Writers and historians Ivy Anderson and Devon Angus are set to discuss and explore the history of sex work via the Jefferson County Historical Society’s upcoming First Friday Speaker …
Writers and historians Ivy Anderson and Devon Angus are set to discuss and explore the history of sex work via the Jefferson County Historical Society’s upcoming First Friday Speaker Series.
The two presenters will discuss their 2016 book, “Alice: Memoirs of a Barbary Coast Prostitute,” which covers the ghostwritten memoir of a San Francisco, California-based escort in the early 1900s who went by the moniker of Alice Smith. The text also includes a selection of letters responding to Smith’s story.
Anderson and Angus will explore the themes in Alice’s story that extend to issues facing sex workers today, share thoughts about shifting ideas of gender roles, and discuss newly uncovered research about Alice herself and the history of sex work in Washington state.
The Author Talk is set for 7 p.m. Friday, May 5 at the Northwest Maritime Center. There is a $10 suggested donation, and interested parties can register to attend at simpletix.com/e/first-friday-author-talk-with-ivy-anderson-tickets-129524.
The program will be offered in-person (capacity limited to 75) and by live stream. A recording of the program will be sent to all registered attendees afterwards.
In 1913, the San Francisco Bulletin published a serialized, ghostwritten memoir of Alice Smith, titled “A Voice from the Underworld.”
The memoir detailed Smith’s humble Midwestern upbringing and her struggle to find aboveboard work, and candidly related the harrowing events she endured after entering the life.
While prostitute narratives had been published before, never had they been as frank in their discussion of the underworld, including topics such as abortion, police corruption, and the unwritten laws of the brothel.
“A Voice From the Underworld” describes Smith’s time in the Barbary Coast, a 19th and 20th century red-light district located in the modern-day, downtown San Francisco area.
Throughout the series, Smith strongly criticized the society that failed her and so many other women, but, just as acutely, she longed to be welcomed back from the margins.
The response to Alice’s story was unprecedented: 4,000 letters poured into the Bulletin. Many of those letters were written by other prostitutes ready to share their own stories, and it inspired what may have been the first sex worker rights protest in modern history.
Co-author and co-editor Anderson is a queer writer, historian, activist, and performance artist. Angus, co-author and co-editor, is a writer, historian, actor, and musician.
Together, the two discovered the memoirs of the sex worker from Progressive Era San Francisco (mid 19th century), which led to co-writing and editing “Alice: Memoirs of a Barbary Coast Prostitute.”
The historical text won the 2015 California Historical Society Book Award, and the two have spoken publicly throughout the country on the history of sex workers’ rights movements and research tools for non-academics.
Their previous work and research includes: the protest-performance piece “100 Years of the Sex Workers’ Rights Movement” for the Tenderloin Museum; “Policing Heteronormativity: Gender and Gentrification in Early San Francisco” in residence at the Prelinger Library in 2017; and “Life on the Line: The Myth and Reality of Sex Work in Early 20th Century California” at the National Steinbeck Festival in 2018.
The two are working on a second book examining Progressive-Era prison reform and abolition movements organized by prisoners in San Quentin and Folsom prisons in California, and are adapting “Alice” into a feature-length screenplay.