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MAY 19, 2014

Prostitution in the 1800's
click on pictures to enlarge

Women were scarce in the gold rush days. Most men wee in the hills for months and months and would have to travel hundreds of miles to get back to their wives and children waiting at home. This put a huge strain on guys wanting to satisfy their natural craving for sex... hence a sexual revolution evolved...

As travel arrangements improved as well as transportation, women started arriving in droves, most women came by way of Panama. This was one of the fastest trips (40-90 days); but was also one of the most expensive. In 1850, the average cost was about $400-$600 per person (one way). In late 1849, Ireland experienced "the Great Potato Famine." It caused mass starvation, disease, and emigration between 1845-1852. This drove many desperate women to the United States and eventually... California.


Once the California gold rush was going strong, women of all races, classes, status's, and countries, rushed to seek their "fortunes" as "Entertainers" (this is what they called themselves). Also, upon arriving in California, they were hired by saloons, gambling halls, dance halls, peep shows, and brothels.Each entertainer promised to work (3-6 months) for passage to California (indentured servants). They made up the majority of the female population. They arrived via wagon train in 5-6 months on "the old California trail" battling diseases such as cholera, accidents... where four percent died; and, they arrived via ship in 5-7 months at sea around Cape Horn.

Mail order brides - a letter from the mine fields typically took 60 days to arrive to Panama (a shipping port) and an additional 40-60 days for a reply. This made for "slow courting." If the proposal was accepted, miners would send whatever it cost to hasten their arrival. As families grew, the "entertainers" became out numbered by the wives and children.


Since miners were starved for female companionship, they paid extravagant fees to associate with women, buy their wares, home-made foods, etc. Women made extra money for doing laundry, mending, waiting tables, opening restaurants, and of course "providing lodging."

Most "entertainers" came from southern California, Sonora, Chihuahua, Acapulco, and other Mexican areas being the close to the mine fields... soon to be followed by South American Latinos.

The going rate was $16.00 to $20.00 a night!

San Francisco was an "official" port of entry. The population exploded from 200 women in 1846 to over 36,000 in 1852. Young Chinese girls were brought in from China and sold as Chinese prostitutes for Chinese men and were considered the bottom of the barrel as far as fees.

French prostitutes and white prostitutes were in high demand and charged the highest prices. Many French women got rich and stayed in San Francisco... running saloons, gambling joints, and providing "high class ladies" for prosperous miners and businessmen.

During this time, paddle wheel ships ran from San Francisco to the docks in Sacramento. Most of Sacramento's prostitutes in 1860 lived along Front, 2nd, 3rd and I streets. Chinese settles on I street from 2nd to 5th street... source of parades, music, fireworks and the Chinese new year celebrations.


Front Street had the riverfront embarcadero as a door step and home over a third of the prostitutes. From there you could go to the Eagle Theater (which is still there), saloons, and Mexican dance houses.

2nd Street catered to the Movers and Shakers. Between K and J Streets... stood the larger and fancier hotels... sites for political folks, telegraph, and Wells Fargo & Company, Changer of Commerce and the state supreme court... made extra money in this area.

Just across the street was the "Daily Union" (the old Sacramento Union newspaper). French prostitutes frequented this area and on 2nd between L and K streets too.

2nd Street from J to I streets were the bath houses... every 10th customer got a fresh bath... also were cigar stores and lots of brothels.

Many entertainers lived near 3rd Street between N and J Streets.

Black and white pros hung out while French and Latinos kept to themselves.

80 percent of prostitutes wee foreign born - due to the Chinese that were forced to be hookers - in California.

60 percent of Sacramento pros were foreign born, but only 40 percent w3ere actually born in California.

The average age was 20 to 30 years old.

Fines: $20 to $25 per incident (which could equal 5 to 15 customers).

The Sacramento police did not arrest for prostitution - fines only, but they did arrest them for disorderly behavior, fighting or being a general nuisance.

The average laborer earned $1.90 per day.

The average carpenter earned $4.43 per day.

to pay a fine, a pro would have to work from 5 to 13 nights to pay a fine.

FYI: John Sutter was responsible for transporting scores of San Francisfo prostitutes to Sacramento via riverboat.

Report presented by Gary "Col. Klink" Klinke
John A Sutter Historian

photos provided by www