Mobile's Historic Red-Light District
Photo credit: Bird's Eye View of the City of Mobile, Alabama - 1873." Drawn by Augustus Koch. Printed by E & K Stearn Lithograph Printers, Cincinnati. Courtesy of the History Museum of Mobile.
Hundreds of women called the district home over its thirty-year history. Many left prostitution once they secured better economic opportunities, like marriage. But some of the women, particularly madams, resided in the district longer and left a greater mark on the public record, including photographs. Click on the images below to learn more about a few of the district's madams or click the silhouette to learn about the women whose likeness we will never know.
This website was created as the public history component for Negotiated Affections: Prostitution in Mobile from 1702-1920, by Raven Christopher. The thesis was submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the University of South Alabama in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in History, May 2017.
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In 1888, Mobile city officials legalized a "red-light district" to contain prostitution to a specific area. The rise in prostitution that led to the creation of the district was directly influenced by Mobile's past. Originating in the early French colony, prostitution flourished with Mobile’s rise as a prosperous American port city and also in its subsequent fall after the Civil War and dethroning of “King Cotton.” Use the interactive timeline below to explore the history of Mobile and prostitution.
The availability of primary and secondary sources online has grown exponentially over the past decade. With this flood of accessible data, it can be difficult to know what is available and where to find it. The Resources page of this website provides historians and the public with access to resources relevant to the history of Mobile, prostitution, the historic red-light district, Progressive Era reform, other online exhibits, modern sex work and human trafficking.
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ESRI ArcGIS, a mapping software program, was used to connect historic data with geographic features to recreate the historic landscape of the red-light district. Click on one of the interactive maps below to learn about the location of the brothels, who lived in them, racial settlement patterns, who owned the property, and take a digital journey through the 1912 Blue Book.