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Working GirlsFiction, Sexuality, and Modernity$
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Katherine Mullin

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780198724841

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: June 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198724841.001.0001

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‘Essentially a Modern Institution’

‘Essentially a Modern Institution’

Framing the New Barmaid

(p.167) 5 ‘Essentially a Modern Institution’
Working Girls

Katherine Mullin

Oxford University Press

Chapter 5 investigates the emergence from the 1870s of the so-called ‘New Barmaid’ as a key figure of sexual modernity. Although women had served in pubs and taverns for centuries, shifts in licensing regulations fostered the late Victorian metropolitan ‘gin palaces’, which employed young women in unprecedented and increasing numbers. This demographic shift provoked a culture war about the moral meaning of bar work. Glamorized, risqué reputations were created in popular journalism, musical comedies, music hall songs, romantic fiction, and sensational entertainments. Meanwhile, temperance and social purity workers united in a crusade against the employment of women in bars, which prompted a Royal Commission, multiple attempts at protective legislation, a Joint Committee on the Employment of Barmaids, and a Barmaids’ Political Defence League. This chapter describes the development of an increasingly vociferous cultural debate about the volatile, unpredictable, challenging nature of the New Barmaid’s sexual identity.

Keywords:   Barmaid, public houses, musical comedy, moral panic, legislation

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