Charles Dickens campaigned for a number of social reforms, highlighting them not just in his novels and short works but also by writing articles, pamphlets, letters to newspapers and speeches he gave. These are some of the more high-profile causes Dickens supported along with examples of each:

Poor Schools.

Aided by his friend the rich philanthropist Angela Burdett-Coutts, Charles Dickens helped support the Field Lane Ragged School, a school for the poor in the notorious Victorian slum of Saffron Hill in London’s Holborn area. Dickens wrote letters to newspapers and an article highlighting ragged (poor) schooling.

Quotation from A Sleep To Startle Us.

Quotation from A Sleep To Startle Us.

Fallen Women.

Again working with Angela Burdett-Coutts, Charles Dickens helped set up Urania Cottage, a home for ‘fallen women’ at Shepherds Bush on the then western outskirts of London. Dickens wrote An Appeal To Fallen Women, a pamphlet for distribution amongst women in prisons, in the hope of volunteering themselves for help at Urania Cottage. Dickens devoted a lot of time and energy to oversee the running of the home for a number of years.

Quotation from Appeal To Fallen Women.

Public Executions.

Charles Dickens was not against the death penalty but he was opposed at the then practice of executions in public, which often grew into big spectacles bringing in crowds of thousands often drinking and celebrating. He witnessed the execution in a famous case of the Mannings at Horsemonger Lane Gaol but was appalled at the behaviour of the crowds drinking and partying outside. In response, Dickens wrote a letter the next morning to The Times newspaper.

A cartoon from the magazine Punch of crowds drinking outside Horsemonger Lane before a public execution.

Sanitary Reform.

In the Victorian period, squalid living conditions in poorer neighbourhoods were a breeding ground for diseases. In 1832, the deadly infection cholera arrived in England and soon spread, killing hundreds of people. Dickens highlighted the conditions of the poor in slums throughout a number of his works and in 1851 he gave a speech on sanitary reform at a dinner for the Metropolitan Sanitary Association.

Sunday Recreation.

In 1836, Dickens actively opposed a proposed bill to ban public activity and recreational outlets on Sundays. He wrote a campaign pamphlet, Sunday under Three Heads, which spoke of the “intolerant zeal and ignorant enthusiasm” of the pious, who would have denied the working classes their only respite after the then norm of a six-day working week.

Quotation from Sunday under Three Heads.