Mary Linehan
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Chicago, Illinois, is located on the south-eastern shore of Lake Michigan. As a portage between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River, it has always been an international trade and transportation centre. By the mid-eighteenth century, the Potawatomis controlled the area. In the 1780s, the first non-native settler—a trader with French and African antecedents—arrived. Around 1800, Chicago was home to troops and rival traders from France, England, and the United States, as well as the Potawatomi. The us solidified its position in Chicago during the War of 1812. By 1833, the Potawatomi were forcibly removed and, in 1837, Chicago was incorporated as a town with 200 residents. It very quickly grew. Between 1840 and 1890, the population grew from 4,000 to over one million making Chicago the fifth largest city in the world. This population was predominantly white, with 77 per cent being immigrants or their children. They came from all parts of Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, but the majority were German, Irish, Polish, and Italian. From 1910–1930, the number of black Chicagoans increased from about 44,000 to 234,000. Still, as late as 1940, 91 per cent of Chicagoans were white. Since the 1950s, however, the city’s population has declined from 3.6 million to about 2.7 million. It is now the third largest city in the us. The population decline was spurred by racially-motivated suburbanization by whites who opposed integration, as well as by the changing global economy and deindustrialization through which the city lost hundreds of thousands of working class jobs. Today, Chicago remains an international transportation and trade hub, with a diverse population that is roughly 33 per cent black, 32 per cent white, 29 per cent Latino, and 6 per cent Asian.

Befitting Chicago’s historic role as a major industrial city, a transportation hub, a centre for academic research, and the epicentre of Progressive Era (1891–1920) prostitution policy, there is a richly documented history of sex work in the city. However, the scholarship is stronger in some periods than in others. There are two eras in which substantial research has been done. The first extends from the end of the Civil War in 1865 to the early 1930s. The second period encompasses the first eight years of the twenty-first century. Based on the availability of source material, this paper will often compare these two periods.

The historical research that has been carried out includes Mary Linehan’s dissertation, “Vicious Circle: Prostitution, Reform, And Public Policy in Chicago”, which surveys much of the nineteenth century through 1930. Strong studies focusing on the Progressive Era include Cynthia Blair’s book I’ve Got to Make My Livin’: Black Women’s Sex Work in Turn of the Century Chicago and Kevin Mumford’s Interzones: Black/White Sex Districts in Chicago and New York in the Early Twentieth Century. This history is continued in an article by Anya Jabour, “Prostitution Policies and Feminism in Modern America”, which discusses the evolution of the Chicago Morals Court from 1913 to 1932. 1

Serious social science research into Chicago’s sex industry has also focused on the Progressive Era, as with The Social Evil in Chicago which was written by the municipally appointed Chicago Vice Commission (cvc). In 1933, a University of Chicago sociology student, Walter Reckless, published his dissertation as a book titled Vice in Chicago. However, sixty-eight years passed before a new spate of empirical works emerged. In 2001 and 2002, the Center for Impact Research released two studies that used interviews with prostitutes, police, and service providers to document the lives and work experiences of Chicago sex workers. In 2004, legal researcher Jody Raphael used the story of Olivia, a woman who spent nineteen years working the streets of Chicago, to trace the trajectory of a woman’s entrance into prostitution and the difficulties involved in exiting the business. Three years later, Steven Levitt and Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh used economic and ethnographic research to calculate the experiences of streetwalkers in three south-side neighbourhoods. 2

To complement the Chicago story, reference will occasionally be made to prostitution in New York City to the east, New Orleans to the south, and San Francisco to the west. Like Chicago, these cities were important centres of sexual commerce from, at least, the nineteenth century to the present and are historically well-documented. Timothy Gilfoyle’s City of Eros considers sex work in New York from 1790–1920 and that history is continued through World War ii in Elizabeth Clement’s Love for Sale. Alecia Long’s The Great Southern Babylon considers race and sex work in New Orleans between 1865 and 1920. Josh Sides surveys prostitution in San Francisco from the 1849 Gold Rush to the present in Erotic City. Finally, sexual commerce in the Progressive Era and in the post-industrial north are, respectively, the focus of Ruth Rosen’s The Lost Sisterhood and Susan Dewey’s Neon Wasteland. 3


Despite tremendous increases in opportunities for women, several sexual revolutions, and a myriad of policies and programmes designed to end prostitution and, at times, improve the lives of sex workers, prostitution in 2014 has many similarities to the way it was practiced in the past. It is still the work choice of primarily young, marginalized women with financial needs. Violence, disease, and police malfeasance are often the hazards of doing business. Prostitutes are still publicly stigmatized and shunned by “respectable” Chicagoans. However, women in this line of work continue to express agency and strive, with more or less success, to make the realities of sex work more amenable to their needs.

Three things about commercial sex in Chicago should be noted from the outset. Firstly, boys, men, and transgender individuals have prostituted in the city since at least the 1880s. However, women and girls have always predominated and they are the focus of this essay. Secondly, while scholars have intensely debated the use of the words “prostitution” and “sex work”, the terms are used interchangeably in this study. For some women, it was an empowering opportunity to control and profit from their own sexuality and sex work seemed little different than the other options available to them. For others, it was degrading, desperate, and exploitive. The interchanging terminology reflects both of these realities. Thirdly, the extant sources do not generally present both realties. The scholarship and memoirs available overemphasize the negative aspects of prostitution and only occasionally grant agency to the women they study. Accordingly, this paper must be speculative about the potential rewards of sex work in Chicago.

Social Profiles

Prostitution, or sex as a purely commercial transaction, was rare among the Potawatomi, if it existed at all before Europeans arrived in the Chicago area. The first French traders found native women to be “modest” and intermarried with them, either formally or “in the manner of the country”, without legal or religious sanction. These unions gave traders acceptance and access to trade networks and produced strong networks of métis or biracial children. For British officers, however, this miscegenation created a race of “base, cowardly, abandoned wretches”. 4

As the lands in the area of what would become Chicago came under the control of the us government, British prejudices remained. Racial mixing and “in-country” marriages were considered grossly immoral and resulted in prosecution for adultery or fornication. Potawatomi women were seen as entirely lacking in purity and submissiveness. There is some indication that deteriorating conditions for natives in the 1820s and ‘30s led to increased alcohol consumption and some debauchery that served to confirm the purview of whites about “immodest” native women. It is possible that as they struggled to acculturate and watched the destruction of their homeland and culture, some women coped through—or were forced into—prostitution. By the time of the signing of the 1833 Treaty of Chicago, the Potawatomi and other tribes had been driven from Chicago. 5

For the remainder of the nineteenth century, white women provided most of the sexual labour in Chicago. Although white women are historically over-represented in brothel prostitution, only 15 per cent of brothel prostitutes in Chicago in 1880 were black. Of the white women, 78 per cent were native born. In a southern city like New Orleans, whose culture of commercial sexuality rested on the allure of sex across the colour line, black women were more prominent in off-street prostitution. As a more remote, western town, San Francisco sex workers were even more racially and ethnically diverse, including European immigrants and African Americans, as well as Mexican, Chinese, and Japanese women. 6 Frontier cities were overwhelmingly male (62 per cent in nineteenth century Chicago), transient, and working class. Since such men were often unable to marry and start a family, prostitution was accepted as a “necessary evil” to meet the sexual demands of these men and preserve the social order. While seeing prostitution as necessary for public order, most nineteenth-century Chicagoans also saw people who engaged in extra-marital sex as sinful and thus prostitution was also a moral problem. These women may have been considered “morally weak”, but they built a large and, for some, lucrative industry. Sex work in Chicago was never legal as it was elsewhere, but it was not entirely illegal either. In 1881, the Illinois Appellate Court ruled that the cursory laws against prostitution applied only to patrons and pimps. While women, especially women of colour, who sold sex were occasionally arrested for fighting, public intoxication, and theft, as long as they confined their sex work to recognized vice districts they were not bothered by the police. Outside the districts, prostitutes were viewed as a nuisance and small fines were used to shepherd prostitution back into the districts. 7 After 1865, doctors wanting to expand their powers over women’s bodies (as they had done with the first anti-abortion laws) persuaded profit-seeking municipal officials to establish regulated, medically inspected sex districts as was being done in many European cities. Whether such us districts were legalized, as in New Orleans’ Storyville, or tacitly tolerated as in Chicago, they became the standard response to the “necessary evil” of prostitution in the last third of the nineteenth century. 8

By the start of the twentieth century, Chicago was an established city with a more equalized sex ratio and new ideas about sexuality and policing began to spread across the country. These changes led to a criminalization of female sexuality outside of marriage, including prostitution. Instead of small fines, sex workers were placed in newly built institutions, sent to specialized courts, and entered into probation. 9 Chicago’s Revised Criminal Code of 1905 made prostitution a crime. By 1911, there were ten state and city laws against sexual commerce and the city authorities used them to close the tolerated sex districts as part of a global effort to abolish prostitution. 10 This process was completed by 1913 and the criminality of women’s sexual labour was confirmed by the creation of a specialized Morals Court that prosecuted and even persecuted prostitutes. As this happened, the sex industry became dominated by men, including men involved in organized crime, and they had the wherewithal to buy or bail women’s way out of court.

Criminalization separated sex work in the public mind from “immoral” behaviour like adultery and premarital sex. A new definition of prostitution emerged. In the words of a modern researcher, it is “the exchange of money or something of value—including drugs, shelter, or other survival needs—for sexual activity. This includes vaginal, oral, and anal sex, as well as manipulation of another person’s genitals for the purpose of sexual arousal.” 11 By the turn of the twenty-first century, there were approximately 16,000 women in the six-county Chicagoland area who met the definition of a professional prostitute (at least part of the time), although many of them did not identify themselves as prostitutes. These women saw the commodification of sex as “how women get by”, “dating for dollars”, and “survival sex”. The latter term dates to the nineteenth century for black women and at least back to the Great Depression for white women. It connotes that prostitution is one of many albeit highly stigmatized forms of gendered labour that poor people engage in as part of a broader mix of strategies for economic survival. 12 In 2000, there were thirty-three municipal and state criminal statues directly related to prostitution. They are primarily enforced against women, although there have been brief periods in which male customers were subject to more police harassment. 13

Throughout the 1900s and beyond, its centrality to international transportation and its large immigrant communities allegedly made Chicago a locus for sexual trafficking. During the Progressive Era, Chicago was the us centre of a widespread belief that innocent, white, country girls were being kidnapped and forced into sexual slavery by sinister immigrant men. This myth was promoted by ministers, state’s attorneys, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, prominent feminists like Jane Addams, and the us Congress as a way to capture attention and push for other reform objectives. 14 In the 1930s, a University of Chicago sociologist disproved the “white slavery” accusations of the Progressive Era. Other researchers, however, maintained that, almost always by coercion or force, women and girls from other countries or other places in the us were brought to Chicago. It was claimed that they were compelled to prostitute themselves for the profit of the traffickers and then they moved to other locations. 15 It was argued that constant relocation kept women from establishing contacts with those who might provide assistance and made it possible for traffickers to avoid detection by law enforcement agencies. Because of the supposed coercion involved, such “sex slaves” were perceived to be victims and received public and police sympathy that is often withheld from other sex workers. 16 In the 2010s, local women controlled by pimps are also beginning to be viewed as victims of trafficking and to receive a share of the small amount of aid and resources available. 17

Prostitution in Chicago has always been a young woman’s enterprise. Although census records from the Gilded Age and Progressive Era (1880–1920) reveal that there were self-identified prostitutes in their 50s and 60s, the vast majority of women were in their 20s. In the 1880s, most women entered Chicago prostitution between 19 and 22 years of age, with black women at the older end of the spectrum. By the turn of the century, as more employment opportunities for women became available, the age of entrance rose, yet most prostitutes were in their 20s. This is consistent with studies on other us cities although outside of Chicago women entered sex work almost two years earlier. 18 The population of sex workers in the city included girls as young as 12. Men paid extra for teenagers, and the daughters of prostitutes frequently performed sexual labour. In all, 15 per cent of women in the 1880, 1900, and 1910 censuses who claimed to be prostitutes were younger than 19 years of age. According to the cvc, the average age of women who entered sex work was 18, but because it was illegal for persons under that age to enter a brothel, it is conceivable that some women may have lied to investigators. However, unlike in New York City, few would truly be considered child prostitutes. Chicago police made a concerted effort to keep those between the ages of 3 and 18 out of brothels and off the streets, and most madams refused to employ teens. 19 The authors of contemporary studies have also had difficulty pinpointing the mean age of new sex workers, and the ages of such women range from 15 to almost 21. In 2004, it appeared that 15 per cent of girls began prostitution before the age of 13 and more than half begin by 17, and 72 per cent of those early starters were runaways. 13 per cent of prostitutes were found to be over 40, but because these samples were drawn from prison populations, this may be an over-representation. Because sex work privileges the young, mature women have fewer options for employment and concentrate on street-level prostitution which makes them much more vulnerable to arrest. It is, and has always been, a business for the young. 20

In the twentieth century, sex work in Chicago was increasingly identified with immigrants, whether European, Asian, or Central American, and native-born women of colour. There is some justification for this perception. As the most economically marginalized members of society, and as newcomers with few social resources, prostitution becomes both a hazard and a survival option. It also produced unintended consequences in group perceptions. In the first half of the nineteenth century, the identification of prostitution in New Orleans and New York City in areas with high concentrations of non-white residents led to the erroneous belief that such women were innately highly-sexed and more prone to prostitution. 21 Originally, there was great sensitivity to the over-representation of black women in sex work in Chicago. In 1910, 2 per cent of the population was black but women of colour represented 15 per cent of arrested prostitutes. The cvc decried the prejudices which existed that limited the alternatives for earning a living and drove such women to prostitution. But when the great migration (1915–1930) increased the black population of Chicago to 6.9 per cent, whites were less sanguine about the matter. As a result of outside pressure and racist policing, black women became almost entirely identified with sex work. Around 1905, Chicago police began clamping down on interracial intimacy and banned black men from brothels. As a result, black women were increasingly driven to more “extreme” and “perverse” sexual acts in order to retain white male customers and they took to the streets to service black men. 22 Prior to 1928, arrested prostitutes were 85 per cent white and 15 per cent black. After 1928, those numbers were reversed and, without public comment, black women continued to account for about 80 per cent of prostitution arrests. Today, while about 36 per cent of the Chicago population is black, 74 per cent of arrested prostitutes are women of colour, 19 per cent are white, and Latinas account for 6 per cent of arrests. In part, black women are more vulnerable to arrest because sex work today is loosely stratified by race. Asian women most often work in massage parlours, Caucasians dominate escort prostitution, Latinas solicit in clubs and bars, and black women are most often found working the streets. As the most visible practitioners, they are the easiest to arrest. However, as black women’s presence on the streets in the first place is often a matter of prejudice, because other work options are less open to them, racism cannot be divorced from the long-standing myth that women of colour are more prone to prostitution than white women. 23

Across the centuries, family dynamics have been a much more accurate predictor of potential prostitution than race or ethnicity. In the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, 87 per cent of sex workers came from two-parent families. However, poverty, alcoholism, violence, and sexual abuse made these homes far from safe and they were not ideal environments for the rearing of girls. For later generations, much more precise data is available. Of twenty-first century Chicago prostitutes, 25 per cent grew up without a mother figure and 59 per cent had no father figure. 82 per cent of women came from homes with substance abuse, and 30 per cent were from homes where someone prostituted. 61 per cent of sex workers grew up with domestic violence and 50 per cent were victims of physical abuse. 53 per cent of prostitutes were sexually abused as children and, as a group, they are three to five times more likely to have experienced incest. In both time periods, such family dysfunction could deprive girls of self-esteem, a sense of personal efficacy, and the emotional and financial support to withstand the lure of sexual commerce. More than that, it was often the need to support children or other family members that made a woman’s choice to prostitute herself so inevitable. 24

Troubled childhoods may contribute to the educational gaps found among many sex workers, but that does not mean that they are deficient in term of intelligence. As early as 1870, a Chicago Times survey indicated that few prostitutes had much formal education. The cvc report refined this in 1911 when they claimed that sex workers were “not necessarily unintelligent, but certainly, from their opportunity and environment since birth, uneducated, unskilled, and with little opportunity for or possibility for social advancement.” Since then, compulsory schooling and alternate modes of instruction have changed the educational profile of women involved in prostitution. Studies have shown that the majority of women who entered the business after age 15 graduated from high school or gotten a Graduate Equivalency Degree, while 19 per cent of 2001 prostitutes attended college. It is the early starters, typically runaways, who have not completed their schooling. However, in these cases sex work did not disrupt their education; rather, it was their home conditions that prompted the child to leave home, which in turn meant that they had to drop out of school, and that brought about their entrance into sexual commerce. 25

Incomplete education is one factor involved in unemployment and employment is the area in which there is the biggest difference between twenty-first century prostitutes and their counterparts in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. 90 per cent of the earlier generation had engaged in legal employment before prostituting. They were primarily servants, clerks, and waitresses, and their average weekly wage of $5 was 80 per cent less than what could be made in sex work. Not only was $5 about half of what was considered necessary to support an individual, but women’s work was often seasonal with long periods of unemployment. Consequently, there were even girls who were legally employed engaged in “treating” (sex play for gifts or other non-monetary considerations). They came from a culture that admired people who made large amounts of money with little physical labour, and commercializing their sexuality was the only way working-class women could accomplish this version of the American dream. From the end of the nineteenth century until World War ii, treating allowed working class girls to negotiate the boundaries between respectable sex play and prostitution, while granting them access to recreation opportunities and material goods they could not afford to buy for themselves. 26

Conversely, service providers in the twenty-first century report that most sex workers have never earned money outside of prostitution. Modern laws against child labour mean girls do not enter the paid labour force as early as they once did and the large number of young prostitutes in Chicago means that few girls have had the opportunity to try legitimate work before prostitution. As a result, “most of the women have not had any other skills [or options] for making money except prostitution.” 27 Likewise, as 71 per cent of such women grew up knowing sex workers, including their own mothers, these women often experience prostitution as a legitimate occupational choice and not a taboo. One prostitute recalls watching women work the streets when she was a child and thinking, “I’ll probably do that.” As a 16-year-old with two babies to support, this woman began a twenty-five year career as a Chicago prostitute. Still, in this case, as in many others, it is impossible to separate sex work as an employment option from social factors such as this woman’s early experiences of sexual abuse and alcoholic caregivers. And even when sex work is a first choice for a job, many women try to supplement their earnings by also working legally. These jobs are about evenly divided between the formal economy, the informal economy, and childcare. However, their average wage of $110 in 2001 was 60 to 75 per cent less than what they earned while working on the streets. 28

The health of prostitutes is a subject of much greater concern today. In the past, despite the myth that all prostitutes died within five years, only two health issues received attention. The Morals Court found that 11 per cent of prostitutes arrested between 1913 and 1930 had a venereal disease. At that time, beginning with the most elite class of sex workers, oral and anal sex were promoted to reduce the transmission of disease. The other health issue was drug addiction. An opium dealer claimed that 75 per cent of his clientele were addicted prostitutes. The cvc concluded, “it is generally recognized that [most] […] are addicted to the use of cocaine and morphine.” 29 Among today’s prostitutes, drug use may be as high as 90 per cent of all women involved in prostitution. 30 As one streetwalker said, “it is impossible to do these kinds of acts and be treated in that manner in the right state of mind.” Addiction is as likely to be a cause as a woman’s decision to prostitute herself. We are also aware that there are a myriad of other health issues that accompany twenty-first century sex work. These include post-traumatic stress disorder and depression as well as venereal diseases. 50 per cent of women have migraines and 44 per cent have menstrual problems. 22 per cent of all sex workers—and 60 per cent of those who began before age 18—are hiv positive. This is partially due to the infrequent use of condoms in Chicago prostitution. Because it costs $2 extra, only 20 per cent of customers use prophylactics. While venereal diseases are not unique to sex workers, no matter what the illness or condition, prostitutes face significant barriers in getting treatment and often lack consistent health care. Though there is no known empirical evidence, it is the opinion of police and service providers that women in sex work are getting “younger and younger and sicker and sicker.” 31

Push and Pull Factors

Over time, a combination of emotional, external, and economic causes have factored into women’s decision to prostitute themselves. Among the emotional factors is a sense of guilt which often accompanies childhood sexual abuse, something experienced by many women, including some sex workers. This cause appears prominent in accounts from the early twentieth century. At that time, according to prostitute Madeleine Blair and brothel physician Benjamin Reitman, there were few options for unwed mothers, and brothels were one of the few places where a woman could receive the emotional and financial support needed by lone mothers. 32 Motherhood as a pull factor was not limited to historic Chicago. In a Progressive Era study of Massachusetts prostitutes, one-third were mothers. Many more supported other family members through the proceeds of sex work. Twenty-first century erotic performers are likewise engaged in sexual commerce to provide for children. 33

External causes figured heavily in accounts from the Progressive Era, though they tended to be written by reformers eager to imagine women as being innately pure and relatively sexless. The women interviewed by the cvc reported the influences of lewd vaudeville shows, growing up in neighbourhoods with “immoral influences”, and the lack of moral teaching in schools and homes as the precipitating causes in their decision to take up prostitution, although they chose from a pre-determined list of causes that may have reflected reformers’ biases. Newspapers noted the emerging culture of recreation at the turn of the century—and as peer supervision replaced parental supervision of courtship—peer pressure caused some girls to engage in “treating”, dress provocatively, and flirt. It was argued by those outside the peer culture that these forms of behaviour led to increased sexual expression and, ultimately, prostitution. 34 20 per cent of contemporary prostitutes reported that they were under “pressure” from their boyfriends or girlfriends, and others reported that they had partners who forced them to get involved in prostitution or passed them around to service a debt. 35

The very real and most commonly cited cause of prostitution in the history of Chicago was economic need. The most revolutionary part of the cvc report asked, “Is it any wonder that a tempted girl who receives only six dollars per week working with her hands sells her body for twenty-five dollars per week when she learns there is a demand for it and men are willing to pay the price”? In its ninety-two recommendations, however, the cvc did not call for economic justice. A century later, need still compels women into sex work. For some women, getting involved in prostitution is a response to the loss of a job, a cut in benefits, or other temporary setbacks. Others begin as strippers or exotic dancers, but find they cannot make a living in those enterprises without selling sex. For runaways and homeless mothers, survival sex is a means of obtaining food, shelter, or protection. Some drug addicts prostitute themselves while others use drugs and alcohol to self-medicate and deal with the trauma of sex work. While some sex workers feel empowered by their choices and the relatively high pay they receive compared to other forms of work, many women become trapped in prostitution as they find it difficult to make enough money to support their habits. Historically, women have suffered economically, especially poorly educated working-class women. They often lack the skills and opportunities needed to make a living wage in the formal economy. 36

The economic factors pushing women into prostitution are not specific to any one time or place, though they do come with regional variations. The California Gold Rush made prostitution in 1850s San Francisco one of several ways the very small minority of women in the frontier town could acquire some of that newfound wealth for themselves. In New Orleans, the post-Civil War sex work of black women cannot be understood divorced from the sexual and economic exploitation of slavery. Similarly, throughout the north, young black women were less likely than whites to have family nearby. Without family support and supervision, they were especially vulnerable to sexual abuse. As the lowest paid workers in the city and exceedingly vulnerable to exploitation, prostitution was for many black women a practical, and even empowering, strategy for achieving economic independence. This belief that sex work is the best available option is also present in modern deindustrialized cities where it represents the best hope of upward mobility for unskilled women in economically depressed areas. For all of these women, however, sex work was believed to be a temporary path to betterment amid the structure of poverty in the us. 37

Historically, the economic impact of prostitution on women’s lives has been minimal, though this does not mean the economic impact of prostitution is minimal. A recent study shows that the average Chicago streetwalker earns about $20,000 a year, which is about $5,550 more than a full-time minimum wage worker. While income from prostitution is tax-free and requires only about thirteen hours of work (ten sex acts) per week, it is not a wage on which women will grow rich or lead lives of luxury. However, it is still better paid than other jobs and offers non-economic advantages, including flexibility for single moms. While escorts and women in massage parlours earn more money, this is predicated on youth and attractiveness and is very short-lived. Although prostitution does make economic sense in the short term, it is a very uncertain way to make a living. Prostitution at all levels carries the risk of arrest, disease, violence, and quickly ageing out of the business with few prospects for the future. At the height of brothel prostitution in Chicago, the financial gains for most women were limited and short-lived (though always higher than in other available jobs). Prostitutes in the cvc sample claimed to make $28 to $50 per week for forty to fifty-six sex acts. While this was up to eight times what they could expect to make in legal work, women did not retain all the money they earned. 38

The money made in sex work has mostly always gone to other people. In the brothel period, madams took 40–50 per cent of a woman’s total earnings as board. As prostitution was criminalized and brothels were eliminated, women retained even less of their earnings. Pimps and people involved in organized crime controlled prostitution and took 60 per cent of what women made in sex work. In this century, pimps still arrange meetings and protection from the police, but they have lost power. Pimps now only receive 25 per cent of a woman’s wages and, while they may protect women from arrest, one in every twenty sex acts a woman performs is a “freebie” for policemen. Even without pimps, more than half of prostitutes give their money to someone else and most fear they will be “harmed” if they stop. 39 This, however, may be said to be true of other jobs held by economically marginalized women.

While some people took an unfair cut of women’s earnings, other individuals and businesses profited from the existence of prostitution. Historically, prostitutes could not shop in ordinary stores and had to buy their clothes, wigs, make-up, birth control pills, and other supplies from traveling salesman at inflated prices. Druggists, doctors, abortionists, grocers, liquor dealers, coal dealers, and other merchants charged premium prices to brothel residents. On the streets, women paid policemen, taxi drivers, and bellboys as part of the cost of doing business. Ancillary businesses in the vice district like saloons, theatres, and dance halls profited handsomely from the existence of prostitutes nearby, but none of that money went to the women themselves. In the twenty-first century, there is also a long list of profiteers making money from the labour of sex workers. These include gangs that allow women to work the streets they control for a fee. Motels that offer “nap rates” and hotels which look the other way also profit from prostitution. Other profiteers include traffickers, drug dealers, and advertisers. This includes internet service providers and media where escorts and massage parlours advertise, phone books, specialized newspapers like Chicago after Dark and The Gentlemen’s Pages, and reputable newspapers like the Reader and Sun Times. 40

Changes in Working Conditions

The places where prostitution takes place have changed a bit over the centuries, but other aspects of sex work such as uncertainty, violence, and police harassment have remained constant. This does not mean that all women who choose this line of work are victims or lack agency. They often find ways to make the most of the situation for themselves. Prostitutes have always worked all over the city in rooms, parks, salons, and a variety of other venues. From the 1830s until 1913, however, most women involved in prostitution congregated in restricted districts where sex work, though never fully legal, was tolerated. These districts provided institutions and a community, and they also created some degree of security for prostitutes. The first district was the Sands located on the beach north of the Chicago River. It was torn down in 1857 and for the rest of the nineteenth century the downtown Levee, from Wabash to the River and from Van Buren to 16th Street, was Chicago’s premiere vice district. By the start of the twentieth century, police pressure and improved public transportation forced sex businesses to relocate to the near South side, centred on 22nd and Dearborn. The recommendations of the Chicago Vice Commission led to the closing of the vice districts in 1913 and increased the marginality and vulnerability of prostitutes. 41

In 1913, a lame duck State’s Attorney in Chicago closed down the tolerated Levee district. This was in keeping with developments in cities across the us. San Francisco closed its district in 1915 and New Orleans and New York did the same in 1917. That same year, the federal government—perpetuating the myth that prostitutes spread venereal diseases—ordered all sex districts in the vicinity of military training camps to close. While these bans were never fully realized—and many districts were back in business by the 1930s—the closures, when coupled with Prohibition (1920–1933), led to great increases in other forms of sexually-oriented commercial leisure. Burlesque, taxi dance halls, speakeasies, cabarets, buffet flats, and “slumming” in African American communities provided new opportunities for sex workers. Racial prejudice meant that most of these jobs—though primarily located in black neighbourhoods—were reserved for white women. Black prostitutes were relegated to streetwalking which made them vulnerable to aggressive racist policing. By the 1930s, most white prostitutes and some black women worked for organized crime syndicates. Mobsters like Lucky Luciano and Dutch Schultz in New York and Al Capone in Chicago used violence to control women. Though organized crime protected women from over-zealous police and threatening customers, they also involved sex workers in more criminal activities like driving for rum runners and fostering the sale of illegal alcohol which were federal crimes. Organized crime’s reach was extensive—Chicago mobsters controlled prostitution in the city, suburbs, and neighbouring states—but it was temporary. As the fbi began to reign in the syndicates, madams regained control of the sex business, often as fronts for gangsters, though they more frequently operated call girl rings than brothels. 42

Today, street prostitution is still dominated by black women and they continue to work many of the same streets that have been used for prostitution for decades. Most of these locations are near train stations and major roads, though researchers report that some streets on the west side are used by streetwalkers for miles, especially Madison between Damen and Cicero. Yet, in the twenty-first century, they account for less than 20 per cent of all sex workers. Most sexual commerce is conducted at massage parlours and strip clubs or by on-call escorts. The development of the internet and cell phones has facilitated the growth of off-street sexual commerce in such venues as health spas, beauty salons, bars, truck stops, private residences, and other locations. Reportedly, most of this kind of prostitution is still controlled by organized criminal networks. 43

Prostitute/Employer/Client Relationships

The locations of sex work have changed over the years, as have the sexual services women provide. At one point, oral and anal sex were considered perversions and were restricted to specialized brothels and offered at premium prices. Today, they are standard options offered to customers, and generally cost less than genital intercourse. Escorts used to dance or model lingerie while men masturbated. Now, they are expected to provide penetrative sex. Similarly, stripping and exotic dancing were stand-alone jobs. Nude dancing, for example, emerged in the late 1960s but was soon in competition with pornographic videos. As had historically happened, competition meant sex workers had to perform increasingly sexually explicit acts fuelled by economic desperation. Today, women report that “it is so easy for the line to become blurred” because they cannot make much money without offering sex in backrooms or accepting outside dates. Some customers have little respect for sex workers and behave in sadistic ways. 44 Moreover, repetitive labour of any kind is not an easy or appealing way to make a living. Over the years, Chicago prostitutes have described their work as “joyless”, “tiresome”, and “distasteful”, yet this is true for many low-wage occupations. Researchers also claim that many women become repressed in their personal lives as a response to repulsive sex acts and talk in their work lives. This constant splitting of personal and public intimacy may result in emotional trauma, another costly result of sex work conditions in Chicago. 45

Violence has always been a regular part of the work of prostitution, as well as a factor in the personal lives of many women. Olivia, a 25-year veteran street worker, claimed, “You expect violence at any time and you are scared at all time. For the most part, I tried to be as quick as I could.” The average streetwalker is assaulted by a customer once per month and violence is not limited to the streets. Even during the brothel era when women were ostensibly better protected, physical abuse at the hands of customers was common and, because women could not fight back, they often turned violent with each other. At all times, rape was a fact of life and, like being robbed by clients, considered to be part of the cost of doing business. 46 Murders of prostitutes have not been uncommon, as in the period between 1995 and 1999 when twelve sex workers were killed. They all worked the lucrative corner at 51st and Halsted; dna analysis revealed that there were four different perpetrators involved, but no arrests were made. Historically, the assault and murder of prostitutes has received little police attention. Ostensibly, this is because violence is assumed to be an omnipresent feature of the sex business. Frontier mobs, other women, customers, pimps, mobsters, and police all targeted sex workers. 47

Problems with the police have been part of the work life of Chicago prostitutes since the 1830s. The cvc reported that police leadership was “ignorant” of actual conditions and that beat officers were susceptible to bribes, drank in saloons while on the job, and ignored brothel prostitution. They focused their attention on outdoor prostitution, and streetwalkers complained, “There is not a policeman around here that doesn’t hold us up” and “you can’t trust a copper.” One woman left the streets for a brothel “to be protected from the police.” Older, underage, less attractive, disabled, and non-white women did not have this option and were the ones most often arrested and imprisoned for prostitution-related offenses. The end of the brothel era brought no real improvements. Crime bosses took control of prostitution and stayed in power by bribing politicians and police officers. Those women not “protected” by the mob were threatened with arrest if they did not offer sex and money. The specialized Morals Court was designed to help women, but from 1913 to 1932 it subjected them to mandatory examinations doe venereal diseases and confined those found to be infected without trial or a conviction; a positive examination result was considered to be proof of guilt. For non-infected women, a policeman’s word was proof that she was a prostitute and resulted in criminal penalties. 48

Although changing moral standards and policing priorities mean that fewer arrests are made in the twenty-first century, women still have much to fear from the police. Today, most arrests are driven by community complaints and the average sex worker is only arrested once in every 450 transactions. The majority of women are charged with misdemeanours, released without bail, and fail to show up for court dates. Avoiding trial, however, makes women liable for re-arrest and indictment on more serious charges; until 2013, after the second charge of prostitution became a felony, women became more vulnerable to police officers seeking bribes or “freebies”. Additionally, there are reports that the police perpetrate a “great deal” of the violence to which women are subjected and more than 25 per cent of the rapes of sex workers. 49 Prostitutes also have complicated and contested relationships with the men with whom they work, including both customers and pimps. Customer relations can be very antagonistic. The typical client has always been a man under 40 years of age. Working-class men in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era often could not afford to marry and support a family. For their more affluent counterparts, a sporting culture among young men applauded sexual expressiveness and cultivated anti-marriage attitudes. For both of these groups, going to prostitutes was an expedient method of sexual release. Subsequently, the introduction of more reliable and accessible forms of birth control, the feminist drive for more equality in all spheres, and a pronounced lessening of sexual taboos combined to create greater opportunities for consensual sexual activity by unmarried people. 50 However, some men still preferred sex with no strings attached. Others lacked confidence with women, were unattractive, or were physically or mentally challenged and had fewer alternatives for female companionship and sex. Contemporary prostitutes service all these men.

Despite men’s real or imagined need for women’s sexual labour, some customers have historically been cruel to sex workers. Anecdotal evidence shows men who are violent, thieving, and cheap. One woman left Chicago in the mid-twentieth century when she realized the city’s men were “tighter than the bark on a tree.” Most aggravating were the men who expected to know a woman’s real name and her life story and considered such personal information to be part of the services they paid for. A brothel physician in the Progressive Era noted that most customers were “brutal” and forced women to practise “all sorts of perversions”, though what was considered perverse changed over time. Many men wanted prostitutes to cut and hurt them, but more found sexual release in dominating and abusing women. Rape was their preferred sexual fantasy. Men have never been shy about publicly attacking a woman’s appearance, attitude, or sexual skills. In the earlier period there were red-light district newspapers like the Chicago Street Gazette which rated and critiqued women for the entertainment of other men. Today, women are similarly judged and their livelihoods threatened by reviews on specialized websites and Craig’s List. 51

Although customers had most of the power in these relationships, sex workers have never been passive victims. From the beginning, they learned to demand payment in advance. They also overcharged drunks, teamed up to pick the pockets of unwary customers, and, more recently, attempted to create new types of economically advantageous relationships. Many sex workers today seek to find “sugar daddies”, while younger women live with elderly men in public housing and perform errands, and occasionally provide sex, in exchange for money. These relationships combine a sense (or illusion) of affection and a regular source of income, thereby blurring the lines between prostitution and dating. 52

Racial politics also complicate the transactions between prostitutes and clients. In the brothel period, the vice districts were the most integrated sections of Chicago. White men of any income bracket could be serviced by a large supply of white, black, and Asian women. However, black men were excluded from all but the lowest-priced brothels and, even then, many women refused to service them; up until 1905, however, there were a small number of white women in Chicago who specialized in servicing black men. In the south of the us, however, sex across the colour line was a driving force of the sex business. Vice districts, like Storyville in New Orleans, became notorious largely because of their toleration of interracial intimacy allowing white men to fulfil their fantasies of sex with a black woman. Racial politics were no less a part of the sex business on the west coast. In the nineteenth century, San Francisco women worked in the same brothels, but English, French, and American women were on the top floors, while Mexican, Japanese, and Chinese women were available—at lower prices—downstairs. Today, black streetwalkers charge premium prices to white and Latino men while offering black men discounts. Because prices are generally negotiated on a case-by-case basis and are not pre-determined, other racially motivated price discrepancies probably exist among groups of women that have not been studied by researchers. Repeat customers and more attractive men also receive discounts. 53

Another complication is the unfairness of the criminal justice system. Although men and women engage in the same illegal behaviour, the consequences for women are much more severe. Customers are sometimes arrested but not to the extent that women are jailed. There are no standardized sentencing guidelines for johns and when women were forced to submit to disease testing, men were exempt. For men, the biggest risk of prostitution may be having a mug shot posted on the Chicago Police Department website. For women, the penalties may escalate to felony convictions and mandatory prison sentences. As early as 1911, the Chicago Vice Commission noted the inherent injustice in the city’s prostitution policy: “it is a man and not a woman problem which we face today—commercialized by man—supported by man—the supply of fresh victims furnished by man.” Yet, more than one hundred years later, women still bear the brunt of the punishment and the stigma inherent in sexual commerce. 54

Prostitutes have always had complicated relationships with their customers and these are well-documented. Relationships between sex workers and pimps are harder to understand as women seldom acknowledge they exist. Although the term “pimp” was used in Chicago newspapers as early as 1861 to denote men who lived off the earnings of prostitutes, the women interviewed by the cvc denied that they supported men. The commission concluded that “cadet” was the preferred term for a complicated partnership between young women and men of their own age and class. While the women earned the money, the man “looks after her” and used his political connections to get her out of trouble when she was arrested. The women viewed these men as lovers and beaus and, although often the men were abusive, the women would not testify against them because “she loves him.” Thus men could not be prosecuted for pimping. Today, police believe there are few pimps working in Chicago, though service providers disagree. Researchers found streetwalkers on the south side of the city working alone and working with pimps. Those who operated alone claimed they would prefer to have a pimp because of the higher pay and protection from the police. All told, it is estimated that about half of Chicago sex workers give the money they earn to someone else whether they use the term “pimp” or not and that the majority of those fear they will be harmed if they stop prostituting. 55

Prostitute Culture

In the brothel era, there was a strong sub-culture uniting the women of prostitution. Nineteenth-century sex workers wore a distinctive outfit consisting of wigs, jewellery, heavily embellished gowns, and fancy hats, and they also wore makeup. As the women of their times, they also developed a strong female network of comfort and companionship. Those from abusive homes sought new families in the Levee. They chose new names to symbolize their break from their previous lives. Brothel prostitutes referred to madams as “mother”. Although they were businesswomen primarily concerned with profits, many madams did generally care for the women they employed. Co-workers who became like sisters also helped defuse the harsher realities of sex work. Asked if a sense of sisterhood pervaded at Mother Herrick’s Prairie Queen, one prostitute replied, “You bet your life there is.” Women lent money to each other, shared clothes, cared for each other during pregnancy and illness, and paid for each other’s funerals. Such bonds, however, could be fragile. Though some relationships did become romantic and many friendships were very tender, these women also competed with each other for financial survival. This made it difficult for them to trust each other and necessitated a long initiation period of intimidation and tricks played on newcomers who challenged the status quo. Survivors of this initiation were allowed into the sisterhood. In the late nineteenth century and into the twentieth century, sex workers in cities like New York were also deeply entrenched in the working class communities in which they lived and, generally, were accepted by their neighbours. 56

By the 1930s, the culture of sex work had been shattered. Criminalization drove prostitution underground and organized crime networks pushed women across the city, forcing them to frequently move from place to place. Under these conditions, it was impossible for women to recreate the sisterly relationships of brothel life or the close bonds of community with their neighbours. Moreover, the unique accoutrements of prostitutes—rouge, bleached hair, strong perfume, shorter dresses—were being adopted by other women. As women outside of sex work engaged in street flirtation with unknown men, prostitutes refined their manners and became more subtle in their approach to prospective clients. By the mid-century, not only had the number of prostitutes declined, it was also increasingly difficult for the uninitiated to distinguish prostitutes on the street or in bars from other young women. 57

Today, prostitutes may be recognized by the fact that they frequent certain city streets or work in massage parlours or gentlemen’s clubs. They also may be found on the internet or through advertisements. There are some 4,000 Chicago women who may be identified as full-time professional prostitutes. These women share many of the same problems and often come from similar backgrounds. Yet, contemporary research finds that public and private shame discourages collective labour action among sex workers and that they remain largely socially invisible. Yet, a sense that they are engaged in an adversarial relationship with authority also helps some women forge short-lived solidarity and support networks. This suggests, but does not prove, that most women in prostitution in Chicago have only tenuous and fleeting connections with other sex workers. Since the 1980s, agencies have offered coffee, interaction, condoms, and necessary medical and legal services for prostitutes, but the ultimate objective of these organizations has been to get women out of prostitution. It is not clear where women committed to remaining in the business can find respite and support. 58

It has never been easy for women to leave prostitution and, in the nineteenth century, conventional wisdom was that women didn’t leave the trade. The myth was that most prostitutes died of disease and degradation within five years. In reality, many women moved west and re-established themselves. By the early twentieth century, researchers and madams agreed that women left prostitution to make “good marriages to men they really cared about”, or, at least, “men willing to overlook the past.” 59

Society and Prostitution

Prior to the 1930s, periodic efforts were made by reformers to assist prostitutes trying to leave sex work. In the 1860s, Catholic sisters founded the House of the Good Shepherd, while Protestant women opened the Chicago Erring Women’s Refuge for Reform. Founded on a religious basis, both institutions strove to create a family environment and to instil moral training in their “inmates.” They also provided obstetric care, medical services, education, job training, and emotional support. The House of the Good Shepherd also offered women the opportunity to enter a permanent, quasi-religious order of penitents. The refuge found women jobs, often away from the city, and sponsored some former prostitutes who pursued teacher training at the Illinois Normal School. As they were dependent on public funding, however, by the end of the century they turned to the more publicly pleasing (and therefore more lucrative) preventative work among young and relatively innocent girls. At the same time, New Orleans established its Storyville district to control the lives and movement of women. Conversely, in the chaos following the 1906 earthquake, the city opened a non-punitive, municipal venereal disease clinic to help women. However, the national trend was towards criminalization and, in 1914, San Francisco adopted a Red-light Abatement Act to force prostitutes out of business. In 1913 Chicago created the first Morals Court to investigate social problems and assign social workers who were tasked with helping women leave prostitution. In practice, however, the court persecuted women, subjected them to mandatory medical examinations, and placed them in confinement for having contracted a venereal disease before their guilt or innocence was even determined. Under these circumstances, very little attention was given to the provision of social services. 60

Today, the difficulties women experience transitioning out of sex work are understood, but rather inadequately handled, by service providers. Legal scholar Jody Raphael has documented the many obstacles to exiting prostitution. Foremost among these problems is the fact that many women have never done anything else and, for them, the notion of “escape” is meaningless. When Raphael asked one long-term prostitute why she did not leave, the woman replied, “leave for what?”. Even for women who can envision an alternative life, serious and persistent violence, addiction to drugs and alcohol, physical and mental health problems, and frequent homelessness make it difficult to leave prostitution. Other sex workers, friends, and family members who feel threatened by a woman’s independence withhold support, sabotage attempts at change, and argue that the lack of education and finances make escape impossible. Traffickers may take foreign-born women’s passports, restrict their movements, and control them with violence or threats to hurt their families to hinder escape. Compounding all of these obstacles is the rarity of specialized social service programmes available to prostitutes. 61

In 1983, lay missionary Edwina Gateley opened Genesis House as part of her ministry dedicated to north side prostitutes. The house, located down the street from Wrigley Field, was to be a safe place where, in her words, women in trouble could “find some external order amid their personal chaos: a haven to cry, spill their guts, drink a cup of coffee, and work on their recovery within rules, but at their own pace.” 62 Like its nineteenth-century predecessors, the House of the Good Shepherd and the Erring Women’s Refuge, Genesis House had a long-term residential component and offered a spiritual basis for transformation. It also provided educational and medical services, court advocacy, and support groups. As aids became a crisis, Genesis House became a source for condoms and clean needles. However, when Gateley left the ministry, the home entered a period of decline. By 1997, the three-year residential programme had been “streamlined” to six months, and the hospitality and spirituality programmes were discontinued. In April 2006, the Executive Director and Chief Financial Officer were charged with embezzling more than a half million dollars of taxpayer funding from the home and using the money for personal expenses. This created an irreparable financial crisis and, no longer able to provide vital services to sex workers, the home closed its doors for good. 63

Brenda Myers-Powell was a Genesis House resident during Gateley’s ministry and is now using her own successful rehabilitation to help other women. A sexually abused child, she began her “inevitable” life in prostitution at the age of 14 in order to support her two children and grandmother. At first, she was ecstatic about the large sums of money she was earning on Chicago’s streets. But soon, Myers-Powell was kidnapped by two men—“pimp arrested”—and forced to prostitute herself for their profit. She also did exotic dancing and became addicted to crack cocaine; she stayed in sex work for twenty-four years before she met Gateley. Today, she is a member of the Cook County Sheriff’s Department prostitution intervention team and runs support groups and counsels women who have been incarcerated for prostitution. Myers-Powell also conducts and presents scholarly research on prostitution and trains social workers how to understand human trafficking and provide for victims. With another survivor, she co-founded the Dreamcatcher Foundation. This non-profit for young women aged 12 to 24 helps victims transition to a new life through a residential programme and trains and empowers vulnerable girls so that they can better resist exploitation. 64

As an activist, Myers-Powell has successfully challenged the laws which hinder women’s exit from prostitution; those laws place all of the criminal penalties on the vulnerable woman while the pimps and johns who profit from the crime go unpunished. In 2013, two laws were changed. First, the Justice for Victims of Sex Trafficking Crimes Act clears the criminal records of people who can prove they were sexually trafficked, including those forced to work in prostitution. Also, the law which made a third conviction for prostitution a felony was repealed. These legal changes remove some of the obstacles women face in transitioning out of prostitution. They also improve women’s prospects for employment, clear the way for legal immigration status, and offer former sex workers the opportunity to adopt and foster children.

As a survivor, Myers-Powell is in a unique position. Historically, she is the first Chicago sex worker to play a prominent role in the establishment of municipal prostitution policy. While women in the sex business have always had problems, concerns, issues, and needs, Myers-Powell is the first to have acquired a wide public audience to advocate on sex workers’ behalf. Moreover, she is also uniquely qualified to work with women in the business and those in danger of being trafficked. She understands how difficult it is to change lives when women feel like “damaged goods”, and outsiders are reluctant to help because they don’t see prostitutes as “salvageable”. Thus, Myers-Powell believes in survivors helping each other. As she explains, “a woman like myself who started as a youth and didn’t get out until I was 39 years, proves that if it can happen to me, it can happen to anybody.” 65

Brenda Myers-Powell tells the women and girls she works with that “you are never too young or too old to start a new life.” 66 She is a woman of profound wisdom, survival experience, abundant compassion, and enormous energy, but she is just one woman and there are at least 16,000 prostitutes in the Chicagoland area. While there are certainly more non-profits and government agencies working to help sex workers than there have ever been before, they are still woefully inadequate for the needs at hand. The vast majority of prostitutes in Chicago are—as they have always been—virtually alone as they negotiate the dangers of their risky profession and the uncertainty of their futures.


Despite the passage of time, there are more commonalities than differences in the ways prostitution was practised, policed, and viewed between the Gilded Age and the early twenty-first century. Women and girls may enter sex work at younger ages and spend fewer hours engaging in penetrative intercourse these days, but sex work can still be a dangerous, tedious, exploitive, and low-paying occupation. However, these choices have always been the same for young, economically marginalized women. Moreover, sex work has always provided the flexibility and resources that single mothers need to tend to their families. Prostitution is more criminalized than it was in the past and the penalties still primarily affect women. The laws that do apply, however, are seldom enforced, but when they are used they still tend to disproportionately penalize black women. Then as now, sex workers’ biggest problems with the police are constant harassment and demands for cash and sexual bribes. In both time periods, prostitutes were the subject of ribald humour, derision, and social stigmatization. However, there is now a greater public understanding of the factors—internal, external, and economic—that lead women into sex work. As a result, public policy is slowly adjusting to the needs of these women, and prostitution survivors—though not active sex workers—are accorded a greater role in the shaping of policy and provision of services in Chicago. However, as in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, most Chicagoans still perceive prostitution as something a woman would never actually want to do.


Mary Linehan, “Vicious Circle: Prostitution, Reform, and Public Policy in Chicago, 1830–1930”, (Unpublished Ph.D., University of Notre Dame, 1991); Cynthia Blair, “I’ve Got to Make My Livin’”: Black Women’s Sex Work in Turn-of-the-Century Chicago (Chicago, 2010); Kevin Mumford, Interzones: Black/White Sex Districts in Chicago and New York in the Early Twentieth Century (New York, 1997); Anya Jabour, “Prostitution Politics and Feminist Activism in Modern America“, Journal of Women’s History, 25 (2013), pp. 141–164. Only one woman is known to have written of her own experiences as a prostitute in Chicago; see Ben Lindsey, Madeleine: An Autobiography (New York: 1919).


Chicago Vice Commission, The Social Evil in Chicago (Chicago: 1911), hereafter cited as The Social Evil; Walter Reckless, Vice in Chicago (Chicago: 1933); Claudine O’Leary and Olivia Howard, “The Prostitution of Women and Girls in Metropolitan Chicago”, (Chicago: Center for Impact Research, 2001); Jody Raphael and Deborah L. Shapiro, “Sisters Speak Out: The Lives and Needs of Prostituted Women in Chicago”, (Chicago: Center for Impact Research, 2002); Jody Raphael, Listening to Olivia: Violence, Poverty, and Prostitution, (Boston: 2004); Steven Levitt and Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh, “An Empirical Analysis of Street-level Prostitution”, (Unpublished report, University of Chicago, 2007).


Timothy Gilfoyle, City of Eros (New York, 1992); Elizabeth Clement, Love for Sale (Chapel Hill, 2006); Alecia Long, The Great Southern Babylon (Baton Rouge, 2004); Josh Sides, Erotic City (New York, 2009); Ruth Rosen, The Lost Sisterhood (Baltimore, 1982); Susan Dewey, Neon Wasteland (Berkeley, 2011).


Albert Hurtado, “When Strangers Met”, Frontiers, 17 (1996), pp. 52–75, 54; Ann Searcy, “The Value of Ethnohistorical Reconstructions of American Indian Type Personality”, Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science, 68 (1965), pp. 274–282, 274–275; Lucy Eldersveld Murphy, “Public Mothers”, Journal of Women’s History, 14 (2003), pp. 142–166.


Murphy, “Public Mothers”, pp. 146, 152.


Blair, “I’ve Got to Make My Livin’”, p. 28; Long, Great Southern Babylon, p. 193; Sides, Erotic City, p. 20.


The Social Evil, pp. 25–26, 127; Chicago Tribune, 6 February 1856, 20 August 1857, 9 April 1859, 14 August 1871; Chicago Times, 6 January 1864, 20 February 1870.


Long, Great Southern Babylon, p. 107.


Rosen, The Lost Sisterhood, pp. 19–27.


George Worthington and Ruth Topping, Specialized Courts Dealing with Sex Delinquency (New York, 1925), pp. 6–11; Michael Willrich, City of Courts: Socializing Justice in Progressive Era Chicago (Cambridge, 2003), p. 61; Jabour, “Prostitution Politics”, p. 144.


O’Leary and Howard, “The Prostitution”, p. 6.


Dewey, Neon Wasteland, p. 4; Rosen, Lost Sisterhood, p. 80.


Ibid., pp. 6, 29; Chicago Tribune, 30 September 2007, 11 January 2008, 27 February 2009, 17 September 2009.


See, for example: Jane Addams, A New Conscience and an Ancient Evil (Chicago, 1912); Jean Turner Zimmerman, Chicago’s Black Traffic in White Girls (Chicago, 1911).


O’Leary and Howard, “The Prostitution”, p. 3.


Raphael, Listening, p. 40; O’Leary and Howard, “The Prostitution”, pp. 3, 28; Chicago Tribune, 5 August 2005, 3 February 2013, 3 September 2010.


Chicago Tribune, 4 March 2013.


Blair, “I’ve Got to Make My Livin’”, pp. 19–14, 35–39; Rosen, Lost Sisterhood, p. 144.


Gilfoyle, City of Eros, pp. 63–75; Rosen, Lost Sisterhood, p. 79.


us Federal Manuscript Census, 1880, 1900, 1910; Chicago Tribune, 9 March 1858, 23 March 1858, 26 February 1874; The Social Evil, p. 169; Raphael, Listening, pp. 35, 143; O’Leary and Howard, “The Prostitution”, pp. 8–9, 17, 26; Raphael and Shapiro, “Sisters Speak”, pp. 4–5; Margot Patterson, “Hard Truths About Prostitution”, National Catholic Reporter, 2 March 2007, pp. 12–14.


Long, Great Southern Babylon, p. 129; Gilfoyle, City of Eros, pp. 6, 41–42.


Blair, “I’ve Got to Make My Livin’”, pp. 140–143; Rosen, Lost Sisterhood, 80.


Henry William Herbert, The Tricks and Traps of Chicago (Chicago, 1859); The Social Evil, p. 39; Reckless, Vice, p. 2006; Linehan, “Vicious Circle”, p. 294; O’Leary and Howard, “The Prostitution”, pp. 6, 10; Raphael, Listening, p. 142.


The Social Evil, pp. 93, 127, 134, 237–241; Linehan, “Vicious Circle”, p. 219; Raphael and Shapiro, “Sisters Speak”, pp. 4–5, 13–15, 17; Raphael, Listening, pp. 19–23.


The Social Evil, p. 110; Linehan, “Vicious Circle”, pp. 103, 287; Raphael and Shapiro, “Sisters Speak”, p. 11; Patterson, “Hard Truths”, p. 12.


State of Illinois Bureau of Labor Statistics, Fourteenth Biennial Report (Springfield, 1908), pp. 181, 244–247; Broad Ax, 22 June 1911; The Social Evil, pp. 43, 92, 169–170; Joanne J. Meyerowitz, Women Adrift: Independent Wage Earning Women in Chicago, 1880–1930 (Chicago, 1988), p. 34; Clement, Love For Sale, pp. 3–4, 58, 238.


O’Leary and Howard, “The Prostitution”, p. 3.


Ibid., p. 29; Raphael and Shapiro, “Sisters Speak”, pp. 14, 17; Raphael, Listening, p. 136; Patterson, “Hard Truths”, p. 12.


Chicago Tribune, 26 November 1867, 29 January 1868, 4 March 1881, 6 April 1886, 26 January 1898; The Social Evil, pp. 73, 84; Linehan, “Vicious Circle”, p. 286.


O’Leary and Howard, “The Prostitution”, p. 3.


Ibid.; Raphael and Shapiro, “Sisters Speak”, pp. 4–5, 14, 27; Raphael, Listening, pp. 55, 101, 116; Levitt and Venkatesh, “Empirical Analysis”, pp. 15–19; Patterson, “Hard Truths”, p. 1; Emily Muskovitz Sweet, “The Intersystem Assessment of Prostitution in Chicago”, (Chicago, Mayor’s Office on Domestic Violence, 2006), p. 4.


Chicago Tribune, 9 March 1858, 21 October 1858, 24 December 1858, 23 March 1859, 26 February 1874; Lindsey, Madeleine, p. 13; Benjamin Reitman, The Second Oldest Profession: A Study of the Prostitute’s Business Manager (New York, 1931), p. 229.


Rosen, The Lost Sisterhood, pp. 143–151; Long, Great Southern Babylon, p. 174; Dewey, Neon Wasteland, p. 6.


Clement, Love for Sale, pp. 222–223.


Broad Ax, 22 June 1911; The Social Evil, pp. 34–36; Reckless, Vice, p. 42; O’Leary and Howard, “The Prostitution”, pp. 27–28; Raphael and Shapiro, “Sisters Speak”, p. 17.


The Social Evil, pp. 40, 43, 169–172; O’Leary and Howard, “The Prostitution”, pp. 9, 14, 17–18, 24, 29; Raphael and Shapiro, “Sisters Speak”, p. 24.


Long, Great Southern Babylon, p. 5; Blair, “I’ve Got to Make My Livin’”, pp. 10, 33; Dewey, Neon Wasteland, pp. 21–23.


O’Leary and Howard, “The Prostitution”, pp. 19, 23; Levitt and Venkatesh, “Empirical Analysis”, pp. 2–3, 14.


The Social Evil, pp. 39–40, 82, 97, 119, 198, 392; Reckless, Vice, p. 271; Jabour, “Prostitution Politics”, pp. 146, 150.


O’Leary and Howard, “The Prostitution”, pp. 18, 21–23, 28–29; Raphael and Shapiro, “Sisters Speak”, p. 5; Levitt and Venkatesh, “Empirical Analysis”, pp. 12, 15.


Linehan, “Vicious Circle”, Ch. 1.


The Social Evil, pp. 73–74; Reckless, Vice, pp. viii, 12, 96, 271; Joel E. Black, “Space and Status in Chicago’s Legal Landscapes”, Journal of Planning History, 12 (2013), pp. 227–244, 234; Sides, Erotic City, p. 24; Clement, Love for Sale, pp. 128, 177–179, 204–205; Blair, “I’ve Got to Make My Livin’”, pp. 233–234; Genevieve Davis, Secret Life, Secret Death, (Milwaukee, 2013), pp. 221, 255, 282.


O’Leary and Howard, “The Prostitution”, pp. 3, 14–15; Levitt and Venkatesh, “Empirical Analysis”, pp. 3, 7.


Madeleine, p. 110; Reitman, Second Oldest Profession, pp. 43, 75; Ruth Rosen, The Lost Sisterhood: Prostitution in America, 1900–1918 (Baltimore: 1982), p. 95; Alexa Albert, Brothel: Mustang Ranch and Its Women (New York: 2000), p. 89; Dewey, Neon Wasteland, p. 30.


The Social Evil, p. 73; Madeleine, p. 110; Reitman, Second Oldest Profession, pp. 43, 75, 199; O’Leary and Howard, “The Prostitution”, pp. 20–24; Rosen, Lost Sisterhood, p. 95; Albert, Brothel, p. 89.


Chicago Tribune, 12 February 1856, 13 July 1858, 17 January 1860, 16 November 1864, 9 September 1867, 24 January 1871, 12 December 1876, 22 July 1879, 22 October 1890.


Raphael and Shapiro, “Sisters Speak”, pp. 19–20, 30; Raphael, Listening, p. 92; Levitt and Venkatesh, “Empirical Analysis”, pp. 3, 14; “Murder Times Four”, Newsweek, 6 September 1999, p. 33.


The Social Evil, pp. 150, 160, 198; Reitman, Second Oldest Profession, pp. 15, 144, 271; Jabour, “Prostitution Politics”, p. 146.


O’Leary and Howard, “The Prostitution”, pp. 10, 12.


Howard Chudacoff, The Age of the Bachelor: Creating an American Subculture (Princeton, 1999), pp. 35–36; Gilbert Geis, “Prostitution as a Reckless Enterprise”, Sociological Focus, 30 (1997), pp. 17–29, 26.


Madeleine, pp. 110, 189; Reitman, Second Oldest Profession, p. 20; Polly Adler, A House is Not a Home (New York, 1953), p. 238; Josie Washburn, The Underworld Sewer: A Prostitute Reflects on Life in the Trade, 1871–1909 (Lincoln, 1997), p. 92; Raphael and Shapiro, “Sisters Speak”, p. 8; Levitt and Venkatesh, “Empirical Analysis”, p. 3.


Chicago Tribune, 31 March 1858, 16 December 1866, 18 July 1876, 14 January 1877, 26 September 1879; Lindsey, Madeleine, p. 38; O’Leary and Howard, “The Prostitution”, pp. 18, 25.


Linehan, “Vicious Circle”, ch. 1; Levitt and Venkatesh, “Empirical Analysis”, pp. 3, 15; Blair, “I’ve Got to Make My Livin’”, p. 183; Long, Great Southern Babylon, pp. 88, 129, 192–198; Rosen, Lost Sisterhood, p. 80.


The Social Evil, p. 47; Sweet, “The Intersystem”, pp. 2, 7; Levitt and Venkatesh, “Empirical Analysis”, p. 5; Jabour, “Prostitution Politics”, p. 149.


Chicago Tribune, 2 July 1861; The Social Evil, pp. 170, 184; O’Leary and Howard, “The Prostitution”, pp. 16, 17; Raphael and Shapiro, “Sisters Speak”, p. 5; Raphael, Listening, p. 48; Levitt and Venkatesh, “Empirical Analysis”, pp. 2–4.


Chicago Daily Journal, 19 July 1853; Chicago Tribune, 29 May 1857; Chicago Times, 16 December 1866, 27 November 1870; Frederick Francis Cook, Bygone Days in Chicago: Reflections on the Garden City of the Sixties (Chicago, 1910), pp. 131–133; Lindsey, Madeleine, pp. 55, 65, 113, 165; Albert, Brothel, p. 161; Rosen, Lost Sisterhood, p. 105; Clement, Love for Sale, p. 113.


Reckless, Vice, pp. 12, 55, 159.


O’Leary and Howard, “The Prostitution”; Raphael and Shapiro, “Sisters Speak”; Levitt and Venkatesh, “Empirical Analysis”; Dewey, Neon Wasteland, pp. 35, 104–105.


Chicago Tribune, 26 November 1867; Linehan, “Vicious Circle”, p. 286; Reckless, Vice, p. 57; Madeleine, pp. 325–326; Pauline Tabor, Memoirs of the Madam on Clay Street (Louisville, 1972), p. 218.


Linehan, “Vicious Circle”, ch. 2; Suellen Hoy, Good Hearts: Catholic Sisters in Chicago’s Past (Urbana [etc.], 2006); Long, Great Southern Babylon, p. 103; Sides, Erotic City, pp. 22–23; Jabour, “Prostitution Politics”, pp. 144, 155.


Raphael and Shapiro, “Sisters Speak”, pp. 5–6; Raphael, Listening, pp. 8, 40, 136, 143, 212.


Chicago Reader, 30 July 1987.


Patterson, “Hard Truths”, pp. 12–14; Chicago Tribune, 27 December 1995, 3 October 2006; Chicago Sun Times, 4 October 2006; Chicago Reader, 30 July 1987; Edwina Gateley, I Hear a Seed Growing (Naperville, 1990).


Chicago Tribune, 14 March 2011.


Ibid., 14 March 2011, 4 March 2013, 23 August 2013.


Ibid., 14 March 2011.

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