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Wants to Know

Monday, January 17, 2011

Once upon a time, there was a short-lived newspaper called the Whip, which survived a couple years in New York City in the early 1840s.  It was a working class and sporting man's paper, which advertised (and advocated) things like prostitution, low-brow theater, sports, and gambling.  There were several newspapers of its kind; the others were called the Flash, the Rake, and the Libertine, and they were, as a whole, nicknamed the flash press.  There's a really fascinating book that came out a few years ago about these papers, which I highly encourage everyone to read: The Flash Press, by a couple authors (including Timothy Gilfoyle, who wrote a really fascinating account of prostitution in New York called City of Eros, but that's another matter).

Why do I mention this?  Because in the Whip was a regular column called "Wants to Know," in which people could post what, for lack of a better word I'll called "personals," but they were of a much different nature than the ones I've written about.  See what I mean:

Whether Mr G, who manufactures hats near Starr's Inn, has got that ring made for the young lady he watched for in William street - and whether he thinks it is really a pity that she should gain a living by honest industry, and would his wife consent that he should support this young lady without work.
Whether that horse jocky who lives not a hundred miles from the Methodist church, continues his lascivious course of conduct towards lewd women - and if he would like to rent another house of Wallace, stating it was for his mother and sister, and then put his harlot and her mother into it.
Why that red head married man goes to the head of Academy street every night.  Have a care, Sir.
Why Mr. B brought his daughter home - and whether she was attending the [?] store or doing better business at 11 Thomas street.  How was it, Miss.

Holy iniquity, Batman!  Dang.  Now the circulation of these papers was admittedly small, but so was the population in the city.  And there's no doubt that people reading this paper would often recognize Mr. G the hatmaker, the horse jockey on Wallace street, the red-headed married man, and Mr. B who just brought his daughter home from...a brothel, perhaps?  Imagine the chaos that might have ensued in the G household if Mrs. G found out her husband was having an affair!  And the wife of the red-head discovered her husband was soliciting prostitutes!

But what's interesting about these little tidbits was that at the same time the Whip was publishing this gossip and calling out these guys (and a few women) on their indiscretions, they were also advertising prostitution.  In fact, according to the excellent authors of this book, the papers were in fact legitimizing the practice of extra- and pre-marital relationships, at least for men, because at the same time the editors were pretending to be horrified by all the terrible goings on, they were also dropping hints for the readers about where to go to indulge in these terrible activities.

While I think a lot of my personals and matrimonials come from a more middle-class demographic, these "want to knows" are certainly about a much more working-class community.  Horse jockeys and hatmakers aren't socializing with merchants and businessmen.  And they are definitely a lot more salacious.  Not that there aren't ads in the personals that aren't pretty racy - all the solicitations from men who would like to meet a girl to spend the evenings with.  But these are a totally different thing - calling people out practically by name.  Pretty bold.  I wonder what kind of havoc was wreaked by these ads!

©2011 Pam Epstein


Bianca C January 17, 2011 at 7:45 PM  

Oh ho! (er, I just reread that, and didn't mean it like it sounded)

The original page six!!

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