University of Portsmouth's History Blog

London’s female gangsters: press responses and gendered implications 1890-1940

On 17 May 2023 University of Portsmouth PhD researcher, Emily Burgess, presented her paper on the press’s treatment of female gangsters from the late-nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries. If you missed the paper, the recording is available to watch here. You will need the following password T19#MUVU to access the recording. An abstract for Emily’s paper can be found below.

Emily is a graduate of the University, having studied for a BA (Hons) History degree between 2017 and 2020 (awarded First Class honours) and an MRes in History between 2020 and 2021 (Distinction). She was awarded the ‘Robbie Gray Memorial Prize’ for the Best Undergraduate History Dissertation in 2020, and started her doctoral studies in October 2021. Her programme of research is titled: ‘The monstrous to monarchical underworld: A study of female gangsters and their impact on the public imagination 1890-1939’.

Fitting directly into constructs of the ideological ‘underworld’ as well as challenging aspects of widely accepted ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ criminality, the female gangster was presented contemporarily as an androgynous construction; directly opposing class and gender conformity which was heavily embedded in society. This period, ranging from the late-Victorian to the start of the Second World War was one of contemporary challenges and changes, including transforming press reportage and the acceleration of the ‘public imagination.’ Satiated with stories of the ‘women leaders of London underworld gangs,’ female gangsterism became a phenomenon unique to late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century urban Britain. By examining female gangsters, their notable crimes, and their refraction within the ‘public imagination’ through reportage, this paper seeks to examine the gendered implications of gangsterism, and the way in which female gangsters were fixated upon by society.


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