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J-Oldest Profession

Washington Underground: Archaeology in Downtown Washington, DC,
a walking and metro guide to the past...

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DC Archaeology Tour Contents

Locator Map
Archaeology in DC
Urban Archaeology
A-Rare Achievement
B-Self Medication
D-Crowded Housing
E-Pardon Our Dust
F-Safe Water
H-Path of History
I-2nd Hand Economy
J-Oldest Profession
Making Do
Other Sites
For More Information



J - The Oldest Profession

Location:  Federal Triangle (see MAP)
Metro: Federal Triangle Station (Orange-Blue lines)

(see additional informational links below)

"My name is Nellie Starr. My native place is Baltimore, State of Maryland. I have been in Washington City, D.C. since a week before Christmas. I am about nineteen or twenty years of age. I am not married. I have known John Wilkes Booth about three years; he was in the habit of visiting the house where I live kept by Miss Eliza Thomas, No. 62 Ohio Avenue in the City of Washington. The house is one of prostitution."

(part of Nellie Starr’s statement to the police, April 15, 1865)

From the 1860s through the 1880s, black and white, native and foreign-born families tried to make a living in this neighborhood. Family households and brothels, commercial businesses and industries co-existed here in "Hooker’s District" alongside the canal (under Constitution Ave), which had turned into little more than an open sewer. In 1862 the city supported 450 registered "bawdy houses," which were legal until prostitution was outlawed in 1914.

Prostitution changed from madam-owned houses to capitalist businesses with corporate ownership in the 1890s, when the area turned into a red light district with rows of brothels. Before 1890, archaeology reveals very little difference between the daily lives of working class households and brothels, although the families owned more toys and more tools. But later the prostitutes ate better and dressed better than their working class contemporaries. Some of their purchasing power, however, was spent on proprietary medicines such as Valentine’s Meat Juice, promoted as a cure for sexually transmitted diseases.

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Washington Underground:
Archaeology in Downtown Washington, DC,
a walking and metro guide to the past...
was produced cooperatively by the National Park Service, National Center for Cultural Resources, Archeology and Ethnography Program; the District of Columbia Office of Planning, Historic Preservation Office; the Center for Heritage Resource Studies, University of Maryland, College Park; and the Society for American Archaeology.

Additional Links

John Wilkes Booth

History of John Wilkes Booth

Prostitution in 19th-Century Washington

Summary of Archaeological Excavations on the Mall (Washington Philosophical Society)
'Madam on the Mall' (from the Smithsonian Institution)
Biography of Joseph Hooker

Valentine's Meat Juice

1890s medical reports on Valentine's meat-juice as a nutrient in influenza
1887 letter from Florence Nightingale with a recommendation for Valentine's meat-juice
The Story of Nedd's Shedd (see page 3)

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