Friday, August 13, 2010

Nineteenth Century Sporting Houses - What's in a Name?

At various points in Circle of Dishonor, Jenny Hill's house is referred to as a brothel, a bawdyhouse, a house of ill repute, a whore house, and a sporting house. Of the names, "sporting house" was probably the one considered most polite, but not entirely acceptable. No gentleman would talk about his visits to the local madam in front of a lady. However,the term "sporting house" was so commonly used that during Louisville's Civil War reunion pamphlet titled "A Sporting Guide to Louisville" was published, listing all the brothel's in the city and detailing services provided as well as prices.

Lexington was a smaller city, but had more than its fair share of brothels. There were also a number of women living at the edge of acceptable society who slipped in and out of prostitution. Often, on the official arrest records these women listed their occupation as seamstress. Belle Brezing's mother, Mary Belle Cox, was one of these part time prostitutes until she met and married saloon keeper George Brezing.

Belle, on the other hand, didn't care much for the euphemisms of the day. When hauled before the judge she proclaimed her occupation as "prostitute." A joking judge asked "How's business?" to which she announced it was "plumb awful on account of having to compete with all these seamstresses."

By whatever name we call it, the late nineteenth century in Kentucky was a rough and rowdy time.

No comments: