Monday, November 24, 2008

The Ladies of Allan Street

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

Friday, November 14, 2008

Jay P. Dolan on The Irish Americans

Last Tuesday we hosted Professor Jay P. Dolan, author of the first comprehensive popular history of Irish-Americans. Mr. Dolan spoke about his own history, growing up in a working-class home, and tied it to the broader social history of the Irish immigrant story in New York and across the country. His visit to Tenement Talks wrapped up our mini-series on the Irish in New York, which included talks by Terry Golway, Peter Quinn, and Mary Gordon. We’ll offer another mini-series next spring, when we plan to bring back novelist Colm Toibin, among others.

Excitingly, Professor Dolan’s talk was also captured for CPAN’s Book TV, so keep your eyes open for an airing.