For twenty years Josie Washburn lived and worked in houses of prostitution. She spent the last twelve as the madam of a moderately fancy brothel in Lincoln, Nebraska. After retiring in 1907 and moving to Omaha, she turned to throwing a searchlight on the underworld, including the cribs of Nebraskas largest city. The Underworld Sewer, based on her own experience in the profession, blazes with a kind of honesty unavailable to more conventional moral reformers.
Originally published in 1909, The Underworld Sewer asks why the social evil is universally considered necessary or inevitable. Washburn minces no words in exposing the conditions that perpetuate prostitution: the greed and graft of landlords, pimps, alcohol vendors, dope dealers, police officers, city administrators, and politicians; the competition for circulation by sensation-seeking newspapers; the indifference or intolerance of law-abiding, church-going citizens; the false modesty that prevents family discussion of venereal disease; the double standard that allows men to indulge their sexuality but punishes women who do so.