‘Examined by a doctor, ‘Dick’ turned out to be a woman.’
In 1886, a cheeky-looking lad who gave his name as Dick Schick was employed as an errand-boy by Goodman & Davis, the Oxford Street tailors. Dick said that he was 15 years old and that since his mother’s work as a furrier could not support the family, he got a job himself.
Dick seemed an honest young lad, and although he enjoyed drinking at various pubs in and around London, his partying habits differed little from those of other young London errand-boys. But disturbingly, various clothes started vanishing from the tailor’s shop. Another boy was dismissed on suspicion, but the thefts continued. One day, Mr Davis saw the dapper-looking Dick Schick was wearing a pair of trousers and a waistcoat made from his own stolen material.
After being fired by Goodman & Davis in June 1886, Dick quickly secured another job as an errand-boy, this time for the respectable glover Frederick Noble Jones of Burlington Arcade. When gloves and other garments started disappearing, Dick became a suspect. This time, the scheming Dick wrote an anonymous note blaming another boy, but after they had dismissed this individual, the thieving continued. In October, Mr Jones got the idea to compare the anonymous letter with some of Dick’s handwriting; they were an excellent match. The police raided the Schick’ lodgings and found some missing garments and 40 pawn tickets for other clothing items. This was not the only discovery of the day; however; when examined by a doctor, ‘Dick’ turned out to be a woman. The 20-year-old Miss Lois Schick had successfully masqueraded as a 15-year-old London errand-boy for nearly a year.
There was a good deal of writing about the ‘female errand-boy’ in the London newspapers. Motivated by a mixture of sensationalism and vague proto-feminist sentiments. The rabble-rousing editor WT Stead tried to put a spin on the ‘Dick Schick’ case: was it not a shame that young women were so discriminated against and had young Lois Schick not been forced by poverty to don male attire? Some other newspapers followed suit, calling young Lois a brave lass who had just wanted to get a job and support her family. In an interview, Mrs Schick praised her daughter for helping to save her younger siblings from starvation. There was even a Schick Relief Fund, organised by the solicitor Bernard Abrahams; in its first week, it collected £10.
When Lois Schick was charged with theft at the Marlborough-street police court on October 13, 1886, she seemed quite undeterred by wearing her male attire in court. However, the momentum was clearly against her; in relentless testimony, they exposed her dishonesty.
In particular, they considered it ‘not cricket’ that this artful young woman had twice successfully framed other errand-boys for the thefts, causing them to be dismissed from their jobs. An uncharitable clergyman pointed out that the parish had supported the Schick family for some time, and that Lois’s younger sister Mary had found employment without resorting to cross-dressing. At the Middlesex Sessions, they sentenced Lois Schick to eight months in prison with hard labour, for stealing articles to the value of £75.
So, why would Lois have lived as a boy? Apart from the obvious gender issues surrounding many transvestites of the era, they got paid more, had more freedoms than their female counterparts, and as poor people the males were not sexually preyed upon to the extent girls were.
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