“There are women who search for love, and there are those that search for money.”
Today, the term woman simply denotes one’s sex. It does not define her character, morals and values, or even her profession. However, this was not always the case. At the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth century, during the Progressive Era, there was a drive for reform. Various social problems became targets for investigation and intervention: child labour, juvenile delinquency, corruption in city government and police departments, and prostitution. These things were newly discovered social problems; the only differences during this period were the new assumptions, strategies, and expectations of a broad organization of activists. Progressive reform actively decided to take more of a role in regulating the social welfare of its citizens, and those private and public spheres of activity could not be disentangled. Prostitution was an issue that underscored the relationship between home life and street life, wages of ‘sin’ and low wages of women workers, double sexual standards and transmission of venereal disease. The late nineteenth century response to prostitution revealed the competing ideologies within Progressive reform activity over social justice and social control.
“Most attempts to ‘deal with’ prostitution have consisted almost exclusively of more or less vigorous attempts to suppress it altogether – by forcing the closing of brothels, and by increased police activities against individual prostitutes and against those individual places, such as taverns, where prostitutes frequently solicit.”
This paper seeks to prove that the reformers were unable to stamp out prostitution during the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century for a variety of factors. First, I will look at why women in the late nineteenth, and early twentieth century became prostitutes. The gender differences between sex roles will be analyzed in relation to prostitution. Finally, the various failed attempts to abolish prostitution will be discussed.
“Legally [prostitution] is often defined as the hiring out of the body for sexual intercourse.” Some say that the exchange of money does not need to take place. Albert Ellis, one well-known sexologist and author would define prostitution as, “A woman or a man engaging in sexual relations for non-sexual and non-amotive considerations.” This definition would therefore include “…girls who trade their sexual favors for food, entertainment or other gifts.” Each individual may have different views as to what a prostitute is or how they feel about them. During the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century reformers, for example, wanted to eradicate prostitution. It was looked at as the cause of all evil and poverty, among other things. But, it was over the place, girls supplying...