INTRODUCTION: THE HISTORIC CONTEXT
In February 2009, the skeletal remains of a woman and fetus were found on the western edges of Albuquerque by a hiker. Police eventually uncovered the remains of eleven women, most of them known to have worked as prostitutes in the city within the previous decade. It is still not known who killed these women. In November 2013, a young woman testified in federal court that she was taken from Texas to Albuquerque by a pimp who coerced her into satisfying the sexual demands of paying customers. The woman, who was 16 at the time, told federal authorities that the pimp had sex with her in order to confirm that she was not an undercover police officer. She was then forced to perform sexual services under threat of violence for over a year.
Since at least the 1880s, Albuquerque has been the site of a thriving and continuous market for the sexual services of women and girls (and probably men and boys). From 1880 to 1915, the city hosted two successive zones where women in brothels, cribs (one-room operations), and on the streets were free to lawfully trade sex for value. The first district, located on what is now the Old Town Plaza, prospered until about 1885. The second flourished for more than three decades in the heart of modern-day Downtown Albuquerque. In 1915 Progressive reformers succeeded in closing down Albuquerque’s Red-Light District. But, prostitution did not disappear like the crusaders had anticipated; it simply went underground – where it has remained right up to the present.
Santiago Street, Old Town Albuquerque, NM, c. 1880
Unlike the mythic image of the good-hearted and gaudy western prostitutes promoted in films and television, life for the vast majority of prostitutes in Albuquerque was grim. Then and now, the life and career of a sex worker was one of virtually unending poverty, violence, degradation, exploitation, and social marginalization. The women who worked the streets and houses of Albuquerque worked in hazardous conditions for little money, and often ended their brief and turbulent careers physically and mentally shattered, impoverished, and addicted to drugs and alcohol. Then, as now, many of these women’s lives were cut short by murderous hands.
Prior to the late-19th century, prostitution was considered a moral failure, but not a crime. The criminalization of sex work spread along with the growth of cities in the United States as well as Europe. Treating the sale of sex as a crime was an attempt to control – and later to eradicate – the practice. But all efforts to eliminate the sale of sex more-or-less failed. This is because most people who found prostitution problematic did not understand why it blossomed so rapidly in the newly expanding American cities. As historian Ruth Rosen has argued, in it’s modern form, “[p]rostitution was the inevitable result of the transformation of the family in the nineteenth century.”
Second Street, Downtown Albuquerque, NM, c. 1915
The transformation of the American family during this period was linked to urban growth, and the movement of rural, agricultural populations into cities. American society shifted from being an agriculturally-based society where extended families worked and lived together, to being an urban-based society where nuclear families sold their labor for wages. Women too were part of this shift, but most employment opportunities were closed to them. If a woman found herself orphaned, divorced, widowed, or simply abandoned, finding employment could be literally impossible. Combined with these potential hardships was often the responsibility for raising children. Prostitution for many women was the only rational choice they had, short of living by begging.
To top all of this off, women in this period we considered to be morally superior to men and less inclined to have sexual desire. So, women who found themselves in dire economic situations and chose to sell sex were seen as morally corrupt and deviant. At the same time, since the Victorian ideal was that women were sexually pure (except for procreation) men were often expected to seek sexual release outside of the marriage. The Red-Light Districts in the cities of the United States were part of this Victorian moral economy. The women who lived and worked there played an important role in maintaining the façade of the ideal family. They provided sex to men, thus saving respectable women from the taint of sexual impurity. In this moral con game, prostitutes were shunned and ignored. American society had no place for such women, and the widespread belief that women who sold sex were immoral deviants allowed Americans to ignore the bare and obvious fact that women turned to prostitution because they were poor.
In some respects, not much has changed. Then, as now, the short and unstable lives of sex workers became an opportunity for voyeurism and moralizing. But, the world of sex work is not a moral issue. It is a labor issue.
THE PROJECT: A MAP OF ALBUQUERQUE’S HISTORIC RED-LIGHT DISTRICT
This project is a map (click here to see a rough draft) that reconstructs Albuquerque’s two successive red-light districts, Old Town (c. 1880-1890) and New Town (c. 1880-1915), located in modern day Old Town and Downtown, respectively. Ideally the map will be located on a website where related content can be displayed, such as photographs, documents, and narrative text. The combination of the map and other content will be aimed at telling the story of Albuquerque’s Red-Light Districts, the women who worked there, the men who were their customers, and their relationship to the surrounding community.
Railroad Avenue, New Town, Albuquerque, c. 1890s (now Central Avenue, Downtown)
The primary base map itself will be similar in design to Google Maps, but even more stylized. This means that there will be less modern street information, instead using street data from the period. The information included on the map itself will be directly related to telling the story of the old Districts. Essentially the map will be a series of digital reconstructions of Albuquerque as it was from 1880-1915. This will include not only the streets, but the buildings as well. The information for the size and shape of the buildings will be drawn from Sanborn Insurance Maps, which have detailed block layouts for the entire city of Albuquerque up to the 1940s. Scans of the Sanborn maps will be imported into QGIS (see below), and the individual buildings, city blocks, and streets will be peggged with GIS coordinates to the base map.
Sanborn Insurance Map of Downtown Albuquerque, c. 1940
Close up of a Sanborn Insurance Map of Downtown Albuquerque, c. 1940
Each structure that housed either a brothel or crib will be clickable. When users click on a structure, any information available will appear in a small window. The information window will, at a minimum contain information about whether the building housed a brothel or crib. For those brothels/cribs with more available information there will be any or all of the following types of information available either in the window, or through links in the window: address; owner/operator, names of prostitutes; age; place of birth; race/ethnicity; number of children; photos of structure and/or inhabitants; related newspaper articles, mug shots, police records, court papers, and other public records.
Example of clickable map with information window, done with Google Map Engine Lite
At the top of the map will be a slider that users can move via a mouse across a timeline beginning with 1880 and ending in 1915. As the timeline slider is moved, the map will change according to the date that the slider hovers over. As the slider moves, the map will change, showing first the development and decline of the Old Town District, then the development and decline of the New Town District. Users will also be able to switch to a modern digital street map as well as satellite images of the city. In this way, users can compare Albuquerque then with the city as it is today.
On the left-hand side of the map will be a menu that will take users to a text, narrative history of the two Districts, and credits for the map and website.
METHODOLOGY AND THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK
This map is a social history. It is a history from-the-bottom-up in the purest sense. Few people were lower than the prostitute in Albuquerque’s quasi-Victorian social order. Contrary to the images presented in film and television of glamorous and gaudy “painted ladies” who lived and work in gingerbread bordellos (e.g., “Miss Kitty” in the television series, Gunsmoke), women who did sex work in the American west in this period lived lives marked by poverty, violence, and social isolation. This is true for the women in Albuquerque as well.
As a social history, this map will be informed by Marxist theory, which posits that class conflict is a primary driver of social change, and that the modes of production of a society influence the organization of social life. Albuquerque at the turn of the twentieth century was in the throes of an emerging industrial capitalist order. The city was growing, men came by railroad to sell their labor, and women came to sell sex to the mostly male labor force. Seen in this way, the story of Albuquerque’s vice district is a story of capital and labor.
The research for this map is also indebted to feminist historians who, beginning in the 1980s began recovering the history of prostitution in Europe and the United States. In doing so, feminist scholars have stripped away the mythology of sex work to present a more mutli-dimensional understanding of prostitution and the culture in which it flourished. Three scholars in particular, sociologist Marion S. Goldman, historian Anne Butler, and historian Ruth Rosen, did pioneering work in recovering the history of late-nineteenth/early-twentieth-century prostitution in the United States. In addition, this project is indebted to the work of Judith Walkowitz, whose histories of prostitution and sexuality in Victorian England have provided guidance on how to unpack the coded nature of American sex work in this period.
This project also takes inspiration from the French historian Fernand Braudel, whose work demonstrated that an understanding of a given society can be constructed by examining the structures of everyday life – what Braudel described as “the little things one hardly notices in time and space.” Braudel examined the everyday lives of average people through the stable social and economic structures that made up the daily practice of their lives: diet, housing, fashion, energy use, patterns of town settlement, and many others. Rejecting an exclusive focus on the actions and events of social/political elites, it was Braudel’s conviction that the actual engine of historical change was the ever evolving structures and practices of common people simply going about their lives.
This project is also informed by the growing field of Digital Humanities, which is endeavoring to unite traditional methods of humanities scholarship with computing technology. This is not simply the practice of cleometrics where data is used as a quasi-scientific body of evidence to argue a specific thesis. Instead, Digital Humanities employs computing technology not only to crunch data, but also to create new ways of representation and information visualization, which are only limited by the imaginations of digital humanists. This project marries traditional archival research, cleometric analysis, geo-spatial conceptualization, and new forms of information visualization – not just to impose a narrative, but also to generate questions and open new paths of inquiry.
This project seeks the make sense of the raw data that reflects the everyday practices of sex workers in Albuquerque from 1880 to 1915. As such, this map will be based on data from census records, tax records, church records, land surveys, historic maps, as well as data from court records, historic banks, newspapers, police records, court documents, photographs, and other documents – basically, any source that has “Big Data” to mine.
Appropriate data will be input into a spreadsheet program where each column is pegged to a function on the map. The data will be available to view and download for any user. This map, however, will not be open source, though there will be a comment section.
The primary technology used in this mapping project is QGIS, an open source, multi-platform GIS mapping application. QGIS allows geo-spatial data to be represented, edited, and analyzed. QGIS also allows the importation of scanned images and maps, making possible the inclusion of historic New Mexico maps and images. Being an open source application, this project will not incur any software licensing fees. By using QGIS, this project is supporting the development of innovative, publicly available software applications, and promoting the free exchange of ideas.
Included in this project, is a plan to write a computing program using the Python language that will pull data from online compilations of the United Stats and New Mexico Censuses from 1850 to 1920. Women who engaged in prostitution often did so to supplement their income from sewing and millinery. In census enumerations, it was common for such women to only give “dressmaking” or “milliner” as their official occupation. It is my hypothesis that Albuquerque had more prostitutes than previous historians have estimated. This may be due to the labor intensive nature of analyzing census data manually, which makes errors in calculation likely. Writing a Python-based program to locate and pull every instance of a female dressmaker or milliner; a list can be more easily and accurately made. These names can be compared to police and court records, and newspaper articles to see if any women were overlooked by previous scholars.
Ideally, the aesthetic presentation of this map would be within a mock-up of a Victorian theater stage. The reasons for this, aside from pure aesthetics, would be 1) to create an inviting design that is familiar to non-specialist audiences; 2) to highlight, indirectly, the theatrical, dramatic, and tragic nature of the subject matter; and 3) highlight the negative aspects of Victorian-era prostitution by juxtaposing the degrading and enervating nature of the women’s lives, with the gaudy, fake-fancy gild of the a late-19th-century public theater.
When all analysis and critique is set aside for the day, I still believe that history matters. Despite the relentless critique of post-structuralist and post-modernist scholars who argue that Truth is a chimera, I still think that some kind of truth can be attained in serious and careful works of history. It may not be metaphysical truth about the past. It may simply be a discrete truth about our lives now. And, what is this truth? It is this: prostitution is not glamorous, and generally is not the choice of women who have viable options for economic and social gain – prostitution is largely the choice of women who are in distressed circumstances. Prostitution is often forced on women through physical and/or psychic coercion. It is likely true that some women chose to trade sex for value as a conscious act of personal power, and enjoyed – or at least made peace with – the profession. Most women did not.
This is important, because if, on the one hand, we continue to numb ourselves on media fantasies of the glamorous and gaudy bordellos of the “Wild West,” or, on the other hand, fall prey to the relativist and nihilistic view of scholars who portray sex work as an act of empowerment, we may miss important issues – namely, that most women in the United States in the twenty-first century engage in sex work because of structural inequalities that deny equal justice to women.
United States Census, 1890-1920.
Bernalillo County, NM Records, 1949-1927. New Mexico State Records Center and Archives, Santa Fe, NM.
New Mexico Endowment for the Humanities Records, 1971-1993. University of New Mexico, Center for Southwest Research.
New Mexico State Auditor Records, 1846-ongoing. New Mexico State Records Center and Archives, Santa Fe, NM.
United States Territorial and New Mexico District Court Clerks Records, 1853-1970. New Mexico State Records Center and Archives, Santa Fe, NM.
United States Territorial and New Mexico Supreme Court Records, 1846-1978. New Mexico State Records Center and Archives, Santa Fe, NM.
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Butler, Anne M. Daughters of Joy, Sisters of Misery: Prostitutes in the American West, 1865-90. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1985.
Carpio, Myla Vincenti. Indigenous Albuquerque. Lubbock, TX: Texas Tech University Press, 2011.
Cohen, Patricia Cline. The Murder of Helen Jewett: The Life and Death of a Prostitute in Nineteenth-Century New York. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1996.
Evans, Max. Madam Millie: Bordellos from Silver City to Ketchikan. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 2002.
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Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality, Vols. 1-3: An Introduction. New York: Vintage Books, 1990.
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Goldman, Marion S. Gold Diggers and Silver Miners: Prostitution and Social Life on the Comstock Lode. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1981.
Hodge, William H. The Albuquerque Navajos. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press, 1969.
Johnson, Byron A., and Sharon P. Johnson. Gilded Palaces of Shame: Albuquerque’s Redlight Districts, 1880-1914. Albuquerque, NM: Gilded Age Press, 1983.
McHugh, Paul. Prostitution and Victorian Social Reform. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1980.
Palmer, Mo, and Paula Matteucci. Recuerdos de los Duranes. Produced by Mo Palmer and Paula Matteucci. 27 minutes. Albuquerque, NM: KNME-TV, 1999. DVD.
Pivar, David. “Cleansing the Nation: The War on Prostitution, 1917-191.” Paper presented at the Southern California Meeting of the American Studies Association, Immaculate Heart College, Los Angeles, May 10, 1975.
________. Purity Crusade: Sexual Morality and Social Control, 1968-1900. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1973.
Rosen, Ruth. The Lost Sisterhood: Prostitution in America, 1900-1918. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982.
Salazar, J. Richard. Old Versus New: A Glimpse of Anglo-Hispanic Relations in 1880s Albuquerque. Guadalupita, NM: Center for Land Grant Studies, 1994.
Seagraves, Anne. Soiled Doves: Prostitution in the Early West. Hayden, ID: Wasanne Publications, 1994.
Simmons, Marc. Albuquerque: A Narrative History. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 1982.
________. Hispanic Albuquerque, 1709-1846. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 2003.
Slaney, Debora Christine. Jewel of the Railroad Era: Albuquerque’s Alvarado Hotel. Albuquerque, NM: Albuquerque Museum, 2009.
Walkowitz, Judith R. City of Dreadful Delight: Narratives of Sexual Danger in Late-Victorian London. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.
________. Prostitution and Victorian Society: Women, Class, and the State. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992.
Woolston, Howard. Prostitution in the United States Prior to the Entrance of the United States into the World War. 1921. Reprint, Montclair: NJ: Patterson-Smith, 1969.
 Associated Press, “Police Search Missouri Locations in New Mexico Bodies Probe,” Bismarck Tribune, 4 August 2010, 2A.; Staci Matlock, “State Medical Investigators Use Cutting Edge Science To Match Names To Unidentified Remains,” Santa Fe New Mexican, 6 November 2010, C-1; Diana Washington Valdez, “Witness In Sex Trafficking Trial Said She Was Lured By Fake Job Ad,” El Paso Times, 16 November 2013.
 The discussion on the causes, conditions, and historical context of prostitution are based on the following sources: Anne M. Butler, Daughters of Joy, Sisters of Misery: Prostitutes in the American West, 1865-90 (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1985); Marion S. Goldman, Gold Diggers and Silver Miners: Prostitution and Social Life on the Comstock Lode (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1981); Byron A. Johnson and Sharon P. Johnson, Gilded Palaces of Shame: Albuquerque’s Redlight Districts, 1880-1914 (Albuquerque, NM: Gilded Age Press, 1983); Ruth Rosen, The Lost Sisterhood: Prostitution in America, 1900-1918 (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982);
 Rosen, The Lost Sisterhood: Prostitution in America, 1900-1918, 4.
 Fernand Braudel, The Structures of Everyday Life: The Limits of the Possible (New York: Perennial Library, 1979), 29.