10 Things That Prove Prostitution Has a Very Intriguing History

10 Things That Prove Prostitution Has a Very Intriguing History

Larry Holzwarth - April 13, 2018

10 Things That Prove Prostitution Has a Very Intriguing History
One of Justine Paris’s regular clients was the Marquis de Sade, who published the violently pornographic novel Justine years after her death, possibly using some of her tales as inspiration. Wikimedia

Marguerite Gourdan and Justine Paris

Marguerite Gourdan was the wife of a French soldier who with her husband’s permission prostituted herself with a wealthy nobleman. She delivered a daughter following this liaison and either through blackmail or the good wishes of the nobleman she obtained a monthly stipend from him, which continued until his death. The stipend enabled Marguerite to establish a series of brothels in and around Paris. By 1765 her husband had had enough of her activities and left her. Marguerite used agents to find prostitutes to employ in her brothels, and she divided her charges into four categories.

The first were the women who worked and lived in her brothels. The second were prostitutes in her employ who lived in their own homes and entertained their clients either there or in the client’s home. Third were artists, singers, actors, and musicians who supplemented their income through prostitution, dispatched to the client on a call basis. Finally were the wives of wealthy merchants and noblemen who wanted to obtain their own source of income, or merely enjoyed the work. Marguerite also rented rooms in her brothels to partners involved in illicit affairs, ensuring them a place to meet in privacy.

Justine Paris opened her first brothel in Paris around 1730 and after running several brothels in the city opened one at the Hotel du Roule which rapidly became one of the best known brothels in a city which held hundreds of them. Because the Hotel du Roule was located outside of the city limits it could be reached comfortably only by coach or horseback, which ensured that her customers were well heeled and discreet. Casanova described the Hotel du Roule in his memoirs in elaborate detail, indicating that he was a frequent and favored guest.

Justine too offered private rooms for the accommodation of couples who sought privacy away from prying eyes and gossiping tongues. Casanova reported that Justine charged her clients by the hour, both for the rooms and for the services of her women. She changed her staff twice a year and maintained a diverse collection of women of differing sizes, shapes, and coloring. Justine allowed her clients who were so motivated to purchase one of her prostitutes as a kept woman, and retained her in the house with the rest of her staff. While prostitution was illegal at the time, French authorities allowed her to operate as long as she kept them informed of the doings of certain of her clients.

In 1772 Marguerite Gourdan and Justine Paris met each other and began the planning of another brothel, to be operated by them as partners. This brothel was opened in 1773 and would become one of the most famous in all of Paris. However, the partnership did not last very long. Gourdan and Paris met in a Paris hospital where they were both undergoing treatment for syphilis. Although she lived long enough to see the brothel opened, Justine Paris died in September 1773. Her partner carried on without her in the brothel, which featured a main entrance and a secret entrance through a neighboring art dealer’s shop, offering unobserved entry to the brothel.

Marguerite Gourdan soon found herself in difficulty with the authorities and facing arrest fled from Paris in 1776. She had not returned a noblemen’s wife too her home after a shift at the brothel. The brothel was left without capable management and was soon forced to close its doors. Meanwhile Marguerite used her influence with some of her better connected former clients, and likely her records of their use of her services, to get them to lobby on her behalf. After some effort, charges against her were dropped and she returned to Paris and the brothel, which by then was near bankruptcy. It closed for good in 1778 and Marguerite Gourdan returned to one of her earlier brothels to live out her years. She died of complications of syphilis in 1783.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Devil’s Perch: Prostitution from suite to cellar in Butte, Montana”, by Ellen Baumler, Montana Historical Society

“Sexual Practices and the Medieval Church”, by Vern L. Bullough, 1982

“Prostitution in Victorian England”, by Judith Flanders, The British Library, online

“Disorderly women in eighteenth-century London”, by Tony Henderson, 1999

“Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies”, by H. Ranger, 1786 edition, online

“The economy of prostitution in the Roman World”, by Thomas A. McGinn, 2004

“Behind the happy face of the Swedish anti-prostitution law”, by Dr. Laura Agustin, April 7, 2010, online

“Why sex workers are disappearing from our streets”, by Megan Palin, news.com.au. August 20, 2017

“Casanova: Actor, Lover, Priest, Spy”, by Ian Kelly, 2011