Friday, November 8, 2013

Klondike Friday: Sex and Sin in the Klondike

Dawson City in 1897-98 Yukon might have been a freewheeling town, full of open prostitution, legalized gambling, and saloons that stayed open twenty four hours a day, but somethings remained completely traditional
In the Yukon as in the rest of Europe and North America at the time, there was a very strict social strata, particularly as it affected women.
Married women occupied the top rung of respectability. Some of that respectability varied of course according to the status of their husband. Then came the few businesswomen. Whether wealthy business owners such as Belinda Mulrooney or a dressmaker or the proprietor of a hat shop. Nurses and teachers would have fallen into this category.

Then we hit what was known as the demimonde. And the majority of gold rush women who made their living ‘mining the miners’. The top of those ranks were the headliners in the dancehalls. These women could make a lot of money, but it was an expensive occupation – they provided their own stage costumes and were expected to change them often. The next tier was the chorus dancers. Not headliners but still stage performers. The rung below – percentage girls. These were the women who moved in after the stage show was over to dance with the men for the legendary dollar a dance. One dollar got some lonely sourdough or cheechako a one minute turn around the dance hall and then he could expect his lady to drag him off to the bar to buy a drink – included in the dance price. They got 25 cents out of every dollar dance. Most of these women simply wore their street clothes to work. They would have worked hard too – from midnight to six or eight am six days a week, dancing constantly.

Let’s keep going down. The few independent prostitutes, some of whom ran their business under the guise of a cigar store and the employees of the better class brothels. Below them, the cheaper brothels, and then at the very bottom, the women who worked out of the cribs on Paradise Alley. Many of these poor women didn’t earn much, if anything, at all. First they had to pay for their transportation to the Klondike, then the rent on their cribs, and pay off pimps.

Information on social strata found in Gamblers and Dreamers by Charlene Porsild.

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