The collected memoirs of a 1913 San Francisco sex worker, their effect on society at the time, and where they fit in today’s world.
In 1913 the San Francisco Bulletin published a serialized, ghostwritten memoir of a prostitute who went by Alice Smith. “A Voice from the Underworld” detailed Alice's humble Midwestern upbringing and her struggle to find aboveboard work, and candidly related the harrowing events she endured after entering “the life.”
While prostitute narratives had been published before, never had they been as frank in their discussion of the underworld, including topics such as abortion, police corruption, and the unwritten laws of the brothel. Throughout the series, Alice strongly criticized the society that failed her and so many other women, but, just as acutely, she longed to be welcomed back from the margins. The response to Alice's story was unprecedented: four thousand letters poured into the Bulletin, many of which were written by other prostitutes ready to share their own stories; and it inspired what may have been the first sex worker rights protest in modern history.
An introduction contextualizes “A Voice from the Underworld” amid Progressive Era sensationalistic journalism and shifting ideas of gender roles, and reveals themes in Alice's story that extend to issues facing sex workers today.
Winner of the California Historical Society Book Award
“Essential reading for anyone interested in the rich history of sexual commerce in the United States.”—Gretchen Soderlund, author of Sex Trafficking, Scandal, and the Transformation of Journalism, 1885-1917
“Not only for Bay Area history buffs, Alice will enlighten all readers to early shifts in gender roles and societal correlations today.”—Cassie Duggan, Literary Hub