f Hotel Street DurinWhen most people hear the word “prostitute”, they immediately envision a person who is a disease-ridden imbecile of society. However, if one researches the statistics and personal recollections of prostitutes, they will find that they may be very moral and great women. The reflection that Beth Bailey and David Farber recall in the essay called Prostitutes on Strike: The Women of Hotel Street During WW II shows what the prostitutes were actually like in the 1940’s. In several cases of the women in Hawaii during World War II, their compassion is shown through their cooperation with organizations and with the public. Many of the things that they did, however, were not entirely as moral as they seem to appear to be. The events associated with the prostitutes that stayed in Hawaii during WWII can be thought of as both ethical and unethical, but nonetheless, they fought a war of their own to keep their occupations and ways of life.
Prostitutes in Hawaii thrived with business during the times surrounding the War to End All Wars. With the growth of men passing through the area on leave, grew the business of the prostitutes of the time. The brothels that the prostitutes worked in were aimed at the servicemen during the war. The men were lined up outside the buildings for sometimes hours at end, in front of everyone to see. On top of that, the women at the door would sometimes reject a man who they did not trust, or even those who appeared drunk. The brothels also brought peace to the area; if a man needed to fill a sexual desire, the use of a prostitute would prevent a rape or sexual assault from happening (432).
The status quo for prostitutes in Hawaii changed dramatically after the attack on Pearl Harbor. When they went to volunteer at hospitals to aid the wounded, many were turned down, due to fear of infection. Some women did what they could to help, even going as far to transform the brothels into living quarters for the wounded. Since their rooms were occupied, the prostitutes were forced into the street. Soon after, they discovered that they could buy or lease houses and resume business as normal. Weeks later, after the wounded soldiers moved out, the prostitutes wished to continue living down by the beautiful beaches where they could continue their business, and live in secrecy as well. With their collected money, some women started throwing large parties and showing up in more respectable places. As their presence in public places grew, there seemed to be a threat of hierarchical imbalance between the role of prostitutes and the politics and economy after the war.
Prostitutes had several techniques to keep their business high and in demand. By segregating between colored entrances and white areas, more customers were attracted. The white soldiers or sailors were charged less than the colored men. Many of the white men were from the southern contiguous United States, who grew up with racist beliefs (433). Eventually there were so many Caucasian men lining up at the doors as they had to transform the colored entrance into a white one. That meant that colored men would no longer be served. Colored men had to go to other brothels or pay higher prices. The dirty business of a prostitute also was high, due to the higher-classed women of society who didn’t want to be associated with their impure ways.
The financial income of a prostitute was amazingly high, and so were the risks of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Upon getting a license to be a prostitute, a woman would have to pay one dollar per year. However, a woman could make $30,000-$40,000 a year, when the average working woman’s income was considered high if it surpassed $2,000. The managers of the facility took in even more money, between $150,000 and $450,000 every year (438). However, the risk of STDs had grown, so it was an awfully harsh trade-off.
Although prostitutes had to struggle to maintain their way of life, they succeeded both financially and with business. But after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the occupations of hundreds of prostitutes were in jeopardy. However, they still managed to overcome the obstacles that were placed on them. Even worse than the issues that they had to overcome were the public’s negative opinion of them and the considerably high risk of STDs. However, after the strike, the prostitutes made the money they wanted and had no ambition to try to open up the brothels again. This benefited the military and police, as well as the women, who had little to complain about. They had gotten their money, and no longer had to worry about STDs after they retired as prostitutes.
Bailey, Beth, and David Farber. “Prostitutes on Strike: The Women of Hotel Street During WWII.” Women’s America: Refocusing the Past. Ed. Linda K. Kerber. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995. 431-440.