Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Historic Preservation (MHP)


Historic Preservation

Committee Chair/Advisor

Jon Marcoux

Committee Member

Dr. Laurel Bartlett

Committee Member

Katherine Pemberton


Sex work in the United States has become a more widely studied subject in the last twenty years. Most of these studies focus on the historical or archaeological evidence left behind by sex workers. Many of these studies focus most heavily on sex work in the western United States. Studies have looked through a variety of different lenses including gender, race, and economic impact. Despite these varied lenses, little attention has been paid to sex work in Southern cities such as Charleston, South Carolina. The purpose of this thesis is to add to the basic understanding of the prevalence, placement, policing, and composition of brothels in Charleston, South Carolina from 1880 to 1939.

Charleston City Directories, Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, the 1902 Charleston Blue Book, the Thomas P. Stony Papers, and the Law and Order League Papers provided addresses for analysis. The Charleston City Year Books provided information on arrests rates and death rates from syphilis which were used to help identify patterns of policing. This study found that the area known as the red-light district (the area between Queen Street, King Street, Beaufain Street, and Logan Street) in the early part of the twentieth century was the densest area throughout the entire study period. Brothels spread upwards towards the Neck of Charleston and east to the water on East Bay Street between 1880 and 1929. Additionally, this study found that brothel locations were heavily impacted by the political agenda of the sitting mayor with the amount of brothels and location of brothels ebbing and flowing alongside the sitting mayor’s stated moral agenda. The policing of brothels and brothel workers when compared against City Directory data suggests that sex workers of color were more heavily policed than their white counterparts.

This thesis adds to the existing field of the study of sex work in Charleston, South Carolina. It is perhaps the most comprehensive list of brothel locations throughout the late nineteenth and into the twentieth centuries and among the first to examine the efficacy of policing attempts on the peninsula of Charleston, South Carolina.



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