On a Working Woman

You probably know that the title of this tale is a somewhat sexist euphemism for a prostitute. The person in this story was indeed someone who sold sex for money. Her name was Mary Ann Nichols, but she went by the name Polly. Polly Walker was born in Victorian London as the second of three kids to a working class family, and her prospects for life were not good from the start as you can imagine.

At age 18, Polly managed to find a husband, a man named William Nichols. She would eventually have five children with William. He made enough money to support the family (but only barely) as a printer’s machinist and repairman. However, Polly drank. Her drinking brought even more hardship to the family since money that should have gone to the rent and food went instead to her addiction.

Finally, William was done; he had enough. He took the children and left Polly. That’s when Polly first started to sell her body for money to buy liquor. She stayed for a time with her father, but her drinking and their arguments led him to kick her out of his house. Then, for a time, Polly found work in a household of teetotalers, religious folk, and she saw that job as a way to straighten her life out. She wrote a letter to her dad and told him that she had turned over a new leaf in life. Her future looked better.

Unfortunately, the lure of alcohol proved too much for poor Polly to fight. She stole money and clothes from the family and left them. For a time, she slept on benches and public squares in her area of London. Finally, she found lodging with a woman in a single room, sharing the woman’s bed for 4 pence a night.

The evening of August 30, 1888, Polly had spent in a pub called The Frying Pan. She left shortly after midnight and staggered back to her lodging. The woman demanded payment for the night, but Polly had spent it already back at the pub. She walked out about 1:30am and said she’d have no trouble getting the money; she’d be right back.

A friend of hers saw her a few minutes later, and Polly related the story to her. “I’ve made my money several times today,” she supposedly said to the friend, “and there’s no reason why I can’t make it again.” She staggered down the street, looking for someone to pay her enough to go back to her bed.

Sadly, Polly never made it home.

Very early the next morning, two men found Polly lying on a sidewalk, drunk and passed out, they supposed at first. The two men had a discussion about whether or not to prop her up against the wall of a nearby building, but they decided to leave her be. A policeman on patrol came up and, in the early pre-dawn gloaming, held his lantern close to Polly’s face to see her condition. It was then that he policeman discovered that Polly Nichols was not drunk, but she was lying dead in a pool of her own blood.

You see, it later came to be understood that the man Polly Nichols met later that late August morning was none other than Jack the Ripper.

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