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.