what is happening
- Oct 8, 2019
- 50d 8h 2m
The book is City of Eros: New York City, Prostitution, and the Commercialization of Sex, 1790-1920 by Timothy Gilfoyle. You can find it on LibGen.
Chapter 3: "The Whorearchy", the best JBpill chapter (condensed)
Beginning of the chapter, pages 55-57.
End of chapter 3, pages 74-75
Other interesting parts I came across
About young men using prostitutes, pages 102-103
Beginning of "personal" ads, page 114
Interracial stuff, pages 209-210
Sad shit man, pages 259-260
Back to JBpill stuff
On New York prostitutes getting older, page 293
Chapter 3: "The Whorearchy", the best JBpill chapter (condensed)
Beginning of the chapter, pages 55-57.
More than any other phenomenon, female prostitutes challenged the idyllic sexual morality of the growing urban middle class. As increasing numbers of women moved outside the family for financial reasons, female behavior, grounded in the realities of the nineteenth century urban economy, presented an alternative vision of sexuality and its purposes. Lucy Ann Brady epitomized this subculture of young women. Born in New York City around 1820, Brady grew up in an impoverished household. We know little of her childhood, except that early on she was attracted to the company of her peers. By her teenage years, she regularly attended the theater. Soon thereafter, she began sleeping with its male patrons.
Brady's incorrigible sexual behavior induced her parents to commit her to the House of Refuge, a semipublic institution for juvenile delinquents. After a seventeen month stay, she was "reformed" and apprenticed as a servant—but to little avail, because she ran away a short time later. For the next year, Brady lived a life of continual transiency. One night, for example, she met a steamboat captain who coaxed her to Mrs. Potter's Greene Street house of assignation. She stayed with him three days and nights before returning home. When another man paid five dollars for her services a few days later, she spent the night with him in an Orange Street brothel. The next day, after visiting a girlfriend in an oyster saloon, she accompanied a male stranger to a Mercer Street brothel. After returning to the saloon, she joined her friend and two other men in still another Orange Street house of prostitution, where they remained for the night.
Brady's sexual experiences were representative of the increasingly visible subculture of prostitutes. A native-born New Yorker, she began prostituting as a young teenager, selling her body on an occasional basis. She was never "seduced" or forced into "white slavery." She worked for a short time as a servant, an occupation frequently associated with prostitution in the minds of many contemporaries. Her part-time prostitution indebted Brady to no one madam or institution. Her visits to the "third tier" in a theater, a house of assignation near Broadway, a brothel in Five Points, and a saloon elsewhere exemplified the institutional variety and fluidity of antebellum prostitution. At some point, her work was interrupted by municipal authorities, who placed her under arrest and kept her off the streets. But her activity was regulated by neither clock nor calendar. In most cases, the decision to prostitute hinged on a short term need for money and a moment's entertainment. Brady's temporary resort to prostitution was typical of many young prostitutes in New York.
At first, behavior such as Brady's confused and confounded contemporaries. George Templeton Strong, for example, complained that prostitutes were so numerous and visible that New York was infested with a "whorearchy." "No one can walk the length of Broadway without meeting some hideous troop of ragged girls, from twelve-years old down, ...with thief written in their cunning eyes and whore on their depraved faces," he wrote in 1851. In this world of poverty, a new underclass of female children made their home. "On a rainy day such crews may be seen by dozens," Strong wrote. "They haunt every other crossing and skulk away together, when the sun comes out and the mud is dry again. And such a group is I think the most revolting object that the social diseases of a great city can produce. A gang of blackguard boys is lovely by the side of it."
Many like Strong were unsure where to draw the line between hardcore prostitution and simple promiscuity. But by the 1860s, observers like George Ellington recognized the existence of "treating"—young girls offering sex as a "way of receiving presents from their gentlemen admirers." Different from prostitutes, such females, Ellington admitted, were "in the under-world, but not of it." Convinced that 99 percent of all prostitutes ended up dead shortly thereafter, Ellington nevertheless cited numerous examples to the contrary. A pair of middle-class sisters from Westchester, for example, routinely visited Chatham Street saloons and brothels, "remaining there for a week or two, and then returning home, the parents believing that they had been visiting friends." Upon their arrest, they agreed to stop and reform. To Ellington's surprise, they later married "well and happy. Their parents or friends never heard of their adventures in the 'big city.'"
These inconsistent, anecdotal descriptions of illicit intercourse often revealed more about the boundaries of nineteenth-century sexuality than about who actually was a prostitute. And few statistics were as inexact and divergent as those pertaining to the population of prostitutes. ***Not including estimates on number of prostitutes and how some became prostitutes because of low wages in other jobs***
Others lived off prostitution and nothing else. Fourteen-year-old Harriet Newberry earned four to five dollars per night as a prostitute in a Chapel Street whorehouse and thereby managed to pay even her comparatively high rent of five dollars per week. After her "willing" seduction by a Frenchman in 1834, Sarah Jane Chapman solicited men on Broadway and the Bowery, charging two dollars apiece to the two or three men with whom she slept. Mary Ann Pitt was more direct than most when she stated in 1866 that she simply preferred prostitution to work. One young prostitute put it bluntly: "I know what making money is, sir. I am only fourteen, but I am old enough. I have had to take care of myself ever since I was ten years old, and I have never had a cent given to me. lt may be a sin, sir, ...but God will forgive. ...The rich do such things and worse, and no one says anything against them."
More shocking than venereal disease was the youthfulness of many prostitutes. Prior to 1820, an occasional madam recruited teenage girls. For example, after Rosanna McCaleb physically forced thirteen-year old Betty Whiteman to copulate with "a man named George" by holding her legs, Whiteman worked in McCaleb's brothel. Similarly, when Moll Sanders tried to recruit thirteen-year-old Catherine Woolsey into her Chapel Street house, Woolsey refused, saying she knew "what the said Moll was." But these were exceptional cases; only rarely did the names of very young prostitutes appear in the public record.
By the 1830s, however, child prostitution was a major public concern. Addressing the Society for the Reformation of Juvenile Delinquents, the former mayor and longtime reformer Stephen Allen concluded that the harsh socioeconomic realities of the marketplace were producing more and more teenage prostitutes. Most, he wrote, "have fallen from the combined influence of poverty, neglect, ignorance and bad company, rather than because of individual or voluntary depravity." After 1840, dozens of child prostitutes as young as eleven were found "loafing about City Hall each night, for the basest of purposes." Girls peddling flowers, apples, or matches on the streets were known for their salacious consorts and "loose characters." Around midcentury, police reports claimed that as many as 380 "juvenile harlots" lived in a single police district and that another 10,000 children roamed the city thoroughfares. Similarly, an 1862 Children's Aid Society study found homeless nine and ten-year-old girls peddling sex late at night near the theaters, leading James McCabe to conclude, "[A]t ten the boys are thieves, at fifteen the girls are all prostitutes.
Numerous brothels actually encouraged youthful carnality. In 1839, city authorities discovered five teenagers, ranging in age from sixteen to eighteen, committing "indecent" acts when they broke up Catharine Badger's disorderly house. Fifteen-year-old girls were known to bring men picked up in the street to Charity Jennison's Five Points establishment in the 1820s and to Louisa Daly's Madison Street house a decade later. During the 1840s, Louisa Acker had more than a score of young girls in her brothel, most ranging from twelve to fifteen years of age, and one as young as nine. Mary Ann Concklin's Anthony Street house had numerous girls under fifteen. Police Officer William Bell expressed little surprise when he learned that a small fifteen-year-old girl working in a Front Street junk shop "was in the habbit of going aboard coal boats in that vicinity and prostituting herself." Teenage girls even worked in tandem. For example, Adaline Pioneer and Susan Baker, each fourteen years old, brought numerous men to Mrs. Webber's house of ill fame on Church Street. One neighbor testified that Pioneer brought at least four men there in ten days. Still other brothels specialized in ten to fourteen-year-old girls.
Reformers attributed the visible rise of teenage prostitution to the wanton seduction of young innocents by hedonistic philanderers. The penny press, employing sensationalist methods aimed at increasing readership, depicted the city as full of confidence men and sexual leeches eagerly plotting the conquest of young, virginal nymphs. Court cases confirm there was some truth to the charge. For example, Eliza Noe, an apprentice tailor living with Ann Clark, was compelled by her employer to have intercourse or risk a beating. Sixteen-year-old Martha Garrett was found in the bawdy house of Jacob and Louisa Acker in the summer of 1836. Moving to New York in 1833 to learn a trade, she lived with relatives until her seduction and abandonment by a Pearl Street tailor. Parents occasionally brought abduction charges against boyfriends or brothels when their daughters ended up in a house of ill fame. Retribution was not easy, however. When Ann Blaylock rescued her daughter from Catherine Anderson's Orange Street brothel, she was attacked and thrown into the gutter by the women in the house.
Sermonizing reformers aside, young women were not usually prisoners of flesh merchants. Tales of forced sexual exploitation obscured the larger reality of a prostitute's life. Some teenagers used prostitution as a vehicle to escape parental discipline. A seventeen-year-old Connecticut girl ran away from home to work in a brothel because, as she said, "Mother is cross, and home is an old, dull, dead place." Trying to apprehend her seventeen-year-old daughter in a brothel, Matilda Waterbury overheard her daughter say, "Don't let my mother know it for she will kill me." Similarly, after leaving a Water Street brothel, William Ross's niece was "enticed back again to the same house five times in succession." Three moves by her family did little to discourage her predilection for prostitution. Although the parental tensions and social dynamics within these families remain unclear, many young females chose to prostitute. Indeed, fewer than one-fifth of the girls in the House of Refuge contended they were seduced and forced into prostitution. And at midcentury, Dr. William Sanger reported that only 14 percent (282 of 2,000) of the Almshouse prostitutes gave seduction as the primary impetus behind their turning to prostitution.
When all available sources are considered, the greatest predictor of prostitution was not ethnicity, birthplace, or even class. Rather, the death of a parent, especially the father, with its economic and psychological impact, was the most often shared variable in the personal histories of these women. As prostitutes increasingly came from families of farmers and artisans, the images of downward mobility traditionally associated with the literature of prostitution proved to be more than just exaggerated metaphors.
Some parents made prostitution a family affair. Observing that impoverished artisans sold the sexual favors of their wives and children, the Englishman Francis Place concluded that poverty and chastity were incompatible. The same was true in New York. ***Not including part where the author describes some specific examples because this is getting too long*** For the widowed mother, the downwardly mobile journeyman, and the poor immigrant, prostitution was not a violation of moral propriety but a necessary part of the household economy.
If family members did not encourage prostitution, female peers sometimes did. By her sixteenth birthday, for example, Fanny Bayles had been a prostitute for four years, usually in the houses of Adeline Miller. Bayles coaxed fourteen-year-old Sarah Cornwell into the business, arguing that she could then give up work and "be able to get many things." When Cornwell agreed to try, Bayles brought her to Miller's Orange Street house and "into a bedroom where a gentleman was sitting and there left her, and the gentleman got up and locked the door after her and then told [her] to undress and go to bed and he then had carnal connection with her which [was] the first time ...with any man." Losing her virginity earned her two dollars. Likewise, eighteen-year-old Louisa Slowly brought Catharine Blaunelt, four years her junior, to William Murray's Elm Street house of prostitution for her sexual initiation. Fourteen-year-old Mary Hood claimed that Irish-born Bridget Perry initially induced her to have sex "with strange men." But when her parents came to remove her, she moved to another house to escape them. Mary Ann Blakely, a part-time prostitute living on Catharine Street, continually tried to persuade her roommate Maria McMann, a servant girl, to work with her. Sometimes mere persuasion by a madam was sufficient. Catherine Foot was noted for offering young teenagers to her customers at her White Street house of prostitution during the 1820s. In each case, Foot won the confidence of a young girl before arranging a session with a man.
Within this fluid, female subculture, the phenomenon of child prostitution reflected a transformation in urban sexual behavior and efforts to regulate it. The true extent, then as now, of sex between children and adults, remains an unanswered question. The issue is further complicated by definitions of childhood, adolescence, and adulthood that vary across cultures and time. Philippe Aries has argued that the "practice of playing with children's privy parts formed part of a Widespread tradition" in western Europe before 1600 and remains acceptable in some contemporary cultures. While similar sexual activity probably occurred in colonial and preindustrial America, it was largely hidden from the public eye. But as urban working-class children helped supplement their family incomes by peddling, huckstering, and scavenging, their activities merged with the shadier arts of crime and prostitution.
The sale of one's virginity brought the greatest remuneration. Fourteen-year-old Ann Kerrigan was seduced by the English wine merchant John Ryan while working in a Murray Street porter house. After paying the proprietor $50 for the initial copulation, Ryan paid Kerrigan $20 a week for nearly two years to be his mistress. Another fourteen-year-old, Ruth Hudspeth, ran away from her home in New Jersey when she met a Frenchman who paid $50 to fornicate with her. Thereafter she earned $5 for every act of sexual intercourse with him until she was discovered by her aunt. Even in poor areas like Five Points, intercourse with a virgin cost $10. In a job market offering teenage girls paltry incomes of $35 to $50 per year, the prospect of such income for one's maidenhood could be quite persuasive.
The minimal information on rape in New York partly confirms the inclination of some antebellum males to seduce very young girls. James Stanford, for example, told a fellow Water Street boarder that the young child Eliza Morrison "would make a wicked piece when she got a little bigger." Rather than waiting, he simply raped her. Indeed, about one third of all the rape and attempted rape cases prosecuted by the district attorney from 1810 to 1876 involved female victims aged twelve or less. Children under twelve were at least twice as likely to be victims of rape or attempted rape as were older children. Although the majority of all rape victims appear to have been single women over nineteen, the large number of young females who were sexually attacked indicates that they were preferred sexual objects of some men in nineteenth-century New York.
In many cases, young girls could even prostitute without risking pregnancy. Social historians have shown that nineteenth-century working class women usually did not reach sexual maturity and the age of menarche until they were about fifteen. Comparatively less physically developed than twentieth-century girls of the same age, ten- to fifteen-year olds had fewer fears of unwanted pregnancy than their older sisters in the profession. This "built-in" form of birth control and the diminished likelihood of a young girl's having venereal disease may have encouraged men to seek liaisons with younger women. Furthermore, an erroneous nineteenth-century sexual theory held that intercourse with a virgin would cure venereal disease. When James Campbell, for example, raped seventeen-year-old Eliza McKinsey, his accomplice egged him on, saying, "Get it in; she will clean you out; her blood is fresh, and you will get rid of all disease."
Government did little to discourage such sexual exploitation. The low age of consent in New York (ten years) was hardly a deterrent. Although a few states set the age at twelve, it was not until after 1885 that numerous states bowed to popular pressure and raised the age. By 1889 New York's consent age was sixteen and by 1895 eighteen. Before 1880, if a teenager was willing and her parents consented or were absent or ignorant, no legal obstacle prohibited men from having sexual intercourse with her.
This combination of familial, social, and political factors surely encouraged many young females to resort to prostitution. But probably the most attractive feature was the possibility of economic advancement, best exemplified by the madam. Although most women who prostituted did so for only a short time, some made it a career. Their longevity reflected how prostitution served as an avenue of mobility—a road that, if not paved with gold, provided a modicum of comfort and stability. During the early nineteenth century, some entrepreneurial prostitutes successfully accumulated savings and property. Stereotypical descriptions of a prostitute's life as five years of dissipation followed by death ignored those prostitutes who eventually became madams, acquired real and personal property, and remained in the profession for decades.
End of chapter 3, pages 74-75
Astonished by the independence of young American females, the Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville, in his famous 1835 study of American culture, remarked, "In no other country is a girl left so soon or so completely to look after herself." This seemingly newfound autonomy attracted the attention of numerous nineteenth-century observers in the young republic. In various publications, ranging from sober advice books to sensational novels, young women were increasingly central subjects of discussion and debate. Nothing, however, was more controversial than and evoked such fear as their sexuality.
After 1820, the collective social profile of prostitutes in New York was transformed. Although there was never a "typical" prostitute or a "typical" prostitution experience, several important changes can be discerned. The accumulation of personal property and the attention enjoyed by the most entrepreneurial of these women indicated that after 1820 an affluent, but migratory, class of prostitutes flourished in Gotham. In a world of imperfect choices, these women did not view prostitution as deviance or sin; rather, they considered it a better alternative to the factory or domestic servitude. At the end of the 1830S, guidebooks advertised the leading "women of the town," the media highlighted their activities, and residents complained about New York's "whorearchy." Landlords and madams thereby rationalized commercial sex, transforming it into a visible commodity of consumption and thereby creating a pattern of domination, subordination, and hierarchy among different groups of prostitutes.
Increasingly, large numbers of young girls, some only ten to twelve years of age, resorted to prostitution to sustain themselves and their families. Others wanted to break the bonds of familial control and gain a measure of personal independence. Sexual intercourse was not a dark deed for such teenagers. There emerged informal familial and female networks in which adults and prostitutes encouraged female family members, friends, and acquaintances to prostitute themselves. When commodity production moved out of the artisanal shop, it incorporated large numbers of females and thus converted women's wage work from a marginal to critical component of the New York economy. Occasional prostitution gave young females a measure of independence from this economic reality. No boss or pimp controlled their labor, their time, or their leisure. Since some men were willing to pay extravagant sums for sexual relations with children and teenagers, sex posed a powerful financial temptation. As New York gave birth to a new industrial economy, its reverberations not only transformed sexuality into a new commodity but turned prostitution into a distinctive part of the urban female economy.
In one final sense, prostitutes were divided beings. At this critical juncture in their lives, sexuality was an act of commerce, a form of personal finance. Yet, at other points, as the example of Lucy Brady reminds us, sex was something else. It could be personal and romantic, potentially loving. Then as later, most observers viewed sexuality as a unity—it was wholly one kind of activity or wholly another. When the boundaries of a singular act of sexual intercourse overlapped, intersected, or merged, confusion and fear often resulted. In one sense, the estimates of large numbers of prostitutes, by themselves, meant little. The Eliza Jumels and Julia Browns belonged to a minority. Rare were the women who remained prostitutes for a substantial portion of their lives. The significant point is that many women chose or felt compelled at some point to engage in prostitution in numbers unmatched in New York's history, either before or since.
Other interesting parts I came across
About young men using prostitutes, pages 102-103
The youthfulness of New York's sexual epicures, as the case of Richard Robinson illustrated, drew attention in a variety of quarters. In 1833, for example, Alexander Polsty lamented that his fifteen-year-old was "a constant frequenter" of the prostitutes in Francis Legg's Anthony Street saloon. "[H]e stays all night," said Polsty, "sleeping with ...the female inmates. ..." Others noted that the majority of clients "were half grown boys of the very worst kind." Forming crowds outside some houses of ill repute, the youths committed some of "the grossest indecencies in the neighborhood." Others lamented how such youthful behavior was tolerated even by middle-class women. "It often happens, that young men who are known to frequent the dens of infamy and vice," wrote one critic, "are freely admitted to the society of ladies." Another clerk who attended fancy balls and visited with New York's elite females openly supported a mistress. "And yet," remonstrated one observer, "no young man in the whole city is more popular with the ladies."
By midcentury, journalists and doctors were convinced that sex with prostitutes was the norm for young male New Yorkers. "Mere boys, of the rising generation, have their fancy women, or favorite prostitutes," noted one newspaper. In 1857, and 1858, Walt Whitman observed that "the majority of nearly grown and just grown lads" in Brooklyn and New York "feel perfectly at home in the most infamous places-and ...look for their pleasures mostly there." Although "respectable society" ignores the growing practice, he wrote:
"the plain truth is that nineteen out of twenty of the mass of American young men, who live in or visit the great cities, are more or less familiar with houses of prostitution and are customers to them. —A large proportion of the young men become acquainted with all the best known ones in the city."
Beginning of "personal" ads, page 114
Pintard astutely identified a new trend in urban courtship. After 1820, even the selection of a spouse was subject to the vagaries of the market. "Personal" ads appeared for the first time in local papers. Many males openly expressed frustration in finding female companions. In the 1840s, for example, young mechanics placed newspaper advertisements seeking the attention of young ladies between fifteen and twenty, reiterating their good moral character and desiring to change their "present solitary lives of celibacy for the more pleasing and social life of conjugal bliss." Admitting that their method was unusual, the young workers expressed the hope that the "irksomeness of introduction, acquaintance and courtship [would] justify [them] in making this public address." By the 1860s, "personals" were a regular feature in New York newspapers.
Interracial stuff, pages 209-210
Most black-run establishments operated with little fanfare or opposition, except for the interracial "black and tans." By ignoring many of the conventions of racial segregation, these establishments drew criticism from many who normally tolerated commercial sex. Charles Gardner, for example, described Nigger Johnson's dance house (a former "aristocratic house") on West Twenty-seventh Street, where "the colored and white races nightly congregated," and fifteen- and sixteen year-old white females danced with black men. One judge even claimed that such dives, by promoting interracial sex, "put decent places in disrepute."
Judges notwithstanding, racially integrated nightspots like Digg's Hotel, Edmund's (or the Douglas) Theatrical Club, and Percy Brown's Cafe attracted a racially mixed clientele, especially after 1900. Undercover investigators found that in Walter Herbert's Criterion Club Cafe there were "a good many white men looking for colored girls, ...so [there was] always a crowd of streetwalkers on hand." Similarly, Marshall's Hotel, on West Fifty-third Street, was a "high class restaurant for colored people," and despite the "questionable orgies and revels ...held there nightly" was "perhaps [the] most popular place in town." Its Thirty-fifth Street rival, Baron Wilkins's Place, was "the swellest club in town," with its "high class of sporting people." While attractive brown-skinned women sang popular and suggestive songs, Wilkins discreetly provided private rooms to regular customers and prostitutes. One investigator learned of "a special room where white women and colored men can meet and be protected."
Sad shit man, pages 259-260
The Rise of the Syndicates
By the end of the nineteenth century, this elaborate yet informal system of de facto regulation was coordinated by an organized network of
"syndicates." Although antiprostitution reformers brought these groups to public attention with their "white slavery" campaigns in the early twentieth century, organized recruitment of prostitutes was hardly new. As early as 1793, Moreau de St. Mery discovered young girls "sold" to Philadelphia brothels for thirty dollars. Throughout the nineteenth century, procurers routinely visited rural towns searching for prospective inmates under the guise of recruiting for fa ctory or domestic work. For example, during the 1830S, Joe Farryall made three or four trips per year to New England and other country towns to recruit or seduce girls for his New York City brothel. Similarly, pimps and husbands of madams frequently went to small eastern cities like Troy, Schenectady, Utica, Reading, and Allentown to procure girls.
Poverty even forced some families to "sell" their children. Annie Wilson of Philadelphia, for instance, sold her teenage daughter to a New York procuress for fifty dollars. A police officer testified he knew of at least half a dozen cases in which Italian fathers "made regular business of hiring out their children for the purposes of prostitution." By the 1860s, Italian padrones had established a system of bringing young children to the United States, allegedly to work as organ grinders. And some successful madams developed personal connections with compatriots in other cities, shipping young girls to and from New York when ever necessary.
Some entrepreneurs of prostitution resorted to coercion. Although this issue was ignored until the white-slavery campaigns at the turn of the century, earlier examples are occasionally found. The notorious Jacques Monaise, for example, frequently enticed teenage girls into his Church Street house, where he removed their clothes and "exhibited" them to men for five dollars. After giving the girls a small portion of his profit, he released them and instructed them to tell their parents that they were working. Margaret Lyons, a fourteen-year-old seamstress, contemplated suicide after one such experience and stayed away from home, fearing reprisal for her sexual transgressions. When Monaise was finally tried, the members of the jury convicted him without leaving their seats. Such examples of force, however, were infrequent and unconnected to the larger organizational networks that emerged in the final decades of the century.
A far more common recruitment device was the "intelligence office." Early versions of a job referral service, these agencies were often used by young women interested in locating wagework. Although little is precisely known about their methods, most appear to have been comparatively small, informal networks. Some offices inadvertently sent prospective servants to brothels because they were ignorant of the household's clandestine business. For example, one Rivington Street madam's "specialty [was] to get green german girls," by hiring them as servants. As soon as "they [were] in the house she compell[ed] them to go with men," according to one neighbor. If they refused, she beat them. Other Lower East Side residents claimed that madams "established quite a trade in that line." Some recruiters gave jobs to women only upon sleeping with them; other offices readily recruited girls whenever a brothel requested them. In the 1870s, the Society for the Prevention of Crime declared that established agencies recruited young girls in numerous eastern towns and villages through deceptive advertisements. "Traffickers in human flesh and blood," stated the society, "they are unscrupulous and blush at nothing to accomplish their purpose." By the twentieth century, some employment agencies were sending agents to Europe for the purpose of "collecting girls." Not until 1906 did New York State prohibit employment agencies from referring applicants to houses of prostitution.
Back to JBpill stuff
Many saw commercial sex as a routine part of city life and did not regard themselves as fallen women or white slaves. As a teenager growing up on the Lower East Side, for example, Emma Hartig discovered an informal social network in which numerous young prostitutes shared. Moving among brothels and assignation houses during the 1890s, Hartig noted that most inmates were thirteen- to seven teen-year-olds like herself. Her peers provided all kinds of information about prostitution and advice on where to locate such work. "I found out these different places through ...a great many young girls circulating through all those places on the East Side," she remembered. And when Hartig answered an advertisement for a waitress and discovered that the place was really an "immoral house, " she stayed. "They kept me quite nice there," she admitted. "I did not like the place where I was." Similarly, when a former madam was queried about where and how she obtained girls, she curtly responded, "My dear gentlemen, you will find lots of girls yet, the girls know where the houses are."
Evidence of this independent subculture of prostitutes existed before 1900, of course, but was ignored by contemporaries. During the 1870s, for example, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children concluded that "flower girls" were responsible for introducing many young girls to prostitution. "The business of peddling flowers at night is constantly resorted to as a pretense. ...They are in the streets at all hours of the day and night, frequenting saloons and houses of ill-repute. " Some girls, "rather handsome in features and modest in demeanor," even organized small gangs and practiced "the domestic lay"—blackmailing guilty and innocent merchants "for alleged improper liberties taken with them." All too often, noted one journalist, "the peddler of posies" became "a lady of the camellias."
The success of teenage prostitutes was not lost on their colleagues. Older prostitutes, hoping to appease male fantasies for young sex partners, often disguised themselves to look like children (figure 55). For example, one man, solicited by what he thought was a schoolgirl on Sixth Avenue, quickly realized "that out of the juvenile attire of the bearer of the satchel there peeped a face young and fresh enough, yet by no means that of a child." Prostitutes posing as schoolgirls most often appeared around schooltime, earning the epithet "buzzards in doves' plumes."
Teenage prostitutes were common in many New York brothels. For example, Mary Henry's five-dollar parlor house in the Tenderloin had ten girls ranging in age from fifteen to eighteen, and a Harlem brothel with an allegedly elderly clientele provided partners twelve to eighteen years old. One neighbor complained that "the children talk of it" while they played in the street. Similarly, the Tenderloin madam Sophia "furnished young girls for seduction purposes, usually afternoons for $20 to $25." She even offered her niece from England to her customers, whereupon" she was torn so that they had to employ a doctor," according to one investigator.
The prostitutes' peer group occasionally overwhelmed family strictures. The famed Seven Sisters brothels in the Tenderloin were said to have begun when one young woman, after running a brothel for a time, persuaded six of her sisters to move from their New England hometown to New York and do the same. Other madams, too, recruited girls from their hometowns. More common were cases like that of fifteen-year-old Katie Byrne, who worked in a Tenderloin brothel until her mother discovered her secret. "My daughter has been going to this home every day for the past four months," cried her mother, "telling me she was going to work and bringing home her wages every Saturday night ...and I thought her an innocent girl."
Teenage females in seemingly stable families were not immune to the attractions of prostitution. For example, the fifteen- to seventeen-year olds in Mrs. George Miller's West Fortieth Street brothel "were Jewish girls of very respectable people." Similarly, thirteen- and fourteen-year old girls visiting Rosa Langbein's Eldridge Street assignation house "had respectable homes, and their parents were under the impression that they were employed in a factory.
Many teenage prostitutes acknowledged that commercial sex offered tangible rewards and that they considered it easy employment. In fact prostitutes frequently claimed that they did not even consider that the selling of sex was work. Delia Minsey, seeing "how easy it was to make money, "said she wanted "to be a kept woman." Another woman insisted that she became a prostitute after observing girls in her tenement wearing "nice things without working." She went on to say that she "never did any honest work but followed what they did." Similarly, French Viola, a Tenderloin brothel prostitute who averaged twenty-five dollars per week in wages and accommodated as many as 180 clients, incongruously admitted that she "drifted into the business because of the easy time." One woman bluntly told the reformer Felix Adler that prostitution was simply the best alternative. "Good food, fine clothes and the easy life make it attractive," she declared.
As women entered the world of wage labor in larger numbers after 1870, prostitution was attractive to some. Most female occupations paid very low and inadequate wages. In the garment industry, for example, women averaged between six and twelve dollars per week in wages. Schoolteachers and clerks rarely made more than ten. In contrast, prostitutes admitted to earning thirty dollars per night in concert saloons and fifty dollars a week streetwalking along Broadway. This willingness on the part of some women to choose prostitution over other forms of labor reflected an alternative attitude regarding their bodies. Their view of the meaning of coitus was very different from that of middle class Americans. For the prostitute, commercial sex offered a better and more appealing form of employment and life-style.
For many of these teenage prostitutes, assignation houses, hotels, and concert saloons provided greater freedom than did brothels. In the row of assignation houses on East Thirteenth Street, near Union Square, a neighbor complained that it was "not an uncommon thing for very young and seemingly innocent girls to be seen going in there heavily veiled." Girls as young as twelve and thirteen, for example, brought men to Mary Lester's house on the block. Elsewhere in Greenwich Village, Minnie Brooks offered twelve- and fourteen-year-old girls in her house. Despite their "outside respectability," the three hotels at Twenty-fourth Street and Third Avenue attracted large numbers of fourteen- and fifteen-year-old females "of the shop girl class." In Richard Hill's Harlem concert saloon, young girls allegedly "entice[d] men into [the] wine rooms where the orgies [were] carried untill daylight." And ten- to fifteen year-old girls solicited men in the Globe, Windsor, and New American dime museums on the Bowery, bringing men to nearby assignation houses.
The same was repeated in cigar stores. Annie Bushein, for example, provided girls of fifteen years and under to customers. In similar businesses on the Lower East Side, large numbers of German girls under sixteen waited on customers and asked if they wanted "to go up stairs or back." One reporter concluded, "[T]he girls in them do not look as common as those in the lower east side houses or on the Bowery. Some of them are rather bashful and look as if they have not been in the business very long.
For other young women, however, the decision to prostitute was not easy. Emma Goldman said of her decision to streetwalk on Fourteenth Street to raise money for her lover, the anarchist Alexander Berkman, "I felt no nervousness at first, but when I looked at the passing men and saw their vulgar glances and their manner of approaching the women, my heart sank. ...I wanted to take flight, to run back to my room, tear of my cheap finery, and scrub myself clean." When her first customer realized she was a novice, he simply gave her ten dollars and instructed her to go home. She never tried prostitution again.
Goldman's confused and contradictory feelings about prostitution illustrate the fluidity and constantly tested social terrain of this subculture. As Kathy Peiss, Joanne Meyerowitz, and others have argued, many young girls at the turn of the century bartered their bodies on an occasional and irregular basis, blurring the line between sex for hire and sex in courtship. Men "treated" women to drinks, theater tickets, and other incidentals in exchange for various sexual favors, ranging from flirtatious companionship to sexual intercourse. Young women offered themselves to men not just for money but for company, presents, and amusement. While they were not truly promiscuous, neither were they models of decorum; they moved in and out of the trade quite easily.
On New York prostitutes getting older, page 293
A final noteworthy change by the twentieth century was the apparent aging of New York's prostitutes. According to George Kneeland, the average entry age by the second decade of the century was seventeen. When professionals, such as teachers, resorted to prostitution, they were usually over the age of twenty. Furthermore, in a Committee of Fourteen study between 1905 and 1910, only 11 percent of the women sentenced in Women's Court were nineteen years old or younger, the greatest number (33 percent) twenty-four to twenty-five. By World War I, prostitutes appeared to be getting even older. A Committee of Fourteen investigator patrolling Broadway in 1918 remarked, "[M]ost noticeable is the large number of older women on the streets around the ages of 30 to 40 or more, well dressed and full of rings, etc. It has been the rule to find the young ones in the past but business is better and these older ones can even make it go." In a sampling of prostitutes in the Women's Court a year later, a surprising 56 percent were over twenty-six years old. Similarly, the average age of over a thousand prostitutes surveyed, dispersed in saloons, concert halls, hotels, and the street, was twenty-five. The weight of evidence implies that by the second decade of the twentieth century, fewer teenagers and more young adult women relied upon prostitution to remedy economic or personal distress.