The Victorian Age had it all: the Industrial Revolution, iconic fashion, booming progress, and… Lady Gangsters. Yes, it had some iconic female criminals. In many of the works of Charles Dickens, the author and reformer presented the seamy underworld of London in a manner never before seen. In A Christmas Carol, a woman thief and presumably a housebreaker stole the nightshirt from the dead Scrooge’s corpse, along with his linens and bedcurtains, and presented them to a fence for a price. Oliver Twist featured the violent Bill Sykes, the tragic Nancy, the amoral Fagin, and a pack of children trained to steal. Dickens described criminals and crimes, jails and courts, the affluent homes of the victims of crimes, and the sordid squalor in which the criminals lived. He described the slums of London in a manner theretofore unknown, and the level to which children and unmarried women contributed to the city’s criminal underworld.
But even he left largely untouched the tales of the criminal activities of women, beyond those of prostitution and child abandonment. London and other big cities in both Britain and America found themselves besieged by female thieves, some in organized gangs, others working independently. The British newspapers, with Victorian prudery, referred to them as Lady Burglars, Lady Housebreakers, and Lady Thieves. The courts extended sympathy to those caught, considering them victims of their husbands or partners, and giving them typically shorter sentences than those imposed on their male counterparts. In London at least one organized gang of female thieves operated from the early 1870s until the Roaring Twenties. Both British and American authorities knew not what to do with the female criminals. Here is the story of the Lady gangsters of the Victorian and Edwardian Ages.