Title: Soiled Doves: Prostitution in the Early West
Author: Anne Seagraves
ISBN: 096190884X/ Wesanne Publications
First Line: The heyday of prostitution, in America, occurred during the turbulent years of the early West when women were at a premium.
In the early years of the West, the average was two women for every one hundred men. Women were definitely at a premium, and I can imagine that what few men managed to have their wives and daughters with them kept a very close eye on them. Most men came west to make their fortunes. It was back-breaking work, and few realized their dreams. But whether they made their fortunes or not, when they took a day off, they wanted to spend their hard-earned cash on some comfort, and much of that comfort came from prostitutes.
Seagraves gives an overview of prostitution in this era, and it was a very stratified society: from the courtesans at the very top, all the way down to the illiterate and desperate women in the cribs. Most of the book is told in vignettes of different women who, for whatever reason, chose this way of life and made a name for themselves. Although Seagraves does mention famous women like Lola Montez and Calamity Jane, she's at her best when telling us about the lives of the less famous like Mattie Silks of Holladay Street in Denver and Julia Bulette of Virginia City, Nevada. Interspersed with photographs and articles from newspapers of the day, Soiled Doves is fascinating and often poignant reading. Although I found the transitions from general history to personal stories a bit choppy, the information I learned from the book more than made up for any slight awkwardness. My mind--ever the collector of bits of trivia--has already stored away two tidbits: (1) what the railroad has to do with areas of prostitution being known as the "red light district", and (2) so many prostitutes owned poodles as pets that no "decent" woman would have one.
I have to admit that, as I read this book, my mind kept going to one old mining town in particular: Jerome, Arizona. You see, I've walked through the cribs there, seen an old bordello that's now a restaurant, and seen a sign that made me wonder just who Belgian Jennie was. Prostitutes performed vital functions in the Old West, and not just the one of which you always think. Some of them left the profession and married well. Most didn't. Some of them lived in comfort to a ripe old age. Most didn't. However their lives ended, they were an important part of the fabric of the Old West.
This could have been a very good book; especially since the subject is one that is not commonly covered in a typical history of women. However, the author is a poor writer and really doesn't express herself well. The same themes were repeated too often ("the prostitute with a heart of gold", "prostitutes helped nurse the sick", etc.) and the people in each chapter didn't really seem to come alive through her writing. In fact, the newspaper articles that were reprinted in the book told more about these women than the author did. Hopefully, someone will do a better book on the subject in the future.
This is an easy-to-read, popularized look at many of the women who participated in the oldest profession. Don't expect an indepth treatise on the subject, or great literary style. But there are some very interesting stories and plenty of wonderful old photos.
This is a fascinating look at prostitution in the 1800's and beyond. Having recently visited Tombstone in Arizona, I became interested in the plight of the "soiled doves" that barely survived in the old West. A very worthwhile read if you are interested in history and the colorful people who are part of it.
The only thing I liked about this book were the photos. The stories appeared fairly sanitized. It was something that would be acceptable reading for high school book report. The author could have gone into more detail.
This was a nicely documented history of prostitution in The Old West.
It covers the humorous as well as sadness and moves quickly from one colorful personage to the next. I enjoyed the light touch approach of writer Anne Seagraves. She doesn't bog down the reader in drama and total negativity.
I really really wanted to read this book. I was delighted to see it had become available again and excited when it got here.
However... it is SO poorly written that I don't think I will finish it. The lady must have self-published this thing because my old copy-editor fingers simply itch to blue-pencil it.
I thought this was a fascinating easy read. A very interesting look at a part of our Wests past. The old newspaper articles and photos where intriguing. I partially enjoyed the information about the Chinese sex slaves in San Francisco, and the details on Calamity Jane they never taught us that kind of stuff in grade school, or on episodes of The Wild Wild West!
Ann Seagraves, in SOILED DOVES PROSTITUTION IN THE EARLY WEST, offers some rare and amazing photographs related to the subject under discussion. Prior to reading this book, I had no idea there were so many levels in the prostitution world. Seagraves makes a clear point of explaining the type of life available to the soiled doves at each level. It was amazing to see the difference in lifestyles of women who were part of brothels vs. cribs.
One shocking idea expressed was the reality that foreign girls arriving in America often wound up in prostitution. Without knowledge of the language and a family for support, foreign-born girls were often unable to find other work. This flies in the face of one of our most cherished myths of the 1800s -- that there was a place for everyone in America if they were willing to work.
Seagraves shines a light on a variety of soiled doves -- from madams to women who relied on a pimp to get work (and then took their money). Although the author, through the use of vignettes, tries to bring the whores to life; she doesnt succeed. The facts were more interesting than the manner in which they were shared.