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Book Talk with Ivy Anderson & Devon Angus

Join Ivy Anderson and Devon Angus as they discuss Alice: Memoirs of a Barbary Coast Prostitute, winner of the 2015 California Historical Society Book Award.  Alice brings to light for the first time in over 100 years, and for the first time in book form, the memoirs of a San Francisco sex worker who published under the name of Alice Smith. Her fascinating and timely story was serialized in one of San Francisco’s leading daily newspapers, the San Francisco Bulletin, in 1913. Her memoir touched upon several pressing issues of the day, including sex worker rights, the power and direction of the the budding feminist movements of early California, abortion rights, and the force of the media in swaying public opinion. Her story was a controversial yet dazzling success for the paper, garnering over 4,000 letters to the editor of which nearly 300 were printed, with a third of those written by sex workers themselves. This phenomena made the San Francisco Bulletin the leading paper in California to represent the voices of sex workers during an era that sought to eradicate vice through closing down the brothels that had flourished since the days of the Gold Rush. The publication of Alice Smith’s memoirs eventually led to the first organized sex worker rights march and protest in modern U.S. history in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district in 1917. 

This is  an important work to revisit today, linking the struggles of women in the Progressive Era to powerful contemporary feminist movements, especially considering the recent political climate. Alice: Memoirs of a Barbary Coast Prostitute brings to light this lost piece of California history with the hope that it can inform our current social and political struggles.

 

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