It is difficult to estimate the number of prostitutes in belle époque France, but the number was, without question, startlingly high. Police records in Paris for the year 1894, for example, show that 5,104 women were inscribed as legal prostitutes (only ten percent of them in brothels) and that, additionally, the police arrested 29,695 women as prostitutes. 1 The police estimated that 35,000 to 40,000 Parisian women earned part or all of their income through prostitution in 1900. Whatever the correct number, prostitutes were so ubiquitous that they became a basic feature in stereotypes of the belle époque. Prostitutes filled the paintings of Degas and Toulouse‐ Lautrec, the novels of Zola, and the imaginations of foreigners. 2
Such cultural images of belle epoque prostitution often mislead observers into visualizing a glamorous world. The following contemporary documents provide a different perspective. They are the blunt case histories of a few Parisian prostitutes in the years 1906 to 1909. The first case appeared in a daily newspaper, Le Matin; the others are from anonymous interviews.