"Unfortunate women of my class" : prostitution in Winnipeg, 1870-1910

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Macfarlane, Christine Anne
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Between 1870 and 1910 prostitution grew both physically and culturally in the city of Winnipeg. It grew in number as prostitutes immigrated to Winnipeg and discovered that it was a profitable place for their business. Consequently, more ethnically diverse women became attracted to the business and by the 1880s American women, both black and white, dominated the trade. Native and Metis women once targeted as the worst of the street prostitutes by City Police were overshadowed and became less visible in the courts and in the press. Prostitution also grew in the minds of the cultural observers that included the newspapers and the dominant Anglo-Protestant elite. Within the forty-year span different ideas concerning prostitutes evolved as the city grew and toleration for their business deteriorated. Debates that took place between civic and religious leaders over the possibility of segregating prostitutes triggered discourses on gender and sexuality that reverberated through the whole city. The debates over prostitution culminated in 1910 with the designation of Point Douglas as the last segregated district in the city. By this time, city leaders recognised that they could not enforce sexual control over a whole city. Consequently they exploited prostitutes to their political advantage. For these men, prostitutes became cultural representations of the sexual corruption of a modern city. Only their bourgeois sense of morality, they argued, could solve the problem and restore order. By segregating prostitutes they could, to a limited extent, segregate some of the other social ills of the city. This had a significant impact in culturally marking off the space as sexually dangerous and creating a subculture of the marginal - prostitutes, brothel keepers and their disreputable customers. Choosing to be socially excluded from the rest of the city prostitutes believed they had secured for themselves a measure of protection. Segregation was the most efficient means by which the Anglo-Protestant elite could assert their cultural superiority and moral sensibility over a growing modern city.