Sex ads placed in 19th century newspapers

In the 20th century, they ran in the back pages of alternative weeklies like The Village Voice, and today, they clog up Craigslist and other online sites.

But in the 1870s, respectable newspapers were the only venue for sex-related ads, like the one above, arranging a meeting between semi-anonymous partners.

“Many of these advertisements are inserted by notorious roues, and others are from women of the town,” writes James D. McCabe in his 1872 guidebook Lights and Shadows of New York Life, where reproductions of the ads appear.

“Women wishing to meet their lovers, or men their mistresses, use these personal columns,” he added.

There must have been some degree of public outcry about these ads. McCabe quotes the New York World, apparently defending their placement:

“The cards of courtesans and the advertisements of houses of ill-fame might as well be put up in the panels of street cars.”

“If the public permits a newspaper to do it for the consideration of a few dollars, why make the pretense that there is anything wrong in the thing itself? If the advertisement is legitimate, than the business must be.”

Newspapers also published the 19th century versions of Craigslist’s Missed Connections.

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2 Responses to “Sex ads placed in 19th century newspapers”

  1. nycedges Says:

    the New York World seems to have been the NY Post of it’s day (late 1880s-early 1920s) the first 1-2 pages of news, the rest sensational crimes, gossip & fluff — also lots of photos and advertisements which makes it fun to peruse — so not too surprising it was the craigslist of the era.

  2. Dave Says:

    Perfect timing. I am rereading W A Swanberg’s classic biography of William Randolph Hearst. Hearst’s NY Journal and Pulitzer’s rival NY World were the original “yellow journalist” papers and in comparison make today’s NY Post seem like the model of restraint. Pulitzer and all of the other papers loathed Hearst, and he fought back ferociously. One victim of his counterattack was James Gordon Bennett, whose NY Herald was the primary publisher of these personal ads for decades (the Herald was nicknamed by newsmen of the time as the “The Whores’ Daily Guide and Handy Compendium”). Hearst’s 1906 expose led to Bennett’s indictment, over which he paid a $25,000 fine (perhaps the equivalent of $700,000 in today’s dollars) and Bennett never forgave Hearst for the humiliation. Love your posts. Keep up the great work.

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