Gold Diggers and Silver Miners

Prostitution and Social Life on the Comstock Lode
Marion S. Goldman
A study of prostitution in 19th-century Virginia City


In 1859 high grade silver bullion was discovered on the Comstock Lode. In a twinkling, Virginia City was transformed into a brawling boom town perched on a mountain of silver. Twenty years later it virtually disappeared, leaving behind played-out mines, tumbled-down shanties, and memories of those who sought their fortunes on the lode.

The fortune seekers were many: miners and madams, confidence men and dance hall girls. The fast life was as stratified as any proper community, ranging from expensively kept women to prostitutes living in cribs. Laura Fair, an elite member of the demimonde, shot her protector and, after a spectacular trial, retired to live modestly in San Francisco. Jessie Lester made a small fortune as a madam while middle rank prostitutes such as Julia Bulette died in debt. At the lowest end of the scale were "celestial damsels," nameless slave women brought from China to minister to the needs of Chinese workers. Chronicling it all was the cynical and lascivious pen of Alf Doten, writer, editor, and bon vivant.

In Gold Diggers and Silver Miners , sociologist Marion S. Goldman provides a detailed account of prostitution on the Comstock Lode. By considering sexual commerce in a community limited in space and time, she explores general relationships between prostitution and society, shedding light on sociological questions of importance today.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 1
Material Life on the Comstock Lode 11
Womens Work and Ladies Leisure Marriage on the Comstock 38
First Impressions An Overview of the Bawdy Districts 57
Stratification in the Fast Life 73
Friends and Enemies 100
Hazards of the Game 124
Separating Good Women and Bad Sexual Ideology Custom and Law 136
Lessons from the Lode Theoretical Considerations 152

Appendix 169
Notes 179
Selected Bibliography 205
Index 211

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 248pp.
  • photographs, maps.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Paper
  • 1981
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-06332-1

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  • $24.95 U.S.