The “wild” Western Frontier (which was of course already occupied and civilized, but that is another story,) was “settled” by rugged individuals. Male individuals who panned for gold, traded their skills and services, and otherwise managed to survive and thrive under the harshest conditions with nothing their twenty first century great grandchildren would recognize as an “amenity.” These rugged male individuals eventually figured out it takes two (or more) genders to build a society.
Women arriving in this new world had few options for making a life. Trade licenses and property ownership were becoming legally available to women slowly on a state-by-state basis across the West in the 19th century. It would be generations before they could vote. A century or more before their great great granddaughters could have a credit card. Or a no-fault divorce. Or employment protections. Or the right to decline sex with their husbands. Or the right to breastfeed in public. In 2017, we’re still waiting for things like equal pay for equal work.
Hence, the world’s oldest profession. Prostitution.
Historian Jan Mackell Collins has written several books plus literally thousands of articles on the history of the West, with a special attention for the women and prostitutes that helped shape the modern America we know.
In books like “The Wild Women of Prescott Arizona,” and “The Lost Ghost Towns of Teller County (Colorado),” Collins busts the technicolor movie image of the loud and proud town prostitute bustling about the saloons in scandalous exposed cleavage and ruffles. Despite a number of successful entrepreneurs who became business owners and community builders, many workaday ladies had a difficult job that was dangerous and stigmatized.
Collins cites her early fascination, enhanced by family camping trips to ghost towns and other historical sites, with her own elder family members’ personal stories of their experiences living and working (not necessarily, Collins emphasizes, as prostitutes!) on the Western American frontier.
To listen to and/or download this segment, click the following link: Emma Breacain and Jan MacKell Collins 3-20-17