In Paris this autumn, one of the major art exhibits is “Splendor and Misery: Images of Prostitution 1850-1910,” at the Musee d’Orsay. At this exhibit people lucky enough to get to Paris can see how artists viewed some of the women who worked in the sex trade during the 19th century. There is no lack of pictures because almost all of the great artists of the period
painted prostitutes. A New York Times article quotes Richard Thomson, a curator of the exhibition:
“Why was prostitution such a big theme for artists? There was the sexual aspect, of course. But there was another reason. The city was slippery. Everything was speeding up, becoming more commercial, more ambiguous, more of a spectacle.
The same questions were coming up in American cities during the 1800s. Although many Americans thought of their new country as pure and free of the moral decay of Europe, prostitution has been a part of the country since its beginnings. During the gold rush days in California, fancy ladies were just as prominent as the hopeful miners. Witness this popular 19th century San Francisco song:
The miners came in forty-nine,
The whores in fifty-one;
And when they got together
They produced the native son
Even though prostitution has been around throughout recorded history, societies still have a difficult time coming to grips with it. Why do women become prostitutes? Is it because they are poor and can’t find any other job? Or because they are
too lazy to take an honest job? Or are they victims of cruel abusers or criminals who force them into prostitution? No one knows all the answers, but one fact is clear—neither America nor any other country has ever completely eliminated prostitution. During the 1840s, when society was changing quickly and thousands of young people moved from farms to cities, many women found prostitution their only way to forge a life for themselves.
That’s why when I started writing my second Charlotte Edgerton mystery, I decided to focus on life in “Sin City”, otherwise known as New York. When Charlotte moves there to take up a teaching job in a school for the children of freed slaves, she discovers that life in the city is filled with excitement and dangers she had never faced in rural Massachusetts. And as she gets to know some of the young women who live in the brothels that line the streets near Broadway, she gains a new respect for their struggles and their strengths. She and her fiancé, Daniel, pursue the evildoer who stalks these ladies of the night and come to understand some of the complexities of crime and survival in a fast-changing society.
This summer has been filled with bad news stories as wildfires devastate the Western states, Congress and the President tangle over the Iran nuclear proposal, and thousands of migrants flee war torn Syria trying to get into a reluctant Europe. It’s no wonder that so many of us turn to sports as a way to forget what’s going on. Tennis always reaches a crescendo this
time of year and it has been a delight to watch Serena Williams march through victory after victory. Who wouldn’t wish her luck in achieving a grand slam of titles in women’s tennis this year? Unfortunately, she didn’t quite make it. As sometimes happens in real life as well as in fairytales, a newcomer appeared who managed to defeat Serena and end her hopes for a grand slam. But Serena Williams is still a champion, probably the greatest female athlete we have ever seen.
Tennis has been a field of glory for women ever since it was introduced to America by a woman almost 150 years ago. According to the New York Times (Aug. 27, 2006) Mary Ewing Outerbridge, of Staten Island, was visiting relatives in Bermuda when she encountered some British Army officers playing tennis. at a garden party in Wales in December 1873 and had just arrived in Bermuda, where British Army officers were playing it. Being an enterprising young woman, Miss Outerbridge brought back from Bermuda a net, balls and rackets, and
specifications for the size of the courts. The strange gear was confiscated by customs agents but Mary’s brother was able to use his influence to get customs to release it. Tennis was a hit in New York and it soon spread across the country.
Tennis has always been one of the few sports that has been open to women as well as men, although the championship games have been single-sex events. Women’s championships were not considered as important as the men’s events. In 1973, Billie Jean King accepted a challenge from a former tennis champion, Bobby Riggs, who had boasted that a weak male player could easily beat a woman. Dubbed “the Battle of the Sexes”, the Riggs-King match took place at the Houston Astrodome in Texas on September 20, 1973. The game got a lot of publicity and when Billie Jean King won, she felt that she had struck a blow for women everywhere. The women’s game began to be taken more seriously.
Serena Williams and her sister Venus have brought more attention and respect to the women’s tennis tournaments than they ever had before. This year, Serena got more publicity than any of the male players and tickets for her matches were the most highly prized ever. It’s about time a woman was the biggest attraction! Like so many of her other fans, I am sad that Serena Williams did not make her grand slam, but she can be content that she has set a great example for girls and women around the world. We are all wishing her good luck. After all—there’s always next year!