[Ads-l] Antedating "Red Light District" - and a possible explanation of the red light

MULLINS, WILLIAM D (Bill) CIV USARMY RDECOM AMRDEC (US) william.d.mullins18.civ at MAIL.MIL
Mon Dec 4 16:02:17 EST 2017


Of possible relevance, found while searching for "red light house":

_Galveston [TX] Daily News_ 4/11/1878 p 1 col 4
"The cowboys made things lively last night, firing off their six-shooters at the Waco Tap and Red Light houses of prostitution."

And more directly on point:

Chicago _Inter-Ocean_ 11/22/1884 p 6 col 3
"It is charged that Mr. Kirchoff was a frequent visitor of Mrs. Field's red-light house on Fourth avenue, which led to the filing of this suit" 
[article about a divorce proceeding]




> 
> I've found several citations that antedate the earliest use I've seen listed elsewhere.  The "red light" appears to have been a legacy of red
> lights used to designate oyster saloons, which were notorious dens of vice and prostitution.
> 
> 
> Wikipedia places the earliest use of "red light district" in a Sandusky, Ohio newspaper in 1894.  It does not provide a citation, but there was
> an article about restricting the Salvation Army's activities to the "red light district" on Green Street in Louisville, Kentucky in the Sandusky
> Register, December 13, 1894, page 2.
> 
> 
> Barry Popik's site has an earliest use in September 1896, from the Wheeling (West Virginia) Register, in an article about a murder-suicide in
> the "red-light district" on Green Street of Louisville, Kentucky.
> 
> 
> I've found several earlier examples, all related to the "red-light district" in Louisville.  The earliest is from August, 1893, in a story about two
> murders commited by the ne'er-do-well brother of a former US Ambassador to Ecuador.
> 
> 
> “Finally the funds gave out and the landlord would no longer trust them, so Wing took his young wife to the bordello of Madam Mertie
> Edwards, on West Green street, the red-light district of Louisville.  There he lived off her shame and loafed."
> 
> 
> Cincinnati Enquirer, August 21, 1893, page 1.
> 
> 
> The expression appears down-river in St. Louis in Novemer 1895, further down river in New Orleans in 1897, and then further out west in
> Missoula, Montana, San Antonio, Texas and Perry, Oklahoma in early 1898.  The expression was in use in New York City by late-1898.
> 
> 
> The two standard origin stories speculated that the red light came either from railroad workers hanging up their red lanterns outside the
> brothel so they could be found in an emergency, or from "The Red Light Saloon" in Dodge City, Kansas.  Railroad workers did carry red
> lanterns and there were any number of saloons called the "Red Light" across the entire US, including several in Kansas, but I think there is an
> alternate explanation.
> 
> 
> I think that the red light on brothels was an extention of red lights long used to designate oyster saloons.  There are references to
> prostitution and other vices being practiced in oyster saloons as early as the 1820s.  There are references to "showy lamps" and "colored
> lanterns" in front of oyster houses in the 1840s and 1850s, and frequent references to "red lights" of the oyster saloons in the ensuing
> decades.
> 
> 
> Red lights were so closely associated with oyster saloons by the mid 1870s that one writer wrote a piece about the supposed origin of the
> lights:
> 
> 
> "The reason why oyster saloons are designated by a red light is said to be that in ancient times oystermen had portable furnaces before
> their booths upon which they cooked the bivalves for their customers.  The light of these furnaces when seen at a distance in the night
> appeared to be red, and indicated to the public that the oystermen were ready for business.  When these furnaces fell into disuse, and the
> cooking was done indoors, the red light was still hung out to let the people know that cooked oysters could still be had."
> 
> National Republican, October 14, 1876, page 1.
> 
> 
> Whether or not that story is actually true with respect to the use of red lights at oyster houses, the widespread evidence of the use of red
> lights at oyster saloons, and the deep and long association of oyster houses with prostitution, suggest that the red lights of the oyster
> houses was the source of the practice of using red lights to designate brothels.
> 
> 


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