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  • Print publication year: 2020
  • Online publication date: December 2019

1 - Selling Sex in the Early Republic

from Part I - The Rise of Prostitution in the Early Republic


This chapter examines the growth of Baltimore’s casual sex trade in the early republic. At the turn of the nineteenth century, the sex trade in Baltimore emerged as part of the broader, mobile world of coastal and Atlantic commerce and labor and functioned as a survival strategy for women whose existences were governed by seasonal labor patterns and the uncertain rhythms of trade. Sex work was a loosely organized and casual affair that was part of poor women’s economy of makeshifts, and it was neither highly profitable nor spatially separated from the everyday world and social fabric of community life in maritime neighborhoods. Men and women, black and white, enslaved and free, sold and purchased sex in taverns, sailors’ boardinghouses, and local groggeries. They did so at significant legal risk and for little in the way of profit, for prostitution in the early city was little more than a subsistence trade.