Immediately following the announcement of Alice Smith's story in the San Francisco Bulletin, a flurry of letters to the editor poured in before the first installment of a "A Voice from the Underworld" even ran. Eventually over 4,000 letters were sent into the paper, with nearly 300 of them published alongside the serialized memoir. Clubwomen, clergymen, bankers, laborers, anarchists, house wives, philosophers, vigilantes, and social scientists all wrote in to the paper, eager to give their two cents on the "prostitution problem" that had riveted the Golden State. What made the Bulletin stand out from its rival papers was the inclusion of the voices of sex workers in the letters to the editor; all in all nearly half were written by sex workers or working class women who were contemplating sex work. While we were only able to publish twelve of the letters in Alice: Memoirs of a Barbary Coast Prostitute, we long planned to publish online the letters that we were unable to include in the manuscript.
The following text comes from a brothel piano player. Jeane Heriot, as she calls herself, reveals in her letter some common linkages between sex workers in the brothel system and working class women who were employed in non-sex work jobs in vice districts like San Francisco's Barbary Coast. For a woman, simply working in a brothel, regardless of the work itself, created enough of a societal stigma to deem her as "fallen" as the sex workers themselves. Her struggles to find work, leading to her "downfall" as a brothel musician, echo Alice Smith and so many of the letter writers who called for economic justice for working class, single women. The reliance on a husband to merely survive economically was a constant concern for those who wrote into the Bulletin; anarchist Emma Goldman, who gave a speech on "A Voice from the Underworld" in San Francisco in 1913, gave voice to their sentiment when she questioned whether marriage for convenience was nothing more than another form of prostitution.
June 18th, 1913
Editor Bulletin: I am glad that we are about to hear from the lower strata, as the world terms it, for 99 per cent of the inmates of “sporting” houses are there by the act of “someone.” I can speak (but do not want my name made public). Most of the girls are wives, sweethearts or widows of some creature misnamed “man.” Circumstances compelled me, who had no knowledge of hard labor (being a book-keeper) to play piano in one of the red light houses for two summer seasons, and the stigma spoiled my whole life thereafter. The first time I went to fill an engagement the horror of the idea compelled me to leave on the morning of the third day, but being desperately in need it was either do that or suicide; so, the following year, after efforts to procure employment, I was glad to go once more. I met my husband there, married him, for my life was made a hell on account of where I met him, although I became a hard working woman and toiled early and late to fulfill the arduous duties of a rural life.
I am now an old woman, and I pity all those who had only two alternatives, suicide or red light, or bear abuse and neglect.
I knew a wife of a real estate man of this city who said the only good time she ever had in her life was after becoming a “sporting” woman. Her husband neglected his home and beautiful children for his stenographer affinity. Until nearly distracted, the wife went astray to feed her children. Afterward she put them in a school and had a house herself.
Another married woman who was abused by her husband tried, like myself, “most everything.” We even thought of going to pick hops. Then finally she drifted to Nome, where I lost track of her—and she was a good woman. We both tried so hard.
I am a subscriber to the Bulletin, but will only give a nom de plume. Yours faithfully,