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Throughout the development of the American West, prostitution grew and flourished within the mining camps, small towns, and cities of the nineteenth-century Rocky Mountains. Whether escaping a bad home life, lured by false advertising, or seeking to subsidize their income, thousands of women chose or were forced to enter an industry where they faced segregation and persecution, fines and jailing, and battled the hazards of disease, drug addiction, physical abuse, pregnancy, and abortion. They dreamed of escape through marriage or retirement, but more often found relief only in death. An integral part of western history, the stories of these women continue to fascinate readers and captivate the minds of historians today.
Expanding on the research she did for Brothels, Bordellos, and Bad Girls (UNM Press), historian Jan MacKell moves beyond the mining towns of Colorado to explore the history of prostitution in the Rocky Mountain states of Arizona, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. Each state had its share of working girls and madams like Big Nose Kate or Calamity Jane who remain celebrities in the annals of history, but MacKell also includes the stories of lesser-known women whose role in this illicit trade nonetheless shaped our understanding of the American West.
Posted March 15, 2010
I found this book amazing. Mis-catagorized as non-fiction, a simple editor
slip, probably because the author holds an MA in history from the University
of Colorado, but amazing even so. Prostitution history is discussed
covering seven states, with only a few new discoveries to the avid reader on the
topic, despite hefty 400+ page book. The most amazing new discovery is found
on page 2: "Lewis and Clark notably held that respect for the famed
Sacajawea. This strong and courageous woman who gave birth along the trail while
leading the men West may actually have functioned as a part-time prostitute for
them as well." While the author is careful to use the words "may have" she
directs the reader to footnote source #9 for verification. That source is
esteemed author and professor Dr. Volney Steele of the Montana State
University. Problem is on page 60 of his book, Bleed, Blister and Purge, Dr. Steele
says nothing of the sort regarding Sacajawea's possible "part-time"
prostitution employment. So goes the rest of this book with copious footnotes that
lead to other conclusions or interpretations of the matter rather than those
of the writer. In fact, the author draws no conclusions of her own on
anything, rather regurgitates other writer's views that are old or have been
furthered by new research which the author doesn't see fit to bring into her
speculation on the subject. Repleat are the internet sources including wikipedia and
various drinking bar web sites taking up much of the nearly 75 pages of footnote
sources. This is a great example of late night surfing research. Scholarly
research-not so much.
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Posted April 26, 2009
Jan MacKell has done it again; she has written a fine book on old west prostitution. Her first book, BROTHELS, BORDELLOS, & BAD GIRLS: PROSTITUTION IN COLORADO 1860-1930 was an outstanding addition to American pioneer prostitute literature.
She has expanded her horizons with this new book and focuses on the profession of prostitution as it operated in the states of Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. MacKell addresses the profession of prostitution, prostitutes and madams, and the societal reaction to prostitution.
The author's writing style is smooth and comfortable. The material she presents is well-documented and she provides numerous endnotes. It is clear that she has spent years gathering information through extensive travel and research. This is a big plus for researchers such as myself.
The text is liberally illustrated with photographs, some which have never been published. She uses many primary sources to introduce the reader to numerous prostitutes and madams. Many of these women have not been discussed in contemporary prostitute literature. This book is not a rehash of other books; rather, MacKell presents new information on an old topic.
This text will serve well as a basic reference book. It will hopefully make its way into libraries across the United States. This book will provide material for those writing articles, books, theses, and dissertations.
Although well-documented, the book is no dry academic publication. MacKell is a good storyteller with rich information. She brings the ladies to life and explains the conditions in which they worked, telling their stories in a very readable fashion. This book will appeal to those who wish to know what prostitution was like back then.
RED LIGHT WOMEN OF THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS is a must read for anyone interested in pioneer prostitution on the American frontier.
Posted April 21, 2009
This is a sound history on the presence of prostitutes in the Rocky Mountain region in the latter 1800s and into the first couple of decades of the 1900s. No racy photographs or snide comments. During this time, the area was mostly in the early stages of its development. Areas of it were still territories, not yet states. Yet the areas were settled enough and populated enough to support the prostitutes' trade. One vein of MacKell's history is the changing attitudes toward and position of prostitutes as the area became more developed and new waves of populations moved in. At different times, prostitutes could have an important economic role in a community, exert political influence, and in ways not acknowledged or much studied contribute to the growth and stability of location.
The book is in a popular style with an academic underpinning of extensive research well-documented in over 60 pages of notes. MacKell focuses attention of the presence, activities, and effects of prostitutes in the several territories/states of the region in chapters with witty titles such as Amazons of Arizona, Illicit Ladies of Idaho, Nubians of New Mexico, and The Undoing of Utah's Soiled Doves. One learns a good deal about prostitutes in the western states in this era of their early development. With economical biographies of many madams running establishments and of particular prostitutes, including true-crime like stories of some, the history is as colorful as any about the Old West. Wyatt Earp consorted with a prostitute for a while, and there were ones involved in murders, robberies, and other crimes. The changing acceptance, views, visibility, influence, etc., of prostitutes in the several territories/states--a dimension of the subject MacKell also gives attention to--reflect the varying levels of development in them and also their varied particular paths of development.
Despite the acceptance of prostitutes and in some cases, invitations for them, they inevitably remained on the margins. Even when they were politically influential or economically important, their standing was always contingent and almost always discreet. The author has some fun with the subject, which is fun for the reader. But basically her work is a solid history to go alongside others on particular aspects of U.S. western history and lore. The amount of experienced research and great volume of content mark this book as a fundamental work on the subject.
Posted June 10, 2013
No text was provided for this review.