Neither Lady nor Slave: Working Women of the Old South

By Susanna Delfino; Michele Gillespie | Go to book overview

Chapter Seven
Depraved and Abandoned Women:
Prostitution in Richmond, Virginia,
across the Civil War
E. SUSAN BARBER

Historically, prostitution has often been a viable employment option for poor and working-class women and at least a few men in a variety of regional settings, often in times of economic despair but, occasionally, as a matter of personal preference, and, in this, nineteenth-century Richmond, Virginia, was no exception. Historical studies of sexual commerce, however, have seldom paid much attention to the profession in the colonial, antebellum, or wartime South. Histories of the Civil War, if they mention prostitution at all, usually point to a paucity of sources and dispense with the topic in a few brief sentences. Both of these omissions indicate not only the difficulty in researching this topic but also, perhaps, a reluctance on the part of earlier scholars of southern history to grapple with issues of interracial sex. 1

Instead, most examinations of prostitution in the nineteenth-century United States have typically focused on two specific areas: antebellum sex workers in urban locations, frequently New York City, or the madams, dance hall girls, and “soiled doves” who trekked to the West to satisfy the sexual needs of an isolated male population composed of silver and gold miners and other frontier adventurers. 2 And, with the exception of Anne Butler's examination of western prostitution in the United States and Judith Walkowitz's study of prostitutes in English port towns in the nineteenth century, few of these studies make the important links between the prevalence of prostitution and the availability of nearby garrisons of soldiers or sailors who provided a virtually inexhaustible supply of willing clients. 3 This essay contributes to the growing body of research

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