Exploring the history of Phoenix, Arizona and a little bit of Los Angeles and San Francisco, California.

The history of Phoenix, Arizona, including prostitutes

My interest in the history of Phoenix, Arizona has lately got me thinking about prostitutes. And since a city is made up of all of the people who live there, to fully understand Phoenix, you have to include these people.

Recently, while out history adventuring with a friend of mine, as we drove along looking at historic buildings, I saw someone who looked like a prostitute. Now waitaminute, I'm not saying that she was, but her clothing wasn't exactly typical for a young woman walking around Phoenix. I'm no expert on women's fashions in the 21st Century, but everything from her vinyl-looking miniskirt to a tube top that probably should have been several sizes larger, seemed to express "prostitute".

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As respectable middle-aged guys, of course, we turned our eyes away. Then I looked again. I wondered how old she was? Maybe 20s, maybe 30s? And then I thought that she's someone's daughter, someone who lives in Phoenix, someone who works there.

There have been thousands of people in Phoenix who have been prostitutes. When I first moved to Phoenix, people who mentioned Van Buren were tacitly implying prostitution. I don't know if that's true anymore, but I still hesitate to say Van Buren too loudly out in public.

Female Boarding buildings on Melinda's Alley in 1893. 1st Street (Montezuma) between Monroe and Adams, Phoenix, Arizona. From a Sanborn map.

The original "Red Light District" - which is where the prostitutes were - in Phoenix was Melinda's Alley, which was an alley that ran east and west between Monroe and Adams. The prostitutes were mostly in the area around 1st Street. And there were a lot of them - so many that if you look at old Sanborn fire insurance maps, you will see the buildings described (rather neatly) as "Female Boarding".

So, the next time someone tells you about an area that had prostitutes, you can say, "Yeah, I know, it's part of the history of Phoenix".

Image at the top of this post: Looking northeast over Melinda's Alley in the 1890s, 1st Street just south of Monroe, Phoenix, Arizona. The long L-shaped building is where the prostitutes were.