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Their Sisters' Keepers: Prostitution In New York City, 1830-1870
by Marilynn Wood Hill
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This intimate study of prostitutes in New York City during the mid-nineteenth century reveals these women in an entirely new light. Unlike traditional studies, Marilynn Wood Hill's account of prostitution's positive attractions, as well as its negative aspects, gives a fresh perspective to this much-discussed occupation.
Using a wealth of primary source material, from tax and court records to brothel guidebooks and personal correspondence, Hill shows the common concerns prostitutes shared with women outside the "profession." As mothers, sisters, daughters, and wives, trapped by circumstances, they sought a way to create a life and work culture for themselves and those they cared about.
By the 1830s prostitution in New York was no longer hidden. Though officially outside the law, it was well integrated into the city's urban life. Hill documents the discrimination and legal harassment prostitutes suffered, and shows how they asserted their rights to protect themselves and their property. Although their occupation was frequently degrading and dangerous, it offered economic and social opportunities for many of its practitioners. Women controlled the prostitution business until about 1870, and during this period female employers and their employees often achieved economic goals not generally available to other working women.
While examining aspects of prostitution that benefited women, Hill's vivid portrayal also makes evident the hardships that prostitutes endured. What emerges is a fully rounded study that will be welcomed by many readers.
About the Author
Marilynn Wood Hill is currently Honorary Visiting Scholar at the Schlesinger Library, Harvard-Radcliffe College.
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