Below even those, were the streetwalkers,
usually only found in the larger cities.
In a class
by themselves were the women who serviced the military at remote forts.
Many settlements that grew up around a fort were not large enough to
support a "decent” parlor house, and most self-respecting
not admit a lowly-paid soldier anyway. Before long a district referred to
as "Hog Town” could usually be found near these remote forts. Here, the
could find gambling, whiskey, and a few aging and degenerate women.
Black men were not allowed to patronize
white brothels, but many towns had all-black houses. And in a few
small towns, some houses had both black and white women.
Though it may seem odd, many "painted
ladies” were married, some to
saloon owners or brothel
operators. Others were married to managers of touring variety shows. Such men not only tolerated the profession but depended upon his wife to
help with the finances.
Inevitably, painted ladies had
children, though attempts were made at birth control which was
very primitive at the time. By the 1840s women could
purchase Portuguese Female Pills (an abortion pill) or Madame Restell's Preventive Powders, but it is unclear how effective
these were. The French had already invented the condom,
fashioned of rubber or skin, as they are today. In places
like New Orleans or St. Louis, where there was a large French
population, condoms were readily available. However, much
like today, many men were reluctant to use them. After 1860
diaphragms were available, as well as douches compounded from such
ingredients as alum, pearlash, red rose leaves, carbolic acid,
bicarbonate of soda, sulphate of zinc, vinegar, or plain water.
Others simply relied on the rhythm method.
But, the most common form of birth control
was abortion, which had also spread as a form of birth control to even
the "respectable women.” In the years between 1850 and 1870 one
historian estimated that one abortion was performed for every five to
six live births in America.
If they were lucky, a
courtesan would marry well and retire with enough money for a
comfortable and respectable lifestyle. Those who married would
normally become instantly "respectable” as it was considered impolite
Old West to ask of a
person’s background and most people were too busy to care. Others used their profits to open their own sporting houses, became
operators, or practiced as abortionists. Inevitably though, some often turned to alcohol or narcotics – dosing
their drinks with laudanum or smoking opium. Suicides were frequent in
Women on the line were often in peril of
picking up tuberculosis, called consumption, at the time, or sexually
transmitted diseases, chiefly syphilis. Others died as a result of
botched abortions, sometimes self-inflicted. Violence also claimed its
share in brawls between prostitutes, customers and sometimes,
America, updated March,