Observing Prostitution in Algeria

Gazette Medicale de l'Algérie

Edition of Dr. Bertherand's Medical Gazette of Algeria that contains a copy of the essay he provided for the second edition of On Prostitution in the City of Paris, 1857.

Alphonse Bertherand was part of a team of Army surgeons who accompanied the invading forces into Algeria. Along with his brother Emile Louis, they founded many medical institutions in Algiers, including clinics and medical journals. [2] The report included in the second edition of On Prostitution in the City of Paris is later reproduced and expanded in one such journal in 1859, two years after it had appeared in the 2nd edition. [3]

These first two paragraphs of Dr. Bertherand's report, with which this exhibit is concerned, reads as follows:

The plurality of wives, a dogma of the Koran; social inferiority, because of the ignorance in which religious law condemns females, confined to a narrow rut of habitual idleness or menial studies; the common ease of divorce, the promiscuous mixing of slaves and legitimate wifes in the sanctuary of the family, all these sad conditions of domestic life could not fail under the hot climate and exciting Algerian sky, to throw it open for the relaxation of morals and prostitution.

The woman from the East, more depraved than lascivious, willingly trades her body: It is also that she is married at the age of 12, sometimes eight or nine, delivered innocent and without any life experience to the brutality of a master for whom she is at most an instrument of pleasure, the Arab youth inevitably slips on the slope of her training, which is first the satisfaction of bad instincts, then the need to compensate, or overcome, even by wrongdoing, the shackles that confine her to sequestration, labor and abuse. [4]

In these opening lines, Bertherand attributes the prostitution among Algerians to Islam, but also cites climate and instincts. These prejudices would later come to be critiqued as Orientalism.

It is interesting that Parent-Duchatelet would include this report in his volume, and it is possible, since he died before its publication, that it was appended by someone else. It is, however, included in reports detailing prostitution elsewhere in France, which is how Algeria came to be considered: an intrinsic and essential part of the homeland, even if Algeriens were not welcomed so warmly.

Préfecture de Police

New Parisian Prostitution regulations of 1830, announced mere months after the French invasion of Algeria. Paris Police Archives.

Algerian women and colonialism hardly figure in On Prostitution despite the fact that the Parisian system of prostitution regulation that it documents was first adopted not in Paris by civilian authorities, but in Algeria by the invading military forces. This military regulation was itself an adaptation of the existing, Ottoman regulatory regime that preexisted the French. Thus the famous French reglementation had its origins in Arabic governance, erased through colonial appropriation. [5]



[2] Amster, Ellen J. (2013) Medicine and the Saints: Science, Islam, and the Colonial Encounter in Morocco, 1877-1956. Austin: University of Texas Press.

[3] Bertherand, Alphonse. (1857) "De la prostitution in Algérie," Gazette Medicale de L'Algérie Vol. 2 No. 9, pp. 138-141.

[4] Translation by Greggor Mattson, PhD. 2016.

[5] Taraud, Christelle. (2003) La prostitution coloniale. Algérie, Maroc, Tunisie (1830-1962). Paris: Editions Payot & Rivages.



Observing Prostitution in Algeria