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The Underworld Sewer
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For twenty years Josie Washburn lived and worked in houses of prostitution. She spent the last twelve as the madam of a moderately fancy brothel in Lincoln, Nebraska. After retiring in 1907 and moving to Omaha, she turned to "throwing a searchlight on the underworld", including the "cribs" of Nebraska's largest city. The Underworld Sewer, based on her own experience in the profession, blazes with an honesty unavailable to more conventional moral reformers. Originally published in 1909, The Underworld Sewer asks why "the social evil" was universally considered necessary or inevitable. Washburn minces no words in exposing the conditions that perpetuate prostitution: the greed and graft of landlords, pimps, alcohol vendors, dope dealers, police officers, city administrators, and politicians; the competition for circulation by sensation-seeking newspapers; the indifference or intolerance of law-abiding, churchgoing citizens; the double standard that allows men to indulge their sexuality but punishes women who do so. Through her strong words, Josie Washburn, a shrewd businesswoman, was determined to end the social evil by giving a voice to its victims - the women who sold their bodies.
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About the Author

Sharon Wood is an assistant professor of history at the University of Chicago.

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