‘charity dame’ | ‘charity moll’: meaning and origin



In A Dictionary of Australian Colloquialisms (Sydney University Press in association with Oxford University Press Australia, 1990), Gerald Alfred Wilkes (1927-2020) defined the Australian-English expressions charity dame and charity moll as designating:

An amateur prostitute who does not charge a professional rate; any woman who thus deprives the professional of trade.




From Moll, pet form of the female forename Mary, the noun moll designates a prostitute 1.

Perhaps after the name Mary Magdalene 2, Moll was a conventional proper name or nickname for a prostitute in 17th-century London—as exemplified by the following passage from The Roaring Girle. Or Moll Cut-Purse (London: Printed for Thomas Archer, 1611), by the English playwrights Thomas Middleton (c.1570-1627) and Thomas Dekker (c.1570-1632):

Alex. Me thinkes her very name should fright thee from her,
And neuer trouble me.
Seb. Why is the name of Mol so fatall sir.
Alex. Many one sir, where suspect is entred,
For seeke all London from one end to t’other,
More whoores of that name, then of any ten other.

1 The noun moll, or molly, is also used to designate a girl, a woman, an effeminate boy or man.
—Cf. also:
Australian terms referring to left-handedness;
– the phrase backwards, the way Molly went to church.

2 In the Christian Church, Mary Magdalene is the name of a follower of Jesus, who cured her of evil spirits. She witnessed the Crucifixion and Jesus appeared to her after the Resurrection. In the Western Church, she was also frequently identified with the unnamed sinner of the gospel of Luke, 7, and therefore represented in hagiology as a reformed prostitute elevated to sanctity by repentance and faith.—Cf. the scriptural origin of the adjective ‘maudlin’.




The earliest occurrences of the Australian-English expressions charity dame and charity moll that I have found are as follows, in chronological order:

1, 2 & 3-: From Truth (Sydney, New South Wales)—the ’Loo is Woolloomooloo, the name of a suburb of Sydney:

1-: Of Sunday 24th July 1949:


DOWN at the ’Loo there seems to be a keen differentiation between what are known as “charity dames” and what are known as “professional dames.” If you’re a “charity dame” you entertain your men friends purely for love and accept nary a penny for your favors. On the other hand, if you’re in the professional class there’s a little matter of £.S.D. to be considered. The line of demarcation, it seems, is so well defined that it’s almost a case of “East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.”
THE City Coroner (Mr. Raschke) heard a good deal about “charity dames” and “professional dames” at the Coroner’s Court on Thursday when he held an inquest into a fire which broke out at a residential in Liverpool St., East Sydney, on the night of June 8.

2-: Of Sunday 28th August 1949:


There is a fine, but nevertheless very firm line of demarcation between what are known as “professional dames” and “charity dames”, and infringement of the prerogatives of established “practitioners” of the oldest profession in the world can easily lead to strife.
Those in “possession” of a territory, so to speak, are jealous of their rights, and woe betide those who seek to “muscle in.”
This is a principle observed among the certain Ladies of the ’Loo, and mention was made of the thin red line of demarcation this week when the City Coroner (Mr. Raschke) continued an inquiry into a fire at premises at 271 Liverpool St., East Sydney, on June 8.
According to police evidence at a previous hearing, one young lady, when questioned about the fire, said: “Those charity dames are performing for love in our territory.”

3-: Of Sunday 23rd July 1950:

Charity Dames Fled From ’Loo Ladies

When the Ladies of the ’Loo are annoyed they certainly strike terror into the hearts of their rivals.
Take, for instance, the night that a couple of ’Loo ladies appeared outside 271 Liverpool St. and one started yelling “charity dames.”
Four ladies at 271 fled upstairs just as fast as legs could carry them, slammed the door shut and put a lowboy against it.
Then behind the barred door they waited for things to happen. And they didn’t have to wait long. They could smell smoke from a fire and were forced to rush out for the fire brigade and the police.
The story of their flight was told on Wednesday at Darlinghurst Sessions when two women and two men were charged with attempting maliciously to set fire to the premises and with causing malicious injury to property.
The quartette, Kevin Patrick Connelly (35), John Bernard Matthews (32), Marjorie Young (28), and Patricia Barrett (36), were acquitted.
Outlining the case to the jury, the Crown Prosecutor (Mr. Kidston) said: “In Liverpool St., of course, there are a number of houses of good and reputable citizens. But in some there are women of doubtful character, and apparently people in search of them pass along the street.
“On June 8, 1949, when a fire occurred at 271 Liverpool St., it resulted from something in the nature of what might be called a trade dispute.
“Marjorie Young and Patricia Barrett had taken objection to the presence in 271 Liverpool St. of four girls named Beryl Morgan, Marion Brinsmead, Betty L’Arch and Barbara Hanley.
“Young and Barrett came up to the open window at 271, where the girls were sitting, and abused them, calling them ‘charity dames,’ meaning girls who gave themselves to men for insufficient or no price and made it difficult for other girls to charge the regular prices.”
Mr. Kidston said that the Crown alleged that Marjorie up with her shoe and broke the window, and Connelly, who had been lurking with Matthews nearby, set fire to the curtains, which in turn set fire to a bed.
Det. Gordon McLean said that Barrett admitted to him that she was in Liverpool St. that night, but denied taking any part in anything.
Arrested some time later, said McLean, Young volunteered: “All right. It is no use telling you guys lies. You are the smarties of the force. I don’t want to pick you, as I want to live. You know, everybody knows, these —— charity dames were doing it for love in our territory.”
McLean said he asked Young how Connelly and Matthews came into the matter, and Young replied: “They were looking after our interests.”
Judge Stacy said that there was ample evidence that a mean and cowardly act and a serious crime had been committed that night, but there was no evidence against any of the accused.

4-: From Australia Speaks: A Supplement to “The Australian Language” (Sydney: Shakespeare Head Press, 1953), by Sidney John Baker (1912-1976):

An amateur harlot or one who undercuts regular professional prices, with little thought for the consequences of this deflationary activity, is called a charity dame or a for-free.

5-: From The Delinquents (London: Victor Gollancz Ltd, 1962), a novel set in Brisbane, Queensland, by Criena Rohan, pen name of the Australian novelist Deirdre Cash (1924-1963)—the narrator describes Dawn as “a prostitute, straight out”:

‘Look, Dawn, can I camp in with you for a few days till I get to feeling a bit better?’
Dawn thought about it and then gave permission, very grudgingly.
‘Remember,’ she warned, ‘if the cops spring you here, I know nothing and no charity moll capers 3 with my men.’
‘I’m not a charity moll, and anyway I feel too sick.’

3 Here, the noun caper denotes a dishonest activity.

6-: From The end of the second invasion, by Elisabeth Wynhausen, published in The Bulletin (Sydney, New South Wales) of Saturday 15th January 1972:

[T]he American servicemen pulled out of Kings Cross on January 5 […].
There are the girls the Gl’s left tearfully behind and there are other girls the prostitutes despise. “American charity molls” they call them. These girls lived, from planeload to planeload, on the free-flowing U.S. dollars. They took the Gl’s shopping, they knew all the best places to have fun—and got in the discos and the nightclubs for free.

7-: From Prostitution in Australia: A Sociological Study Prepared by a Qualified Research Team under the Supervision of Marcel Winter (Balgowlah (New South Wales): Purtaboi Publications, 1976):

It is not known whether Mr. Y has in fact coerced girls into becoming prostitutes, but reports we have received would tend to suggest that if there are any such victims they would be girls known as “charity molls” who are living on the fringes of prostitution already.

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