In Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, "ladies of negotiable affection" are referred to as "Seamstresses", and are part of the "Seamstresses' Guild", despite not necessarily knowing how to mend clothes.

Pratchett's works often directly reference real historical events and phrases, so I was curious if this one was as well. The "L Space" Pratchett Wiki states in the article on the Seamstresses' Guild:

Also, during Seattle's earlier days, brothels were illegal, so prostitutes would list their jobs as "Seamstresses" when the cops came calling. During a period of minimal city revenues, it was required that Seattle prostitutes possess a "Seamstress license," and these fees became a major source of revenue for the city.

However, it doesn't cite any sources. I searched around the net, and came up with this Wikipedia article about Madame Lou Graham, which doesn't actually mention anything about "seamstresses", despite what this Scrapbook post says. This Seattle Met story on the history of prostitution doesn't mention anything about it.

Is this statement about Seattle prostitutes calling themselves "seamstresses" accurate? If not, are there historical cases of the term being used in this way?

  • 1
    See this duplicate on a different site: english.stackexchange.com/questions/348396/… Sep 5, 2023 at 1:05
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    I cannot find anything in publications of the time corroborating the "seamstress" story. Seattle was a major hub of prostitution and human trafficking and city government benefited financially. Importing Women for Immoral Purposes, Senate document No. 196, 61st Congress, Washington, DC: 1909, p. 31: "During the month of October 1908 over $5,000 was paid into the police fund in Seattle Wash, as fines by prostitute women -- each woman being fined $10 a month."
    – njuffa
    Sep 5, 2023 at 4:30
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    Prostitutes calling themselves seamstresses is a very old trope and not limited to Seattle! In Shakespeare's Henry V the pub landlady Mistress Quickly says "We cannot lodge and board a dozen or fourteen gentlewomen that live honestly by the prick of their needles but it will be thought we keep a bawdy house straight." Sep 5, 2023 at 8:22


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