Ashamedly, I shall go by the name of Scarlet, for I was born into a life of gentility and would loathe to disclose my Christian name. If it eases your conscious to disregard my feelings, I shall duly understand, because before finding myself in such dire circumstances, I too would've judged harshly a 'soiled dove'. A sequence of misfortunes befell me: the onset of the Civil War, death of my beloved husband, and loss of home. With no kin for aid, I turned in desperation to an advertisement of easy money, whereby I'd pose in my undergarments for photographs popularly circulated amongst the soldiers.
A local madam enticed me with an even more lucrative proposition, promising me her brothel, or men's club was frequented by only the most reputable gentlemen. It was not only my stomach aching with hunger and winter's freezing nights looming that led me further down that slippery slope of damnation, but also my utter sense of grief and despair.
My very livelihood was dependent upon the selling of my flesh, and I said and did whatever was necessary to survive. I cannot fully describe the numbness I felt, nor the horror of those debauched hours.
In truth, the term 'gentlemen' could not be applied to our patrons, and my downfall, both figuratively and literally came when one of them found sport in sending me down a flight of stairs. I survived the broken bones, but the scar inflicted upon my face dramatically lowered my saleability and I became a camp follower of the Union troops.
I ended up in Nashville's notorious Smokey Row, a Sodom where hookers skyrocketed with the war from two hundred to fifteen hundred. Syphilis and gonorrhea ran rampant and some believed it was our intent to spread the diseases to the enemy troops, but I can say with painful truth, no woman knowingly takes on this plague.
When I thought it couldn't get worse, Lt. Col. George Spalding, in an attempt to clean up the city, forced me, along with other 'public women', to board the steamboat, Idaho. We were sent to Louisville, but not allowed off the ship, and so sailed onto Cincinnati. Starving and ill, we eventually returned to Nashville, whereupon the well-intentioned colonel began regulating prostitution. We were medically examined weekly, licensed, and taxed, lest we find ourselves hospitalized or in the workhouse.
I wish I could tell you I eventually found a life of redemption or a moment's peace, but my life ended in beggary and violence in the gutter, I called home. Pray do not look upon me as a faceless statistic, but rather take me to your bosom as Sister, Daughter, and Mother, and stop the exploitation of women that continues to this day.