Soiled Doves: Prostitution During the 19th Century





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Overview

History dates the world’s oldest profession of prostitution as far back as the 2000 B.C the Sumerian Empire, where a woman was respected as a temporary wife or companion. Prostitution through the ages has not always held a negative connotation. The goddesses of love, desire, and fertility Aphrodite and Ishtar were worshiped in ancient society. Eliciting money for sexual favors has been an accepted way of life for many cultures. In the colonial period, the 1800s the values instilled into society by puritanical forefathers made it difficult for prostitution to flourish. Leisure and entertainment were considered frivolous and trivial. The colonial theatre did not see her first actress until the mid-1800s. It took the American frontier about half a century to become acquainted with prostitution. The opportunity of land and wealth tied to events such as the Gold Rush led to westward expansion and an influx of men on the frontier. “Miners, farmers, shopkeepers, gun-slinger and gamblers” pushed into a male dominated frontier. There was a staggering ratio in 1849 of two women for every 100 men. “Men, money, adventure” and maybe a husband attracted the first women, arriving by foot, horseback, and wagon. Simple in nature and many unglamorous the introduction of women into this climate held significant changes for life of the average man of the frontier. Many men would never wash their faces or comb their hair had they not believed they may see a woman at the saloons. Women soon became a pivotal source of entertainment and attention. On this frontier a web of poverty, low pay from menial jobs, in addition to a variety of circumstances created to atmosphere for prostitution to flourish. Accepting the menial low pay and retaining dignity seemed made survival difficult for these women, society did not respect menial jobs and did not hesitate to castigate those employed in them. With the incentive of dignity gone the logical option seemed to be prostitution. With that logic many women took to the saloons and “hurdy-gurdy” houses as entertainment acting as dance partners and eliciting money for sexual favors. Prostitution had reared its desperate and shameless head. Prostitutes received various titles: soiled angels, sportin’ women, fallen flowers, red light ladies, and soiled doves. As the nation settled, morality swept across Americans with the Second Great Awakening. Prostitution became a target for reformers. Whole communities rebelled against the shameful practice. A community in Tennessee shipped a boatful of soiled doves up the river. Question of prostitute rights came about when one harlot was murdered by her client. Eventually through churches and religious fervor they effectively pushed the institute of prostitution away. Persevering prostitution found a new home at military camps boosting morale of soldiers of the North and South. Some military camps with the mindset regulate if not able to eradicate regulated red light districts others were opposed.




Civil Turbulence


After the second Great Awakening, society began to care more about the political and the moral state of society and encouraged reform. Prostitution during this time became a very prominent problem for society. Prostitutes were used in the civil war to please the soldiers and provide moral support. They could be found at most military camps throughout the south. After the civil war was over however, these prostitutes scattered themselves throughout the city looking for work. By the time 1863 rolled around, the people of Nashville had had enough of prostitution and demanded reform. Union officials came into Nashville and attempted to clean the city up by loading as many prostitutes as they could find onto a steamboat named the Idaho. This steamboat was sent north to Ohio with the intention of unloading them in another state. However, none of the states wished to have these prostitutes unloaded in their city. It had become evident that most of the union disapproved of prostitution as well. Since they could not be unloaded anywhere, the boat was sent back to Tennessee. Back in Tennessee, the officials decided to adopt an “if you can’t stop it, control it” mentality to fix the problem. They decided that the best solution was to create a system of legalized prostitution used for the army. Prostitutes had to get registered and their medical records were kept on file. However, this is not what the community had in mind. They were outraged that prostitution was still being tolerated. Not only that, these new red light districts brought in new problems such as gambling. Instead of fixing the problem, it became worse. People living in the country began to view these problems as proof that the city people were morally inferior and turned to religion to help solve the problem. One of the most prominent leaders of these revivals was Sam Jones. His sermons were highly emotional often bringing people to tears. He sought to save people and attack the saloons. He encouraged the people he saved to join politics and use their power to make change. However, they did not garner enough power to back their cause and their actions did not change much. Prostitution still remained.
One other method to stop prostitution was through the military camps themselves. Secretary of war Newton Baker provided cities with an ultimatum: either they force their red light districts to shut down of Baker would not allow a military camp to reside in their city. A military camp brings a solid amount of economic revenue to the city, much more that prostitutes do. As a result, many cities shut down their red light districts for the economic promise that military camps brought.


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After the second Great Awakening, society began to care more about the political and the moral state of society and encouraged reform. Prostitution during this time became a very prominent problem for society. Prostitutes were used in the civil war to please the soldiers and provide moral support. They could be found at most military camps throughout the south. After the civil war was over however, these prostitutes scattered themselves throughout the city looking for work. By the time 1863 rolled around, the people of Nashville had had enough of prostitution and demanded reform. Union officials came into Nashville and attempted to clean the city up by loading as many prostitutes as they could find onto a steamboat named the Idaho. This steamboat was sent north to Ohio with the intention of unloading them in another state. However, none of the states wished to have these prostitutes unloaded in their city. It had become evident that most of the union disapproved of prostitution as well. Since they could not be unloaded anywhere, the boat was sent back to Tennessee. Back in Tennessee, the officials decided to adopt an “if you can’t stop it, control it” mentality to fix the problem. They decided that the best solution was to create a system of legalized prostitution used for the army. Prostitutes had to get registered and their medical records were kept on file. However, this is not what the community had in mind. They were outraged that prostitution was still being tolerated. Not only that, these new red light districts brought in new problems such as gambling. Instead of fixing the problem, it became worse. People living in the country began to view these problems as proof that the city people were morally inferior and turned to religion to help solve the problem. One of the most prominent leaders of these revivals was Sam Jones. His sermons were highly emotional often bringing people to tears. He sought to save people and attack the saloons. He encouraged the people he saved to join politics and use their power to make change. However, they did not garner enough power to back their cause and their actions did not change much. Prostitution still remained.
One other method to stop prostitution was through the military camps themselves. Secretary of war Newton Baker provided cities with an ultimatum: either they force their red light districts to shut down of Baker would not allow a military camp to reside in their city. A military camp brings a solid amount of economic revenue to the city, much more that prostitutes do. As a result, many cities shut down their red light districts for the economic promise that military camps brought.




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The Madam

These doves worked under the often forgotten entrepreneur of the west the madam. Madams were the brains behind the busy beast, providing housing, establishing credit, appeasing law enforcement, giving to charity, and arranging dates.

The madam handled the business side of prostitution. She was in charge of her own houses and ladies. In order to maintain a constant profit the madam had to make sure there was always clientele. She had many different methods in order to advertise her ladies and attract customers. The madam went out of her way for the custome r and did everything to keep them happy so that they would return. She made sure the ladies always looked their best and put themselves out there for the men of the town to see. She dressed the ladies up in fancy clothing and have them walk the main streets or ride in carriages to bring in business.
Other ways the madam ensured business was she would send out personal engraved invitations to parties. This ensured that men would meet her ladies. She would get a lot of business from this. Many of the “parties” she sent invitations to were important men of the community such as government officials and businessmen. The madam would spend a large amount of money on fine food and champagne to please the men.
Another method the madam would use to advertise was by putting together directories. The directories contained information about the local brothel houses and the ladies in them. These directories were kept in saloons, restaurants, and hotels around the town. The first of these books was The Blue Book in New Orleans.
The madam made sure to pay the city a large portion of her revenue so law enforcement would leave her, her ladies, and her house alone. She also gave money to charity and churches to stay on the good side of the community. Because of these contributions the police looked past many of the things that went on in the brothel houses. The madam had many responsibilities and was overall a businesswoman who cared first and foremost about maintaining a profitable
business.

The story of Madam Jennie Banters “fire insurance”



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Jennie Banters


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Jennie Banter's Brothel in Jerome, Arizona






Jennie Banters was a distinguished madam of Jerome, Arizona a booming mining town. Many men were moving there for work and many women were moving there for prostitution. Jennie took advantage of situation. She arrived in this flourishing mining town in the 1890’s and started her prostitution business. She owned a number of brothels and was said to be the richest woman in Arizona at one time. A problem she had was that Jerome had many fires. All of her brothels were constructed of wood and in the course of two to three years she lost three brothels. Fed up with her losses, she decided to build a brick brothel. Unfortunately, this caught fire as well. While her brick brothel was burning Jennie told the firemen of the town she would give them free passes to her brothels if they could put the fire out. This promise caused not only the firemen but many men of the town to quickly work to put the fire out. Jennie held true to her promise and gave them all passes. The men were said to use the passes for years to come and the story of Jennie’s “fire insurance” is still told to this day.

The Lady

The first ladies on the frontiers heard of the opportunity of the west, the land, the gold, the potential, they were forced to realize that opportunity was not for them. Many men who have pushed westward were wifeless go-getters. They were able bodied and willing, these men possessed a realistic potential for survival. Women were afforded no such assurance regardless of their education. Arriving on the frontier employment opportunity for nondomestic women consisted of labor intensive menial jobs with less than decent working conditions. Terrible living conditions such as shacks and available cabins made survival difficult. Some were uneducated foreigners a trait that only made survival that much more arduous. Women had the option of enduring these hardships in hopes of finding a suitor and retaining their morals, dignity, and respect or living comfortably catering to the physical needs of businessmen, miners, and road workers. The logical option was to survive at the expensive of dignity.
The parlor lady spent her day in the house of her madam reading books, gardening, or doing fancy needle work. The lady’s line of work required a balanced diet eating several times a day. They consumed large amounts of meats and milk.
At dark, the lady of the night pulled her weight catering to a man’s sexual needs. Men often left sight of breeding and background when in the company of these ladies. She was considered fair game and had to submit to the vilest of wishes. She could never hurry the man she was entertaining. No matter how humiliating or painful it became, she had to pretend that she was enjoying her job.
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Brothels
Most brothels were situated in what was called the red light district. This was designated area for the houses of sin, saloons, and gambling establishments. The term “red light” is aid to have originated in Dodge City, Kansas, Dodge City was a major stop for the railroad, and a convenient place for the train crews to visit the ladies of negotiable virtue. Before entering the brothels the men would place a red lantern outside so they could be found in case of emergency. The madams realized this was good advertisement and they began placing red lights outside prostitution houses. This custom eventually turned into a law and it was required of brothels to keep a red light on throughout the night. They usually consisted of a saloon where the men could drink before meeting with the lady. The brothels were not known for their eloquence but they were known to be hospitable.
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Poems
These poems are about prostitution in the 19th century and are from different perspectives such as:

    1. Poems about the lady
    2. Poems from a miner's perspective
    3. Poems from a cowboy's perspective
    4. Poems from a reformer's perspective

Poems about the Lady:

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"Here Lies Charlotte"
Here lies Charlotte, She was a harlot.
For fifteen years she preserved her virginity
A damn good record for this vicinity

This is a poem that was an inscription found on a grave in the West


"Ring First "
First you ring the bell and then you ask for Anna;
Then you put a nickel in the ‘Bell’ pi-a-na,
Down comes Anna in a silk kimona,
All dressed up in pa-her-fume and co-lo-na
Then you pay two dollars for the music that you hear,
Then you pay two dollars for a lousy bottle o’ beer
Then you pay two dollars for a couple o’ weeks o’ fear
Down the line.

This poem was a western ditty or otherwise known as a song


Poems From a Miner's Prospective:

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"Lust For Mountain Gold"
Oh, the lust for mountain gold dust
Brought us lusty mountain men,
Who through lust for mountin’ women,
Quickly lost their gold again.

This poem is by “E.L.” from Fred and Jo Mazzulla, Brass Checks and Red Lights Denver, CO: Fred and Jo Mazzulla, 1966


Poems From a Cowboy's Perspective:

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"I Never Tire"
I never tire for the lust for women
At seventy, what do I care about destiny.
Loose with my passion, wild with desire,
Just like my younger days,
Brothels and whorehouses are places of
my mad indulgence.

From Benson Tong Unsubmissive Women Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1994



Poems From a Reformer's Perspective:

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"Why Didn’t Mother Tell Me"
“Better guide well the young than reclaim them when old,
For the voice of true wisdom is calling:
To rescue the fallen is good, but ‘tis best
To prevent other people from falling.’
Better close up the source of temptation and crime,
That deliver from dungeon or galley;
Better put a strong fence ‘round the top of the cliff
Than an ambulance down in the valley.”

This poem is from Clifford Roe the Great War on Slavery nc: Clifford Roe and B.S. Steadwell, 1991.


Sources:
Balderach, Amy S. A Different Kind of Reservation: Waco's Red-Light District Revisited. Waco, TX: Baylor University, 2005. Print.
Faulkner, Carol. "Prostitutes and Female Patriots." Reviews in American History. 38. (2010): 87-92. Print.

"History of Tennessee: The Progressives and the Great War." www.sayersnet.com. N.p., 24 Jun 2005. Web. 9 Apr 2010. http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:CFIChtO9A_MJ:www.sayersnet.com/history/tnwwi.htm+prostitution+tennessee+XIX&cd=7&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us
Moynahan, Jay. Fifty Years of Prostitute Photos 1870-1920. Spokane, WA: Chickadee Publishing, 2004. 40-42. Print.
Moynahan, Jay, comp. Poems of the Soiled Doves. Spokane, WA: Chickadee, 2002. Print.
Moynahan, Jay. Pioneer Prostitutes: Soiled Angels on the American Frontier. Spokane, WA: Chickadee, 1999. Print.
Seagraves, Anne. Soiled Doves: Prostitution in the Early West. Hayden, Idaho: Wesanne Publications, 1994. Print.