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Types of Prostitutes in 19th Century France

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This exhibit illustrates different facets of prostitution in 19th century France. Prostitution was a common social phenomenon that was practiced by women regardless of class, but the type of prostitute varied depending on the status of the men involved. The social standing of prostitutes often shifted throughout their lifetimes, but their roles generally remained within four basic levels of prostitution. This exhibit focuses on these four important types of prostitutes, imagined and mythologized in various media of the time. The lorette, the aspiring courtesan, was the prostitute of mystery, elusive and secretive, often evading the government’s health regulations. The grisette was a prostitute from a working-class background, often found inhabiting the apartments of young Parisian students. The fille publique or streetwalker, was from the lowest class of prostitute and often attracted the poorest customers. Walking the street alone or in groups, la fille publique was most vulnerable to police repression. And finally, women in “maisons closes” or brothels, catered to men of different social classes. The most luxurious brothels attracted middle class men with their continuous business. These women, though varying in status, participated in a form of sexual commerce that was common in French society in the 19th century.

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