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Genesis of a red-light district: prostitution in Nantes between 1750 and 1810

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 July 2013

Institute for History, Leiden University, Huizinga Building, Room 2.11, Doelensteeg 16, 2311 VL Leiden, The Netherlands


This article examines the origins of a red-light district in a French provincial city before the implementation of official regulation. It aims at redefining the role of prostitutes, police and society in the development of ‘reserved districts’. Based on the study of judicial archives over a 60-year period, the mapping of the spatial distribution of prostitutes in Nantes reveals the spread of prostitution in most of the city's districts. However, the migrations and movement of prostitutes within the city show a gradual clustering over two districts: this was motivated by economic rationales and was initiated by the prostitutes and, only later in the century, encouraged by the police and community.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2013 

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29 AMN, I1 C66 D1.

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40 The police recorded them as ‘dans leurs meubles’.

41 In 1806, the average number of prostitutes was four per house; however, this is distorted by the fact that seven women were living in one house and one woman was living alone.

42 The figure of 15 lodgers per house is taken from the case of Sieur Mime in 1778 and the complaints made by the 20 neighbours (presumably they had children) of prostitutes living in two houses on rue Rubens, an II. AMN, FF 272, I1 C66 D1.

43 Bois, Histoire de Nantes, 164.

44 AMN, I1 C62 D1.

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48 See Figure 2.

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