Pioneer Prostitutes

Rye Gal

Sex workers were some of the first women in early American settlements:

Take New Orleans, future home of America’s largest licensed red light district. In 1721, there were fewer than 700 men settled in the whole colony of Louisiana, a number which excludes men held in slavery. The French government sent 80 women to the colony by ship, in the hopes that Louisiana’s free men would marry these women and would refrain from having sex with Native American women. Many of the migrant women, however, had been serving time for prostitution charges in French prisons, and upon arriving in the colony found the sex trade provided them more independence than any arranged marriage to settlers.

These women were followed later in the same year by, as legal historian Judith Kelleher Schaffer described them, “other more respectable women.” She continued:

“One historian has remarked on the incredible fecundity [of these new women] and the tragic infertility of the prostitutes, as almost all of Louisiana’s most important families of French descent trace their origin to the former while none claim to have descended from the latter.”

(Photo: “‘Storyville’ Red light district at the start of the 20th century. Seated woman wearing striped stockings, drinking ‘Raleigh’ Rye.” By E. J. Bellocq via Wikimedia)