During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Lower East Side’s Allen Street was a notorious red light district.
Cast in shadow by the Second Avenue elevated train, Allen Street and its tenements were awash with prostitution. So pervasive was the commercial sex trade that it caused one observer in 1890 to protest, “[In] broad daylight you can see them [prostitutes] at their windows and calling to passersby at night. They are so vulgar in front of their houses that any respectable person cannot pass without being insulted by them.”
For some young immigrant women, prostitution offered a more remunerative alternative to difficult wage labor. Where pieceworkers in a garment factory earned $8 or $9 dollars a week, some prostitutes made as much as $30. Married and unmarried working-class and poor immigrant women were also vulnerable to economic hardship, and some sought occasional work as prostitutes.
More about prostitution in 19th Century New York:
City of Eros
The Murder of Helen Jewett