14. Mary McKinnon - Prejudice Against Sex Workers

Lady Killers with Lucy Worsley

10-04-2023 • 29 mins

In Lady Killers, Lucy Worsley investigates the crimes of 19th and early 20th century women from a contemporary, feminist perspective. In this episode, Lucy is joined by Dr Anastacia Ryan, Founder of SISU, a Glasgow-based charity for women at risk and Lecturer in Social Policy at the University of Glasgow, to explore the case of Mary McKinnon.

Mary lives in Edinburgh, Scotland in the 1820s, and runs a tavern on South Bridge. Except her tavern, like many at the time, has another side to it – it’s also a brothel. On 8th February 1823, Mary McKinnon is out having a drink with her friend, when she is called back to the inn as a group of men are causing trouble. She arrives to find a chaotic scene, and in the midst of the frenzy, one of the men is stabbed. He accuses Mary of stabbing him, yet she protests her innocence. Despite this, she’s arrested and put on trial. She faces animosity and judgment every step of the way. The judge even directs the jury to pay more heed to the evidence of the men who visited her tavern that night, than to the evidence of her fellow workers and other women.

But did she do it? And did she face increased prejudice not only because she was a woman, but because she looked after sex workers?

Lucy Worsley is also joined by Professor Rosalind Crone from the Open University. Together, Anastacia and Rosalind visit the vaults under Edinburgh’s Old Town to see what Mary’s tavern would have been like in the 1820s. Lucy asks if the way society treats sex workers has changed since Mary’s time. Producer: Hannah Fisher Readers: Clare Corbett, Jonathan Keeble, Hannah Fisher, Katy Duff, Jacob Smyth and Fraser Coutts Sound Design: Chris Maclean Series Producer: Julia Hayball

A StoryHunter production for BBC Radio 4

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