“A Typical Scene on the Bowery”: Class, Gender, and Public Space, ca. 1900

At the turn of the century, New York’s Bowery was a tenement district populated largely by immigrants and littered with saloons, dime museums, tattoo parlors, and various kinds of theaters catering to a lower-class economy. The 1880 U.S. Census depicted a New York divided into clearly identifiable entertainment districts. “Legitimate” playhouses, for instance, were located primarily in affluent sections of the city and excluded undesirable patrons by charging premium prices (about $1). Vaudeville, minstrel shows, and lower-class theaters charged only 25¢. Even cheaper were saloons and beer gardens (about 7,000 of them) that catered primarily though not exclusively to men. Only men ventured into publicly tolerated vice districts, where they could purchase illicit sex and related forms of entertainment.

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