Philly Brothels: 1849 and Now

Slate recently uncovered an 1849 guide to Philly brothels. What's become of our celebrated houses of ill repute?

Last month, Slate‘s Rebecca Onion unearthed pure gold from the depths of the Library Company of Philadelphia‘s digital stacks. Guide to the Stranger or Pocket Companion for the Fancy is essentially a personal review of every brothel in the city worth mentioning circa 1849. The gentleman who compiled this data was pretty much the Roger Ebert of mid-19th century Philly whorehouses.

Addresses are listed for several of the brothels. So, as maturely as possible, let’s find out what’s become of these properties. Besides, how much can change in 165 years?

Miss Josephine Somers
No. 4 Wood Street, Near Eleventh Street


This is indeed a Temple of Venus, and we do most sincerely assure our readers that Miss Josephine is an accomplished lady. You can spend an evening here with great pleasure; the young ladies are all beautiful, accomplished and bewitching … Go one, go all, and you will be pleased.


Sang Yick Food Co1022 Wood Street

This is indeed a tofu manufacturing plant adjacent to a parking lot. While you can still hypothetically spend an evening here, it will most likely no longer be with great pleasure. Or with beautiful and bewitching young ladies. However, the modern wayfarer who chooses to park in the lot can still get royally screwed by Lew Blum Towing.


Mrs. Rachel Jackson
No. 19 Schriver’s Court, Eighth above Arch St.

This bed house has the reputation of being A No. 1, in a point of cleanliness, quietness and privacy. Great resort for married ladies.


PennDOT, 801 Arch Street

This plot of land is now home to a PennDot, where every Pennsylvanian’s peace of mind goes to die. Take a number, take a seat, and wait in cramped quarters among a thick haze of cough clouds and sneeze mist. Odds are, you’re more likely to leave with a disease or infection than you would have been in 1849.


Mrs. Hamilton
No. 152 Locust St., between Tenth and Eleventh


This woman has been long enough at the accommodation of single gentlemen and their wives, that she has grown bald and toothless in the service. Beware of this house, stranger, as you would the sting of a viper.


Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches, 21 South 11th Street

This franchise hoagie joint has been long at the accommodation of hungry Thomas Jefferson University nursing students. Today, Jimmy John’s patrons leave with bellies full of meat they’ve just purchased. Back in the day, though, Mrs. Hamilton’s patrons would pay to bring their own meat into the establishment. In a bit of delicious turnabout, Jimmy John’s is served where many johns’ jimmies were once serviced.


Mary Spicer
No. 387 Race Street, above 11th


This woman has been well known for years as a keeper of a house of ill-fame. The house is well furnished and the girls dress well, but the stranger and wayfaring man must not be deceived by appearances. Remember the whitened [sic] sepulchre, and keep aloof.


Pennsylvania Convention Center, Northeast Corner, 11th and Race Streets

If you happen to be at the Convention Center for Wizard World, not a lot has changed. Moving on.


Mrs. O’Niel
Pine Street, near Twelfth Street


This lady is the mistress of an elegant house. There are none better. At one time she was a splendid woman, and in point of accomplishments and education she was indeed a Queen. Though somewhat advanced in years, she still manages to make her Palace of Love attractive, and the resort of the best men in the community.


Pine Street Pizza, 1138 Pine Street

Arguably still a Palace of Love for Washington Square West residents. Probably no longer the resort of the best men in the community. Definitely haunted by the disquieted and forlorn spirit of Mrs. O’Niel.


In Willow Street, near Front, and in alleys leading therefrom


Houses of mean repute are numerous.


A plot of dirt under 95

Willow and Front no longer intersect — the cross street has been split by a shallow overpass. The reputation of this piece of land has seeped into the spirit of the interstate, though. Much like mentioning this strip of brothels in a social situation might have been, you can’t bring up 95 in conversation nowadays without provoking bitter grimaces and overwhelming feelings of frustration. To be honest, we were probably better off with a couple of harmless brothels in this section of the city than with the maddeningly tedious highway that has cut us off from the river.

 Follow @TonyAbraham on Twitter.