The thieving street walkers of 1870s Soho

“Strangers visiting the city are struck by the number of women who are to be found on Broadway and the streets running parallel to it, without male escorts, after dark,” wrote James D. McCabe in his 1872 guidebook Lights and Shadows of New York Life.

“They are known as Street Walkers, and constitute one of the lowest orders of prostitutes to be found in New York.”

“They are nearly all thieves, and a very large proportion of them are but the decoys of the most desperate male garroters and thieves.”

One common scam, McCabe explains, was for a street walker to lure a tourist to her room in one of the subdivided “bed houses” in today’s Soho.

There, the street walker and a male confederate would rob the tourist while threatening his life.

Another trick was what McCabe called “panel thieving”:

“She takes her victim to her room, and directs him to deposit his clothing on a chair, which is placed but a few inches from the wall at the end of the room. This wall is false, and generally of wood.”

While the street walker and customer do their thing, a male thief will quietly slide out from behind the fake wall and lift the customer’s wallet.

The sucker won’t realize what has happened until he is out on the street, the street walker and her co-conspirator long-gone.

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3 Responses to “The thieving street walkers of 1870s Soho”

  1. mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

    There was a hotel on Delancey Street and the Bowery and twice my wallet was taken by the Street Girls who paraded and whored in the area. Once when I was alone, another time with a friend, took his money too. Boy, were the whores slick.

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