Mary Ann Walker was the daughter of a British locksmith and his wife, Caroline. At the time of her birth on Aug. 26, 1845, there was no indication that she would meet the end that she did 43 years later. Her father made a decent living for the family, and she grew up thinking she would marry and live a life free of many of the cares of this world, but this was not to be. By the time she was 40, she hit rock bottom and lived on the dole in a London poorhouse. However, if riches in this life eluded Mary, at least her death gave her fame.
On Jan. 16, 1864, Mary Ann Walker became the wife of William Nichols, a printer’s machinist who provided his family with the usual amenities expected of a working man. They didn’t live the life of Riley, but they didn’t live hand-to-mouth either. The couple produced five children and was relatively happy until the 1880s. That’s when their marriage went on the rocks.
William became involved in an extra-marital affair with a nurse and began to drink heavily. Mary Ann answered her husband’s infidelity with some of her own. Soon afterwards, they separated. Legally required to support his estranged wife, Nichols paid her an allowance of five shillings a week for a year or two, but when Mary moved in with another man, he terminated her allotment. Not long after that, Mary turned to prostitution for a living and to workhouses for a place of abode.
Then came the short interlude when she returned to her father’s house, but they quarreled constantly until she left and moved in with a blacksmith. From there things went from bad to worse, as her drinking intensified. By May 1888, she was living in the Lambeth workhouse and had become a domestic servant. Growing quickly dissatisfied with the position, she left her employer a month later, taking clothing worth three pounds, 10 shillings...