In the old west, it appears that prostitution was a viable means of making a living, Perfectly legal, or at least not prosecuted.

What was the status of prostitution in more established states in the east? At what point did it become illegal, in the west and why?

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    Right after they started marrying them. Oct 20, 2014 at 15:12
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    @TylerDurden "Right after they started marring them." There is either profound insight in that statement (palaeolithic social transition for example); or a backhanded misogyny. No idea which. Oct 22, 2014 at 6:25
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    VtC as trivial - @Yannis provided the answer from WIkipedia, which is one of the definitions of trivial.
    – MCW
    Aug 10, 2017 at 13:13

3 Answers 3


In the United States, prostitution has usually been illegal everywhere, with very few exceptions. The bawdy houses you see in movies only existed in mining boom towns and places where enforcement was lax, such as places with large amounts of foreign immigrants. As an example of the laws which were more or less similar throughout the country, here is the relevant act from the Consolidated Laws of Kansas, 1879:

(788) § 50. Sec. 49. The city council shall have power to enact ordinances to restrain, prohibit and suppress tippling shops, billiard tables, — bowling alleys, houses of prostitution and other disorderly houses and practices, games and gambling houses, desecrations of the Sabbath day, commonly called Sunday, and all kinds of public indecencies. No license shall ever be granted for any house of prostitution, or for any gambling house, gambling device, game of chance, or any disorderly house or practice; and no city officer shall accept or receive any hush money, or any money or valuable thing, from any person or persons engaged in any such business or practice, nor grant any immunity or protection against a rigid enforcement of the laws and ordinances enacted to restrain, prohibit and suppress any such business or practice.

As you can see from the law, it was a common practice to bribe officials to overlook the laws.


It never was illegal nationally, and is still legal in some jurisdictions in Nevada. Here in Seattle it was legal until 1911; not coincidentally, women got the franchise in Seattle in 1910. Around the same time the Mann Act made it a federal crime to to 'transport women across state lines for immoral purposes.' However in the pre-FBI days the federal government's power to investigate or enforce these laws was very limited.

  • "Here in Seattle it was legal until 1911; not coincidentally, women got the franchise in Seattle in 1910." are you implying that it was made legal to appease all the woman who were suddenly able to vote - or that there was a candidate who was voted (and elected) for largely by woman which expressed plans to abolish prostitution?
    – user45891
    Oct 22, 2014 at 15:19

It is based on state law not federal. As Tyler said it is legal in a few counties in Nevada, but illegal in other states. It is only legal in a professional manner such as a brothel. As of now no such brothel exists legally in the United States.

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    Sources to support your assertions would greatly improve this answer. Aug 10, 2017 at 12:47
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    This seems to cover the current situation more than the history of its legality in the US.
    – Steve Bird
    Aug 10, 2017 at 13:31

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