The Five by Hallie Rubenhold

I was intrigued by The Five by Hallie Rubenhold, a book that has the subtitle: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper. Before reading the book I didn’t know anything about them, not even their names. The only things all five of them have in common is their murderer and the less than accurate portrait the media made of them. Not all of them were prostitutes, despite this being what it was said in the newspapers at that time. The book is very interesting and it is worth reading. I’m going to share a few details about the five.

The Five by Hallie Rubenhold

All of them were living in the slums, three were homeless, renting a bed for the night when they had enough money for it, and all five had problems with alcohol. The sad part is that some of them could have had another life if they would have taken a different path and made different choices.

Mary Ann Nichols or Polly, died on 31st August 1888, aged 43. Her father was a blacksmith and had a secure job. Her mother died and she assumed the role of the woman of the house. She married William Nichols and they moved, with their five children, in one of Peabody’s flats. These flats were rented only to serious, clean, working-class families. Things started to get worse, she was fighting with her husband because he had an affair with a young neighbour and she was also drinking. She decided to leave him and her children and for a while her husband paid her an alimony. Her brother and father helped her, but her drinking was proving to be too much for them. She was in and out of the workhouse. She died after three years of leaving her husband.

Annie Chapman died on 8th September 1888, aged 47. Her mother was a servant and her father a soldier. Despite having her out of wedlock, they were a couple until they were allowed to be wed. They spent the rest of their lives together, until her father committed suicide. It’s likely that his employer helped her mother. She married a coachman in 1869. By the time she had their second daughter, in 1881, she was heavily drinking, as the child shows signs of Foetal Alcohol Syndrome. Her husband’s employer was an wealthy business man, and Annie and her family were living on his country estate, having a rather big house near the stables and a comfortable life. Her alcoholism was noticed and after a relapse following a treatment, she had to leave her husband. He paid for her alimony until he died. She was on her own, as her sisters and mother were willing to help, but not if she continued to drink.

Elizabeth Stride died on 30th September 1888, aged 45. She was born in Sweden to a farmer and his wife. As a girl she went into service, but a pregnancy changed her life. She was accused of “lecherous living” and forced to go through medical examinations to make sure she is healthy. She was not, she had syphilis, and went through treatments a few times. Elizabeth moved to London with her new employer. While in London, she met John Stride and they got married. He was religious and abstained from drinking. They decided to open a coffee house. The business failed, when his father died he didn’t receive any inheritance despite him helping out his father and caring for him. The Strides didn’t have any children and they also had money problems, that might led to her drinking. Their marriage fell apart, she was going in and out of workhouses, begging for money while saying she was a survivor of Princess Alice disaster even though she wasn’t. It’s possible she was not killed by Jack the Ripper.

Catherine Eddowes died on 30th September 1888, aged 46. She was born in Wolverhampton in a big family. Her father was a tinplate man. They moved to London and his salary would have been enough if the family was smaller. She studied a lot, for a daughter of working class family, but both her parents died while she was a teenager. Some of her siblings went into the workhouse and she was sent to family up north. She was working in a factory, but was staying late and had issues with drinking. She was caught stealing from the factory. She was sent away to other relatives, where she would meet Conway. Kate decided to leave with him, travelling and selling ballads that he would compose and she would write down.
For a hanging, they wrote a ballad that was popular. She might not have known that the man hanged was a cousin of hers, but she was aware that he was hanged because he killed a woman he fancied. They moved to London, hoping for easy gains. It was a hard life, Kate gave birth to children in workhouse, sleeping rough or renting beds for a night. She too was in and out of workhouses, not caring much for her children. When her daughter had her third child and asked for help, Kate demanded to be paid. She drank all the money, and so, her daughter moved without telling her to the new address.
On 30 September she was arrested and taken into jail for drunkenness. When she was feeling better, she was allowed to leave, only to fell asleep on the streets and being murdered shortly.

Mary-Jane Kelly died on 9th November 1888, aged 25. She was from Wales and she has one of the most unusual stories, including an escape from people-traffickers in Paris. Mary-Jane was a prostitute, but she had to change her life after the ordeal in France. It was fascinating to read about that, the people-traffickers that deal with prostitution use the same techniques today as they used over 130 years ago. I wouldn’t have imagined that. She too was addicted to alcohol, but that’s not a surprise considering her profession. She was killed in her bed, sleeping.

I shared their stories because I am wondering how the public would react today if five women would be killed in less than 3 months, but if these women were exactly like the ones Jack the Ripper killed, some prostitutes, all alcoholics, some homeless. Would people have more compassion today? Would we recognize that women like these made some pretty bad choices, but, at the same time, didn’t have the community support that we think we are offering? None of them deserved to die. Alcoholism is an addiction and today we know more about it. Although we still judge harshly some addictions like drugs, some are frowned upon and kept as a secret as much as possible like alcoholism, some are only frowned upon like smoking, some are embraced as coffee and, more recently, even sugar. If some addictions are less harmful that doesn’t make them more moral. What would we do today?

The Five by Hallie Rubenhold

Details about the picture: I took the picture at a fab coffee shop in Manchester, where you pay for the time and everything else is free.
My rating: 5/5 Stars
Would I recommend it: Yes
Published by: Doubleday
Year it was published: 2019
Format: Hardcover
Genre(s): History
Pages: 432

About the author: Hallie Rubenhold is an author, social historian, broadcaster, and consultant for TV and film. She studied history at the University of Massachusetts, after that getting an M.A. in British History and History of Art from the University of Leeds. While in Leeds, she continued to study for a PhD, the subject of her thesis being marriage and child-rearing in the eighteenth century.
She worked as a curator for the National Portrait Gallery, a university lecturer, and a commercial art dealer. In 2014 Hallie curated an exhibition on women’s reputations in the Georgian era for No.1 Royal Crescent in Bath. She now lives with her husband in London.
Books by her: The Covent Garden Ladies (2005), a book about the prostitutes in Georgian London; Lady Worsley’s Whim (2008) has made into a lovely film, The Scandalous Lady W, and The Five – The Untold Lives of The Women Killed by Jack the Ripper (2019). This book can be made into a series by Mainstreet Pictures and that is something I would love to see.
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2 thoughts on “The Five by Hallie Rubenhold”

  • I’ve read a couple of fictionlised accounts of Jack the Ripper cases, so knew a little bit about his victims. Sad lives. I don’t know if there’s more support now. Definitely more understanding of alcohol-relates issues. But homelessness is on the rise, and there’s a housing crisis.

  • This one is definitely going on my wish list. It sounds really good and I think several of my family members would enjoy it, too.

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