Beyond the City Limits: Rural History in British Columbia

By R. W. Sandwell | Go to book overview

12 Pimping and Courtship: A 1940 Court Case from Northern British Columbia

David Peterson del Mar

Historians of prostitution in North America have not much concerned themselves with small towns and rural areas. New York City has received the most attention. Prostitutes of western Canada and the western United States have also been the subjects of historical study, but only if they lived in urban areas like Calgary or Virginia City. 1

This is partly a matter of convenience. Large numbers of prostitutes lived in large cities. Big cities were also much more likely to spawn reform and police activities around prostitution. At the very least, cities offer the historian of prostitution voluminous arrest records and newspaper reports, materials that are either thin or non-existent for many towns and rural areas.

The difficulty of researching the history of North American prostitution outside its cities makes the case treated here all the more significant. In 1940, the County Court of the Cariboo in Prince George held a preliminary hearing for a man accused and eventually convicted of living off the earnings of a prostitute. This hearing generated documentary evidence that is hard to come by for any place or time: depositions regarding the relationship between a pimp and a prostitute and eight letters that the former wrote to the latter before his arrest. 2 This is a single case, but it is a case that provides a rare window into an extremely secretive activity.

This court case indicates that prostitution and pimping did not operate outside the boundaries of normal community activities. Both pimp and prostitute had grown up in or around Prince George. John Schmidt, the defendant, and the woman he pimped, Mary Jones, were at least informally engaged. 3 Each claimed to have loved the other. Their relationship is difficult to pigeon-hole. It belongs to the history of courtship as well as the history of prostitution.

Like all historic documents, court records are preserved for particular reasons and contain particular biases. We have this court case because Jones chose to press charges against Schmidt, because the court chose to take those charges seriously, and because the government preserved much of the

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