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American Red-Light Districts: A Business Model Based on Segregation

The Women’s and Gender Studies Program at Duquesne University is marking Women’s History Month by sponsoring a special presentation by Mara Keire, a fellow of the Institute for the Study of the Americas at the University of London.

Keire’s presentation, The Sporting Life: Gender and Recreation in American Red-Light Districts, 1890–1917, focuses on an era when public pressure forced community leaders to face the problems brought on by vice. The “Purity” movement—which surfaced with the Temperance movement, sought to solve the prostitution problem. In the same era, and in contrast to the Purity movement’s approach, a group of largely male progressives offered an alternative solution, one that relied on regulation.

“They started thinking that the solution to prostitution was a business solution rather than a moral one,” said Elaine Parsons, assistant professor of history at Duquesne.

An outgrowth of that thinking was the emergence of prostitution districts, such as Storyville in New Orleans, places where vice and its unhealthy effects might be segregated from society and thus controlled by the proper authorities. According to Parsons, Keire argues that such zoning of vice gave rise to using the term “segregation” as a way to describe the division of urban spaces, before the word was applied in the context of race, and is an enduring legacy in American cities.

The Sporting Life: Gender and Recreation in American Red-Light Districts, 1890–1917 is free and open to the public. For more information, call 412.396.6470.

When: Wednesday, March 5 at 4:15 p.m.

Where: Room 618, Fisher Hall, Duquesne University, 600 Forbes Ave.

Duquesne University

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