Beneath an Outhouse, a 19th Century Brothel’s Secrets Are Revealed


Life in an 19th century Boston brothel. (Credit: Boston University/YouTube)

For Jade Luiz, a connoisseur tyro in archaeology during Boston University, chronological archaeology is all about investigator work. Through piecing together chronological papers and archaeological finds from a outside toilet, or privy, of a former brothel circuitously Boston’s North End, she’s been reconstructing a lives of women who participated in sex work in a mid-1800s.

Louisa Cowen, for example, who in 1856 took over as a dame of 27–29 Endicott Street—the brothel behind that stood a privy—typically presented herself as a important widow, according to chronological mentions of a brothel and census records. Given her status, she expected wore black wardrobe and ornate herself in gloomy black jewelry. Her tombstone names her as a mother of Henry Cowen, a Boston residence painter who predeceased her. Whether or not a dual had been strictly married stays unknown. What Luiz does know is that Louisa Cowen became really successful.

The artifacts from a Endicott Street arcane are remarkably complete, and a collection is large. According to Luiz, it looks “like someone was going by closets and transfer all they couldn’t sell into a arcane to sign it off.” She places a timing of this indiscriminate deposition of domicile products to shortly after a skill altered hands in 1876. An embossed potion bottle with that date found during a tip of a arcane store creates this timeline likely. Despite a fact that these products were rejected as trash, they now offer clues to a personal etiquette, domicile ambience, and daily lives of a operative women of Endicott Street.

By a 1850s, Boston’s North End, that had been a rich area in a early days of a city, had turn a heart of middle-class businesses and newcomer workers. The brothels along Endicott Street were some-more important establishments than those along a bay a few blocks divided that catered to a rougher crowd. Some of a customers of 27–29 Endicott Street were substantially middle-class businessmen who arrived from a circuitously rail depot.


For a women of Endicott Street, presenting themselves as clean, uninformed smelling, and disease-free was of pinnacle importance. Bone-handled toothbrushes, American and French redolence bottles, unguent and tooth-wash bottles, and a series of potion syringes that competence have been used for douching pronounce to a women’s high courtesy for personal hygiene.

When we ask Luiz that of a pieces in a collection are her favorites, she fondly describes dual little potion seed cups. The cups would have been kept in bird cages that competence have hung in a parlor of a Endicott Street house—or a birds competence have been companions to some of a women and kept in their rooms. The little seed cups spirit during what a bedrooms of a Endicott Street residence competence have been like, with songbirds chirping in a low-lit, aromatic interior.

And while many boardinghouse residents of this epoch complained of too many stews and inexpensive roasts, and voiced their yearning for a fry chicken, a transport during a Endicott Street brothel was “a small fancier,” says Luiz. “It doesn’t demeanour like standard boardinghouse food.”

From a hundreds of cherry and pink pits to a accumulation of nuts and animal bones, it’s transparent that a women—and maybe their guests—ate well. Smells of pig chops, pig’s feet, and a occasional fry bird expected mingled with a fragrances ragged by a brothel residents.

Luiz infrequently binds onto little pieces of information for years, she says, gradually bringing together a fragments to re-create life stories. These stories offer a counterpoint to a notice of sex work in history. “These women tend to be portrayed in one of dual ways,” she says of chronological annals of brothels and sex work in America and Europe. “There’s possibly this moralizing condemnation and enterprise to save a depressed women, or they’re being eroticized for a feeling of a public.”

The story of Cowen, Luiz continues, is a ideal instance of a lady who done an mercantile preference to enter a contention in that she could thrive. In a 19th century, a sex workman could acquire as most in a singular night as a bureau workman could make in a week. After relocating from farming Vermont to Boston’s Endicott Street, Cowen fast became utterly prosperous. By a time she died in 1865, she had paid off a debt on her family’s plantation in Vermont and was means to leave a resources of costly goods, clothing, and valuables to her siblings. According to probate annals from a year she died, Cowen left “all of her black jewelry”—her accoutrements of widowhood—to one of her sisters.

When Luiz found a damaged black cranky among a few pieces of mislaid or rejected valuables in a arcane deposits, she wondered about a definition and origin. “I can’t be sure, though we like to consider that maybe that square once belonged to Louisa as partial of her black collection,” she explains. “That’s my other favorite artifact.”

The earthy objects that were a partial of a daily lives of a women of 27–29 Endicott Street are a sign of a amiability of these individuals. By reconstructing a stories of a women who lived and worked in ancestral Boston, to some border bringing them behind to life, Luiz wants to uncover that sex workers were—and are—real people.


This work initial seemed on SAPIENS underneath a CC BY-ND 4.0 license. Read a strange here.

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Posted by on Mar 7 2018. Filed under Living World. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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