CITY OF EROS by Timothy J. Gilfoyle

CITY OF EROS

New York City, Prostitution, and the Commercialization of Sex, 1820-1920

KIRKUS REVIEW

 An original, impressively researched, and intriguing urban history--winner of the Allan Nevins Prize of the Society of American Historians--that explores the intersection of sex and the market in the Big Apple of the 19th century. Making extensive use of demographic analysis, land records, and newspaper accounts of the era, Gilfoyle (History/Loyola Univ.) demonstrates how N.Y.C., considered free of vice in the infant days of the republic, was rapidly transformed into a free-floating sexual emporium after the War of 1812. In a boom-and-bust economy fueled by immigrants and emerging industries, prostitution provided madams and hookers with a chance to become the best-paid female workers of the city, landlords with a lucrative and dependable source of income, and ``sporting males'' with an outlet for sexual activity outside marriage. It was a profession in remarkable flux: from early streetwalkers who occasionally solicited to supplement meager factory or domestic salaries, to a structured institution that advertised in guidebooks and business cards and that was visible all over the city in brothels, masked balls, music halls, saloons, and even the ``third floor'' of theaters. Gilfoyle masterfully re-creates the culture that grew up around the profession: the ``whorearchy'' of pimps, madams, and brothel owners (including such illustrious names as Livingston, Fish, and Hearst); Tammany ward bosses and cops on the take who skimmed off brothel profits; and stripteasing ``model artists,'' abortionists, distributors of contraceptives, and pornographers. Ultimately, the institution was driven underground in the Progressive Era less by the muckrakers, civic reformers, social hygienists, and anti-vice crusaders who fought it than by urban redevelopment, changing attitudes toward marriage, and better salaries for women. A revealing peek at a Gotham that exceeded our own in anything-goes sexual license and urban misery. (B&w photographs-- not seen.)

Pub Date: Sept. 7th, 1992
ISBN: 0-393-02800-3
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1992




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