“I could not make a demonstration of affection over men nor any pretense at response to their caresses. For the life of me, I could not understand why they should expect it. They had only bought my body. I could not see why they should want more.”–Madeleine, An Autobiography
While visiting my brother several years ago and browsing through a
In 1849, when the West was at its most rugged, it’s estimated there were only 2 women for every 100 men. Many of these females were illiterate and inexperienced but hoping to get married. Others came for wealth and adventure. Most had their dreams dashed and were forced to survive by the only thing they had to sell–their bodies. As their numbers grew, so did prostitution. It wasn’t long before a class system fell into place, starting from the most elite:
Courtesan or mistress–These women were sophisticated, beautiful and intelligent. Their services were given solely to gentlemen of great wealth and power who paid them well for the privilege. Because of the gentleman’s prominence, society generally accepted the courtesan/mistress, giving her a degree of respectability.
Parlor House Ladies–Ranging in age from 18-30 years old, they lived in well-furnished homes, dressed in elegant gowns and expensive lingerie, wore makeup and perfume, and charged everything to their madam’s accounts–which kept them in continual debt to her.
To keep her business flourishing, the madam would parade her girls throughout the community in leisurely strolls or open carriage rides. Often the girls carried cuddly poodles, a breed no decent woman would ever own.
This higher class of prostitute spent her days in the garden, doing needlework or reading. She ate well–nourishing meals of steak, roast and lots of milk to keep up her stamina. In the evening, her work began, and once a gentleman entered her bedroom, she was bound to service him as he wished, no matter how humiliating or painful it became. Her fee would be about $25 (more if the man spent the night). The madam received half.
Brothel ‘Boarders’–Lower in the chain was the prostitute who worked in brothels located in the town’s red-light district. She was both younger and older than her higher-class sister–about 16-35 years of age. She earned less, too, roughly $10/customer. The brothels were not as elegant as parlor houses, yet they were warm and welcoming. The girls enjoyed care and protection from their madams–most of the time.
Crib Prostitute–In larger cities, she worked in ‘hog ranches’ or cribs, a string of miserable frame buildings comprised of two rooms each, a parlor in front and a bedroom in the back. Or she lived in camps or mining towns. Either way, she was beholden to a pimp. On payday, it was standing room only, and a fast prostitute could service as many as 80 men a night, at 50 cents each.
Streetwalker–the lowest class of all. She was a desperate woman, ravaged by age, disease, alcohol and drugs. She hovered on the brink of suicide and spent her days in shadowy doorways, waiting, hoping, for any man to take her.
“Fair but Frail”
Girl of the line
Nymph du pave
No matter what she was called, or at what level she plied her trade, the prostitute played an integral part in settling the West. By the very nature of her gender, she provided warmth, comfort and pleasure to the men who craved it.
It was a life few of us can imagine. A job most of us will never have. Thank goodness, eh? In future blogs, I’ll share some of their gripping stories with you.
But for now, I’d love to know: What was the worst job you ever had? The strangest? The most lucrative or lowest-paid? Let us know! Share your story, and I’ll put you in a drawing to win a B & N gift certificate!
Speaking of–don’t forget to enter our BIG FALL BONANZA contest. Just go to our Primrose News Office Page!
My worst job? I must’ve been about 13 years old. Back then, babysitting netted 50 cents/hour, so when I was offered $1 to babysit on Saturdays, I jumped at the opportunity. Little did I know, the lady of the house wanted me to clean it, too!
I swear, she stored up the mess all week long, just for me. Talk about a pit! So for 8 hours, I cleaned every room in the place, washed her dishes, did her laundry, ironing, made beds, etc, etc, etc. for $1/hour. Sheesh! Talk about slave wages!
How about you?