Women in Missouri History: In Search of Power and Influence

By Leeann Whites; Mary C. Neth et al. | Go to book overview

Sedalia's Ladies of the Evening

Prostitution and Class in a
Nineteenth-Century Railroad Town

Rhonda Chalfant

Sedalia, Missouri, was founded in 1860 by General George R. Smith as a railroad center along the Pacific Railroad. Its prominence as a railroad town led to its being used as a Federal military post during the Civil War and, in 1867 and 1868, its becoming the terminus for cattle drives from Texas. The existence of the military installation and cattle-shipping industry suggests a disproportionately high number of single men, giving Sedalia a short-lived boomtown atmosphere. The forces of civility began to encroach on the frontier town by the mid-1860s when churches, public schools for both white and black children, and shops featuring luxury items such as jewelry and millinery appeared. By 1874, the cattle drives had moved and Sedalia marked the intersection of the Pacific and the Missouri, Kansas & Texas railroads. Both railroads had built shops for the repair of engines and railcars. In addition to hosting a “large transient population” of commercial travelers and workers brought in by the railroads, Sedalia maintained an almost equal balance of men and women, with married couples outnumbering single adults. By 1900, Sedalia had become, according to Sedalia boosters, “the commercial, industrial and educational metropolis of Central Missouri . . . a desirable place of residence as well as a manufacturing and distributing center, ” with a population of just over fifteen thousand. 1.

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1.
At this time Sedalia was the fifth-largest city in the state. C. Robert Haywood, Victorian West: Class and Culture in Kansas Cattle Towns (Lawrence: University Press of

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