A Vintage Guide to the ‘Gay Houses’, Brothels, and ‘Ladies of Pleasure’ in 1840’s Philadelphia

With this book in his hand a man will be enabled to shun those low dens of infamy and disease with which this city abounds, as a true and authentic description of each house is here briefly given.

pocket guide, sex, brothels

Miss Davis of No. 2 Diamond Street ran a bed house which was considered first class and visited by none but Gentlemen. Mrs. O’Neil of Pine Street near Twelfth Street, was the mistress of an elegant house. In fact, there were none better. It is said that at one time this splendid woman was, by her accomplishments and education, a Queen. Though somewhat advanced in years, Mrs. O’Neil still managed to keep her Palace of Love attractive, and the resort of the best men in the community.

However, it was noted that Sal Boyer, also known as Dutch Sal, ran the lowest house in the city, a perfect loafer hole, which no gentleman ever considered visiting as it was a literal Sodom–a place worse than Hell itself.

These are some of the reviews to be found in A Guide to the Stranger, or Pocket Companion for the Fancy, Containing a List of the Gay Houses and Ladies of Pleasure in the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection. First published in 1849, this pamphlet was a “correct list and description of the greater portion of the Houses of Ill-Fame in Philadelphia.” The book reviewed both the brothels and bed houses—-those rooms rented by the hour. It listed the names and addresses of the landlady or madams and the quality of services on offer.

In his introduction, the anonymous author assured his readers:

With this book in his hand a man will be enabled to shun those low dens of infamy and disease with which this city abounds, as a true and authentic description of each house is here briefly given.

Among the best madams and working girls were:

Miss Josephine Somers of 4 Wood Street, near Eleventh Street, who was described as “an accomplished lady” and her brothel a “Temple of Venus.”

You can spend an evening here with great pleasure; the young ladies are all beautiful, accomplished and bewitching—they are Elizabeth Moore, Louisa Garrett, &c. Go one, go all, and you will be pleased.

Miss Sarah Turner of 2 Wood Street, above Eleventh, who is a “perfect Queen” her house situated “in one of the most respectable parts of the city.”

At this house you will hear no disgusting language to annoy your ear; everything connected with this establishment is calculated to make a man happy. The young ladies are beautiful and accomplished; they will at any time amuse you with a fine tune on the piano, or use their melodious voices to drive dull care away. Stranger, do not neglect to pay a visit to this house before you leave our quiet city of sisterly affection.

Miss Mary Blessington of 3 Wood Street, a “young and beautiful creature” who “is as snug a lump of flesh and blood as ever man pressed upon his bosom. Her bed and house and first class.

Miss Emma Jacobs of Bryan’s Court, Cherry Street:

This lady is the Queen of Trumps, tall and majestic, and noble in appearance. She is a lady in manners and conversation. She lives well and her house is comfortable and safe. One glance will satisfy a person of that fact.

The author also gave the following caveat:

To every man the author of this statistical warning says, avoid each and every place that is marked with a woeful X, as a single visit might be the cause of utter ruin and disgrace.

Examples of such places include:

X—Madam Vincent of Lombard Street, who runs “a low house”.

…be cautious when you visit this place, or you may rue it all your lifetime.

X—Mrs Hamilton of 152 Locust Street who has “grown bald and toothless in the service.”

Beware this house, stranger, as you would the sting of a viper.

X—Sarah Ross, Passyunk Road:

This is one of the worst conducted houses in the city. The girls, though few in number, are ugly, vulgar and drunken. We would not advise any body of common sense to stay there.

The author estimates there are some 10,000 prostitutes working in Philadelphia. This figure was based on an estimate of the number of working girls in New York. These women serviced the numerous businessmen, travelers and rural workers who came to the city for business and pleasure.

In conclusion our author wrote:

We have brought our book to a close, and have done our duty to the public in giving a true and correct description of all the principal houses of pleasure in the city, with the exception ofsome places of abominable notoriety, which we neither examined or will attempt a description of.

So long as gay houses are tolerated, (and that must be ad finem temporis,) so long a Guide Book will be indispensable, and must be useful to point out to the stranger and the green one those places that may be visited with safety, and to avoid those horrible dens where he will surely be bled and burnt.

Where the brothels highlighted in a “A Guide to the stranger…” were. (via the Philadelphia Enquirer)

pocket guide, sex, brothels

pocket guide, brothels, sex

pocket guide, Philadelphia, sex

pocket guide, sex, brothels

pocket guide, Philadelphia, sex, brothels

sex, brothels, pocket guide, prostitutes

pocket guide, Philadelphia, sex, prostitutes

sex guide, brothels, prostitutes

brothels, sex guide, prostitutes

sex guide, brothels, Philadelphia

sex guide, brothels, Philadelphia


H/T Library Company.

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