prostitutes in 19th Century Britain. His murders, all violent showed some knowledge on anatomy but some doctors insist that no knowledge was used while in the process of dissecting the victims’ bodies. He terrified the eastern part of London but what we can say is that he was a social reformer. His murders attracted so much media attention because media was growing meanwhile with these happenings British government had to place laws to improve conditions for everyone.

Section One:

London in the 19th Century was very poor. There was the rich part, which was the Western-Part of London and in the other hand there was the Eastern Part which was extremely poor. The industrial revolution was going on at the time; this meant that people were working in factories receiving very low wages. With very low wages people had a very hard time to sustain their families and if they would ever lose their job there was no social security to help. This meant that poverty would take over.

A sanitary investigator working for the parliament reported that he found a family living with four pigs (Mum, dad + three children) these investigators were put in action to actually investigate/compare the sanitary conditions in both sides. Another investigator called Leonard Horner found seven people living in a very small room in an underground kitchen with a dead child. Another investigator called Nasseu Senior states that he saw a woman giving birth and meanwhile her eight other children running naked with small pox. The general conditions were also as bad as the home conditions. In Eastern London as there was no sewage system there was thick fog which would cover the eastern part. Besides the fog it was very smelly and you could no see at far distance. Focusing in the general home conditions there was a very unfair balance between the Eastern and Western parts. The Western part had better sanitary conditions which prevent diseases while in the Eastern there was actually no money to make these sanitary systems which would prevent disease spread such as cholera and small pox. This basically means that there was a very big un-balance between the two areas of London and that while some lived well others were putting them and their families to be able to have a shelter.

Section Two:
There are several points to cover before concluding weather Jack the Ripper was a Social Reformer or not. Some details to cover are his victims, Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddows and Mary Jane Kelly. All his victims were poor prostitutes, which were all victims of violent crimes. With the poverty at the time, most of Jack the Ripper’s victims were mostly victims of abandonment of their husbands, as some of them had no other jobs and were severely poor they had no way to get money besides prostitution. Most of them ended up being alcoholic. All of these prostitutes were targets of a cut in the neck to kill them instantly. Then all the other women had their organs dissected (their organs were removed) and doctors investigated if there was any knowledge applied into the process of dissection of the bodies and all doctors agreed that knowledge of anatomy was used. The doctors also concluded that probably it was butcher or someone working with knifes that was the killer. The police, to be able to catch the killer, had several methods put into practise so they could be able to catch the killer.

The conditions in the streets of Eastern London would not benefit the police due to the fact that the streets were like mazes (easy to escape) there was this fog caused by lack of sanitary conditions. This fog made the police’s life harder because as they could not see with the fog they could not catch the killer in a pursuit. Besides having police officers surrounding the area of Whitechapel police had attempted other methods to find the killer such as raiding through all the houses in search for the killer, disguised policemen and rewards for capture. At the time, media was growing with tabloids and with cheap newspapers everyone would have access to read these newspapers with media pressure a lot of cartoons appeared blaming the police such as the picture below, but really the police are not to blame because we know that they tried with all their resources to actually catch the killer.

What this cartoon shows/ reflects is the point of view of the people living in Whitechapel the blame the police for being “blind” and not catch the killer. This is valuable to an historian because this shows a different point of view instead of an historic point of view we have a community’s point of view. Later on, the police received several letter which are known as “Dear Boss Letters” known really knows weather if these letters are real or not but what people know is that the person who wrote them wrote stated that the next murder he would do he would cut the persons ears and he would send it to the police because he had previously had sent a liver. The grammar of the letters showed a minimum knowledge for basic letters but if it was on purpose still remains a mystery.

Section Three:
At the time of the Jack the Ripper murders media was also helping to improve social conditions with tabloids and pamphlets. As a normal newspaper was very expensive or very little people would have access to it. With tabloids, cheap newspapers everyone would have access to them with this boost in media this also grew awareness for the improvement of social conditions

Through the 1880’s, 1890’s and early 1900’s the English government changed several laws so that social conditions would improve for the British population. Various people were involved in this process for the improvement of conditions such as Octavia Hill (1838-1912) she was a reformer due to her help in the improvisation of the housing conditions for the British population. She also fought for the perseverance of open spaces and she was one of the founders of the National Trust.


Another example of a social reformer was Robert Owen (1771-1858) Owen was a Welsh social reformer who had fought for the working conditions for factory workers. Specifically, he tried and to ease the labour hours for children in factories.


Besides these people who changed English society there were also certain events which changed conditions for the people living in Britain. An example of these events was the Dock Strike. The Dock Strike involved the dock workers of London. It later on was a victory for the strikers. The intention of this strike was to grow awareness of the poverty in Victorian England. Colonel G. R. Birt (the manager of the east side docks) states: “the workers were getting very little amounts of money and that they would come to work without a crumble in their stomachs” What the workers wanted was a raise in their salary and the British government had to do it because as they would not work in the docks no trading would be occurring so no money would go to the government. With this event the workers got what they wanted.

3 The image on the left was advertisement for the dock strike. You can see the use of big words to catch the reader’s attention. As you read along you have a little list of the work stations going on strike. Later on you have what each work statement demands such as a raise in their salary or other points to improve the conditions of the ports of London.

Concluding, we have covered the conditions of London in Victorian times, it was also covered the jack the ripper murders and social reformers at the time who changed the British population. This information was all gathered to be able to answer the following question “Was Jack the Ripper a social reformer?” the Free Dictionary states the definition of a Social Reformer is: “To improve by alteration, correction of error, or removal of defects; put into a better form or condition” with the information given we can’t say that Jack the Ripper was actually not a Social Reformer. The reason behind this is that his murders didn’t change anything. The only thing which he spread was fear nothing else.

The people who actually cared about the murders were the people living at Whitechapel at the time and these people already knew about the poverty going on in Eastern part of London. Obviously the police searched through Whitechapel and witnessed the conditions and poverty but as Victorian England worked as an Aristocracy, only few people had the power to change the law and they would only change it if money was affected but as the conditions of Whitechapel would not affect the governments money, they would not care. Something the government changed which affected the money was the dock strike and the government actually changed rules so that they would get an income. This basically means that Jack the Ripper did not change anything. He grew awareness and people actually found out about the conditions but it was not him who changed the housing condition or anything in Whitechapel it was Octavia Hill who did that. So we cannot say that Jack the Ripper was actually someone who changed
society besides people being careful while walking the streets at night.

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