The best books about historical prostitution

Who am I?

Having grown up with an older generation—my great-grandparents, great-great aunts and uncles, and a godmother, all who were born between 1877 and 1900—I learned to appreciate how they lived and what they went through. As a child, I found a hand-written poem about a brothel queen who caused a gunfight between her paramour and a stranger. Then, in college, I met a wonderful old man who told me stories about the former red-light district right in my own neighborhood. Once I learned the often tragic, but also successful stories of these ladies, I decided to be their voice and remind America how important they were to our history.


I wrote...

Behind Brothel Doors: The Business of Prostitution in Kansas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma (1860–1940)

By Jan Mackell Collins,

Book cover of Behind Brothel Doors: The Business of Prostitution in Kansas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma (1860–1940)

What is my book about?

Often overlooked, disregarded, or hidden from historical accounts due to its racy connotations, the prostitution industry was one of the most important factors in the development of the American West. The “oldest profession” fueled the economies of camps, towns, and cities as they grew. Prostitutes in the old west defied social norms to make sure their hometowns, and they themselves, were successful. Their reasons for entering life varied, from women who could find no other way to make money to those who desired independence and wealth. In return, they were ostracized, criticized, and subject to fines, jail, disease, drug addiction, violence, and unwanted pregnancies. While their success stories are many, others failed in their endeavors, their names buried with them when they died.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Tacey Cromwell

Jan Mackell Collins Why did I love this book?

Conrad Richter did a stellar job of giving a true sense of place in Socorro, New Mexico and Bisbee, Arizona, at the turn of 1900. Tacey’s fictionalized yet wonderfully realistic story will break your heart and make you fall in love with the fallen women of the west as I did.

By Conrad Richter,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Tacey Cromwell as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is the story of a bawdy house madam who becomes a respectable mother and businesswoman.


Book cover of Daughters of Joy, Sisters of Misery: Prostitutes in the American West, 1865-90

Jan Mackell Collins Why did I love this book?

Of the six books the late Ms. Butler authored in her lifetime, this one is by far my favorite. Her academic account of the prostitution industry is all facts, with plenty of sources to back them up. There is no flowery talk here, just the truth of how women of the demimonde lived during the late 1800s.

By Anne M. Butler,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Daughters of Joy, Sisters of Misery as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book is in good used condition. Ex-library book. History of prostitution in the American West 1865-1890. Good book for anyone interested in learning more about: Prostitutes -- West (U.S.) -- History -- 19th century.


Book cover of The Lost Sisterhood: Prostitution in America, 1900-1918

Jan Mackell Collins Why did I love this book?

Like Anne Butler, Ms. Rosen used credible sources to explain the “whys and hows” of frontier prostitution, prostitutes’ roles in society, and the culture that kept them in their place. Her book includes government studies conducted with the women themselves regarding their careers. Statistics on the ladies’ health and social diseases are included here too.

By Ruth Rosen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Lost Sisterhood as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Rosen has broken entirely new ground in what will surely remain the definitive study of urban prostitution in America for many years to come."--'TLS'


Book cover of Soiled Doves: Prostitution in the Early West

Jan Mackell Collins Why did I love this book?

Mrs. Seagraves used real facts and lots of sources to tell her stories, and her book was one of the first to address the prostitution industry in the west. Because of her, some of the women who were formerly cast aside finally got the recognition they deserved. For those seeking a more romanticized look at the biographies of prostitutes and why it is important to remember them, this is the book.

By Anne Seagraves,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Soiled Doves as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Soiled Doves tells the story of the grey world of prostitution and the women who participated in the oldest profession. Colorful, if not socially acceptable, these ladies of easy virtue were a definite part of the early West--wearing ruffled petticoats with fancy bows, they were glamorous and plain, good and ad and many were as wild as the land they came to tame.

Women like "Molly b'Dam," Mattie Silks, and "Chicago Joe" blended into the fabric of the American Frontier with an easy familiarity. Others, such as "Sorrel Mike," escaped through suicide, Lottie John chose marriage and the Chinese slave…


Book cover of The Gentle Tamers: Women of the Old Wild West

Jan Mackell Collins Why did I love this book?

First published in 1958, this is one of the first books to pay respect and present the truth about the struggles western women faced. Mr. Brown was very thorough in covering women’s roles in the west, from homesteaders and wives, to women kidnapped by Natives, to actresses and prostitutes. He also used primary sources, not the internet, to conduct his research. 

By Dee Brown,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Gentle Tamers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

All aspects of western feminine life, which include a good deal about the western male, are covered in this lively, informal but soundly factual account of the women who built the West. Among those whose stories are included are Elizabeth Custer; Lola Montez, Ann Eliza Young, Josephine Meeker, Carry Nation, Esther Morris, and Virginia Reed.


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The Romanov Heiress

By Jennifer Laam,

Book cover of The Romanov Heiress

Jennifer Laam Author Of The Romanov Heiress

New book alert!

Who am I?

A proud native of Stockton, CA, Jennifer Laam resides in California with a temperamental tabby cat named Jonesy. Her other works of historical fiction are The Secret Daughter of the Tsar, The Tsarina’s Legacy, and The Lost Season of Love and Snow. When not reading or writing, she enjoys planning cosplay for the next San Diego Comic-Con, experimenting with vegetarian recipes (to mixed results), cooing at Baby Yoda, or obsessing over House Targaryen. 

Jennifer's book list on the last Romanovs

What is my book about?

Four sisters in hiding. A grand duchess in disguise. Dark family secrets revealed. An alternate future for the Romanovs from Jennifer Laam, author of The Secret Daughter Of The Tsar.

With her parents and brother missing and presumed dead, former Grand Duchess Olga Romanova must keep her younger sisters safe. The Bolsheviks are determined to eliminate any remaining holdovers from the tsarist regime, hunting down the last Romanovs and putting them to death. Now living in England, the Romanov sisters remain hidden to protect their identities, even as isolation strains their relationships. But they can’t distance themselves from the world forever.

The Romanov Heiress

By Jennifer Laam,

What is this book about?

Four sisters in hiding. A grand duchess in disguise. Dark family secrets revealed...an alternate future for the Romanovs from Jennifer Laam, author of The Secret Daughter of the Tsar and The Lost Season of Love and Snow.

With her parents and brother missing and presumed dead, Grand Duchess Olga Romanova must keep her younger sisters safe. The Bolsheviks are determined to eliminate any remaining holdovers from the tsarist regime, hunting down the last Romanovs and putting them to death. Now living in England, the Romanov sisters remain hidden to protect their identities, even as isolation strains their relationships.

But they…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in prostitution, the American West, and brothels?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about prostitution, the American West, and brothels.

Prostitution Explore 74 books about prostitution
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