Streetwalkers: Frequent Targets of the Gendarmerie

Literary Representations
Lorettes and society

Lower Class Prostitutes and the Law
Representations in Les Miserables
Realities of Authority in Paris
Brothels and Streetwalkers

The Privileged Class: Courtesans

Defining the courtesan
Visual representations
Courtesans in reality




Unregistered Prostitutes and Authority

"Prostitution began around 2 A.M. around Les Halles and the rue de Venise. This quarter was then the area worked by the dregs of the prostitutes in the center of the capital. They roamed around the vegetable sellers' carts, sold themselves for fifty centimes or one franc, and 'accepted anything, even payments in kind, cabbages, carrots, whatever vegetables the tradesmen were selling in the nearby streets.'"

This image courtesy of
Here we see a streetwalker being approached by a man, possibly a client. She seems disgusted with him, telling him to "go tell your mother that you need your nose wiped", implying that he's not much of a man. What could have happened here for her to be so disgusted by him and harsh towards him? Perhaps he is harassing her. He appears to be a member of the bourgeoisie,judging from the way he is dressed, therefore it is completely plausible that he is looking down on her a whore with no class and no morals. Streetwalkers often found themselves on the defense, due to the nature of men's attacks on them.


The majority of unregistered prostitutes (unlike the registered prostitutes in the brothel) worked without the help of a mistress/Madame. This is significant because the madames brought clients to the prostitutes and saw the first profit from the business. Streetwalkers were forced to approach prospective clients themselves and sell themselves as a commodity to them. The approach varied from woman to woman. "'Are you going to make me rich?' was the usual formula for approaching a client. Some prostitutes were not afraid to grab a man by his sleeve and cling to him, even yelling insults at him if he refused their attentions."

The police in Paris were always on the lookout for these unregistered prostitutes. Unlike the prostitutes in the brothels, the police authorities did not have a list of which prostitutes worked which streets or arrondissements. After regulations specifically geared towards unregistered prostitutes were passed by the July Monarchy in 1822, streetwalkers found themselves constantly having to evade police authority (although, to a great extent they had been doing this for years before the regulations were passes, given the nature of their profession.). At any rate, streetwalkers made their living despite the constant threat of arrest. Undoubtedly, commissaires found themselves with their hands full, being the local authorities who dealt specifically with prostitution, with not only keeping the brothels in check, but also constantly on the lookout for unregistered prostitutes.


After 1850, the brothels became less and less significant as Paris grew in size. Likewise, the unregistered street prostitutes became more spread out, perhaps making it much more difficult for police to locate where streetwalkers roamed the streets looking for clients. The difference between soliciting prostitute and the lorette was that the lorette, like the courtesan, was a kept woman.
It is important to note that the streetwalker was in her profession for a reason. This was not a desirable lifestyle choice, but rather something women were usually forced into for any number of circumstances. It is even more important to note that it was next to impossible for these women to become courtesans. Women who became courtesans usually already held jobs (usually in shops) and were looking for financial security. "Conversations in the workshop, the example of older women, and rivalries and jealousies soon persuaded the young apprentice to find herself a bourgeois lover...". The main point is that it was not rivalries and jealousy that motivated the streetwalker, but necessity.

Click here to find out why women became lower class prostitutes!