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Abstract

Generally referred to as “the oldest profession in the world,” prostitution often earns nothing but derision when spoken about in mainstream media. Women who find themselves in this line of work are often thought to be classless, uneducated, and sexually promiscuous outside of their occupation, and are generally considered to be an example of morally unfit behavior. Despite evidence pointing otherwise, this view of prostitution is one which has unfortunately prevailed since the 1800s. On the American Frontier, prostitution was one of the only legal means a woman could survive, and in east coast cities like Buffalo, New York, one could make the argument that prostitution helped to shape the cities themselves. Many single (and married) women sold their bodies in the hopes of not only supplementing a meager income from industrial or trade work, but to also make a life and name for themselves outside of the home. While ordinarily a temporary trade, some turned their work into a lifelong industry, running successful boardinghouses and dance halls and retiring as wealthy women. Although many of them faced criminal charges for their work – suffering through embarrassing court appearances, extortion, and accusations of theft, assault, and adultery – most of these women managed to survive, and in some cases even thrive, in the face of such hardships. Through newspaper articles, journals, and court records, it is the goal of this study to not only challenge the aforementioned assumptions held about prostitutes at this time, but to showcase the evidence to the otherwise.