“Women of the Golden Gate: Prostitution in San Francisco, 1848-1870”

Abstract: Prostitution during the Gold Rush in San Francisco (1848-1870) was a venerable institution; the city housed more brothels and bars than any other place in the larger United States.  San Francisco offered the perfect background for a thriving sex industry.  Thousands of miners traveled to spend their money on drink and women in a city with no clear social or class boundaries, and ultimately devoid of the rigid Victorianism that dictated the rules of more established American cities.  Female prostitutes populated San Francisco’s most popular areas and served clients from every walk of life, economic background and ethnicity.  Even though the lives they chose were full of hardship, the madams, pimps, and prostitutes entered the sex industry to make their fortunes, and traveled to San Francisco not only for the good business, but for the social freedom permitted in a town without rules.  Firsthand accounts helped to paint a picture of San Francisco society and how in the end, San Francisco’s sex industry thrived, undisturbed, until succumbing to social mores binding the rest of the country.  The California Gold Rush was the definitive Wild West, and these women were at the center of it all.  Their voices constitute a rich history that detailed the true grittiness of the American West and the provocative start to one of America’s greatest cities. - Margaret DePond