The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 86, July 1982 - April, 1983

Prostitution and Public Policy
in Austin, Texas, 1870-1915
DAVID C. HUMPHREY*
O N A JANUARY MORNING IN 1877, THIRTY-SEVEN-YEAR-OLD FANNY
Kelley, proprietress of a "high-toned bagnio" in Austin's Guy
Town, stood before the mayor's court charged with keeping a house
of ill-fame. The city attorney called to the witness stand Officer Shee-
han of the city police force. Please tell the court where Fanny Kelley's
house is located, requested the attorney. "Now what are you after ask-
ing me such a question as that for?" snapped back Sheehan. "Yerself
and every man on that jury know as well as meself where Fanny Kel-
ley's is, and yeve all been thar often."'
In 1877 Austinites responded to prostitution in contradictory ways,
keeping it legally beyond the pale yet also patronizing the town's
"soiled doves." But how did the citizenry actually view prostitution
and how did the city fathers deal with it-not just in 1877 but over a
period of several decades? What, indeed, was the nature of prostitu-
tion in the town? The same questions might be asked of dozens of
modest-sized American cities, within which prostitution has been en-
demic in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but the answers are
no less obscure for most of those communities than they are for Aus-
tin. The few serious historical studies of prostitution in the United
States focus mainly on national themes and on a handful of major cit-
ies and frontier towns, while virtually ignoring the South except for
New Orleans. The consequences are evident in the thin entry on pros-
titution in the recently published Encyclopedia of Southern History,
the author of which could find little secondary literature to summar-
ize. This essay provides for the first time in print a detailed examina-
tion of prostitution in a southwestern city during the late nineteenth
*David C. Humphrey is an archivist at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library. He would
like to thank Audray Bateman, Debbie West, Mae Schmidt, Mary Jo Cooper, Frances
Moore, Kathleen Sykes, Linda Zezulka, Karen Warren, and the other staff members of
the Austin-Travis County Collection, Austin Public Library, for providing such able and
friendly assistance during the past four yeai s.
1Austin Daily Democratic Statesman, Jan. 24, 1887 (second and third quotations);
Austin Daily Statesman, July ao, 1882 (first quotation).

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 86, July 1982 - April, 1983. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101209/. Accessed September 22, 2014.