The crime of prostitution can be witnessed in the city in every phase in which it invites or repels the passions of men. There are the splendid parlor houses distributed in the most fashionable parts of the city; there are the bar houses; there are the dance houses; and there are the miserable basements where this traffic is seen in its hideous deformity, divested of the gaslight glare and tinsel of the high-toned seraglios. The internal arrangements of the palatial bagnios are in many instances sumptuous, magnificent and suggestive. The walls of these seductive arsenals, too, are frequently of a color calculated to throw the most becoming shade over the inmates, while the pictures on the walls usually suggest resplendent sensuality. Many of these gilded palaces are patronized by prominent citizens, officials in the government, state and civic employ. Many of them, already married, keep mistresses in these establishments, while others are content to be recognized as "lovers" of the inmates. Many of the country merchants who periodically visit any city insist on being taken the "grand rounds," as it is termed, before they will order goods or attend to business at all. The salesmen in our leading houses are expect to be posted, and to act as escorts sad chaperones in this wine-guzzling tour. Indeed, so much is this disgraceful feature recognized in some large business houses, that the proprietors make an allowance to their salesmen for this purpose.
The bar and basement brothels, profusely scattered over the lower portions of the city, present the most miserable phase of this disgusting evil. Nearly all these places are kept by men, though nominally under control of their mistresses and wives, who are generally hideous specimens of womanhood, and whose features present the traits of sensuality, cruelty and avarice as clearly expressed as if traced there by Belial himself. The men, flashily dressed and bejeweled, their flabby features decorated by a huge dyed mustache, frequent places of public resort, and loud in appearance as they are obscene in talk, are, in the estimation of every self-respecting man, eminently fitted by Lucifer for laboring in the State-prison quarries for the term of their natural lives.
The inmates of these basement brothels invite the pencil of a Hogarth. Their bloated forms, pimpled features and bloodshot eyes are suggestive of an Inferno, while their tawdry dresses, brazen leer, and disgusting assumption of an air of gay abandon, emphasizes their hideousness and renders it more repulsive. Most of them have passed through the successive grades of immorality. Some of them have been the queenly mistress of the spendthrift, and have descended, step by step, to the foul, degraded beings of those human charnel-houses. In some instances fresh-looking girls will be seen, and careful inquiry will discover the fact that they were either emigrant or innocent country girls, who have been inveigled into these dens by the arts of procuresses or brought there by their seducers. Unsophisticated and unacquainted with life in a great city, without money or friends, they have been entrapped and compelled to submit to a life of shame by the coarse words and frequently the brutal violence of their captors.
Between the two extremes of unfortunates already described, there is another class nomadic in their habits. Some of these are street-walkers, some frequent dance houses…..They usually live in furnished rooms, in houses owned by wealthy and respectable citizens, let to them by agents who lease them at exorbitant rents, paid in advance. In both the eastern, western and central portions of the city they may be found occupying rooms on the same floors with respectable families. These women seldom conduct the prey that they have allured to their home, but to some assignation house or fourth-rate hotel, of which there are a large number scattered over the city.
Most of this class of unfortunates have a "lover"—a gambler or pimp, who occupies their room and assumes the role of husband and protector for the nonce, with the privilege of spending the girl's blood money in drink or dissipation, and unmercifully beating her when he feels inclined that way. The pair call this place their home, and as they are shiftless in their habits, and careless of sickness, they are frequently in a condition of chronic impecuniosities and are thus liable to be "fired out" by the heartless agent. Many of these girls, from their association with vicious society, become thieves, and ply their light-fingered privateering while caressing their victim. It is a favorite dodge of some of the more comely and shapely of this class to ask gentlemen on whom they have been unavailingly airing their becks and nods and other fascinations to put a quarter into the top of their hosiery "for luck." They usually get the quarter, and sometimes the man as well.
The assignation houses are usually located convenient to the great arteries of travel, and, as we have already hinted, they are largely patronized; while the number of "flash hotels" which are frequented by the "soiled doves" and their mates, is also numerous and scarcely less notorious than the assignation houses. The proprietors of these "convenient" hotels invariably keep the hotel register required by law, but agreeably fail to ask their lodgers for the time being to chronicle either their own or even a fictitious name, thus, day after day, violating a specific statute.
Besides these, there are assignation houses of a far different character. By these we mean the introducing houses, such as ostensible millinery establishments and the like in fashionable but retired streets, where ladies meet their lovers. Married women of the haut ton, with wealthy, hard-working husbands courting Mammon downtown, imitating the custom of Messalina, not uncommonly make use of these places. Sometimes the lady will even take along her young child as a "blind," and the little innocent will be regaled with sweetmeats in the parlor while the mother keeps her appointment up-stairs.
Liberally, every woman who yields to her passions and loses her virtue is what Tom Hood would have called "one more unfortunate," but many draw a distinction between those who live by promiscuous intercourse, and those who merely manifest, like the ladies referred to above, a penchant for one man. There is still another denomination of this latter kind, whom all the world has heard of as kept mistresses. These women exercise a potent influence upon society and contribute largely to swell the numbers of well-to-do young men who manifest an invincible distaste to marriage. Laïs, when under the protection of a prince of the blood; Aspasia, whose friend is one of the most influential noblemen in the kingdom; Phryne, the chere ami of a well-known officer, or a man of wealth known on the stock exchange and in the city—have all great influence upon the tone of morality, while the glare of their dazzling profligacy falls upon and bewilders those who are in a lower condition of life, and acts as an incentive to similar deeds of licentiousness, though necessarily on a more limited scale.
The prevalence of the kept mistress surpasses the wildest imagining in the city, although in many a home her dire influence has extinguished the Hymeneal torch, and left nothing but ashes and desolation. It is a great mistake to imagine that these kept women are without friends and debarred from society. On the contrary, their acquaintance, if not select, is numerous. They are useful, good-looking, piquant, tasteful and vivacious. Many of them have more than one lover, and conduct their amours with singular finesse, generally escaping detection. They are rarely possessed of more than a smattering of education, because their ranks are recruited from a class where education is not in vogue. They are not, as a rule, disgusted with their mode of living—most of them consider it as a means to an end, and in no measure degrading or polluting. Most of them look forward to marriage and a certain state in society as their ultimate lot. Many of these women reside in the most fashionable apartment houses up-town, and successfully conceal their shame from the inquisitive eye of the respectable matron. They may also be seen in the most fashionable hotels and boarding houses, while they have even crept in as members of institutions and organizations which were incepted solely for the benefit of high-toned and virtuous women. Moreover, they are to be seen in boxes at the theatre and the opera, and in almost every accessible place where wealthy and fashionable people congregate. In point of fact, through the potent influence of their more or less wealthy protector, they possess the open sesame to all places where admittance is not secured by vouchers and in many instances those apparently insuperable barriers fall before their endorser’s tact and address.
(Adapted from The Project Gutenberg EBook of Danger! A True History of a Great City's Wiles and Temptations, by William Howe and Abraham Hummel)