I started my research project on New York brothels not because I had a particular affinity with them, but because we had been reading articles on the subject in class and I found it interesting. In the course of my research I found myself becoming even more interested in these women who had chosen to live a life that we now imagine as being the last resort for the desperate. I felt that it was really important to give these women some agency, to imbue some humanity into them. I wanted to let these women be human, not just a female urinal or fancy china in a poorer district.
The best thing I came across while looking for sources was, unfortunately, something that turned out not to be useful for the final paper: The Gentlemen’s Directory. Following the link will lead you to the original article I read as well as access to a pdf of the book itself. The sorts of houses described in The Gentlemen’s Directory are unlikely to include the sort of brothel that was described in the Five Points District. The Directory is both advertising and an early form of Yelp, giving recommendations for where the gentleman from out of town might find some welcome entertainment.
Similar to the Five Points brothel is one found in Boston; also a sealed privy that had been found due to construction. Following the link leads to a video in which Mary Beaudry discusses some of the finds she and her students came across starting on 2008.
In trying to make these women more human, I found myself terrified to incorrectly present stories about their past. As the one presenting the life of another person, someone whom I have never known, I eventually was quite happy to help them be human rather than simply artifacts in a record.