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This paper was part of the 2015-2016 Penn Humanities Forum on Sex. Find out more at


The 19th century offers a view of prostitution in a time of its open celebration. A remarkably permissive attitude towards sex work defies conventional understandings of “Victorian prudery” and makes for a fascinating period of American sexual history. Though the 20th century history of prostitution is defined by efforts to regulate the practice on moral grounds, the 19th century allows an assessment of the bawdy life through the eye of the market. In the mid 19th-century, the era of established brothels as social spaces, the urban leisure and sex trade was found objectionable only as noise disturbances. This project conducts a spatial analysis of the 19th century leisure economy via a public guide, in contrast to the 20th-century post-reform accounts of prostitution in arrest records or city Vice Commission reports.





Date Posted: 18 November 2016