Posted on 24/03/2022 By God

First courtesans in Buenos Aires in the XNUMXth century

In 1870 and following years, the importation of European women destined for the brothels of Buenos Aires intensified.

At that time certain areas of the city of Buenos Aires, which today are absolutely central, were remote and dangerous suburbs. Due to the fact that what used to be the corner of Temple (Víamonte) and Suipacha, used to become, on rainy days, an impassable fluvial barrier since the passage of carts caused a difference in level of more than half a meter between the street and the sidewalk and that, in addition, the old bed of the Tercero del Medio ran through there, one of the streams of the city that flow into the nearby coast of the river, in 1867 the neighbors raised a note to the Municipality requesting the installation of a rotating bridge , similar to the one installed in Esmeralda crossing Córdoba. The cost was 6.000 pesos and their urgency was such that they promised to collaborate with 4.000.


Once installed and since there were more than a dozen houses of prostitution in a hundred meters radius, the bridge began to be popularly known as "Bridge of Sighs"
The city of Buenos Aires was an important center of this ancient trade, known in the main European countries, from where its officiants came, to stay in the city or distribute themselves in its territory or in neighboring countries. It was a fact that no government ignored or could effectively regulate.

The buying and selling of European women for their exploitation in the brothels of Buenos Aires, the clandestine traffic and the arrival of these young women who, aware or not of their future, were seduced with the certain promise of living in one of the most prosperous cities of those days, it was for many an inexhaustible source of economic income.


By the mid-1870s, Buenos Aires was a bustling city of about 200.000 inhabitants. Until then, prostitution had been considered a minor problem.
The authority exercised its power in a discretionary way, and any woman suspected of licentiousness could be imprisoned or sent to the frontier to serve the needs of the troops.
The increasing immigration, and the large number of single foreigners who arrived in the city, made it essential to search for a means of social control that would also contain the development of venereal diseases.

For this reason, on January 5, 1875, the regulatory ordinance on prostitution was issued.
The casinos and confectioneries where prostitution was practiced, which until then had operated by authorization of the municipal president, had to register or they would be closed.
The registry included an annual patent of 10.000 pesos m/c per establishment and 100 pesos m/c for each prostitute. Many chose to go underground.


The new houses of tolerance should be less than two blocks from temples, theaters or schools (art. 5).
Be managed exclusively by women (art. 3).

These regents had to keep a book in which the personal data of the women who worked in the house were written down (article 13).
On Wednesdays and Saturdays, a doctor would inspect all the prostitutes, writing down the results in the book and submitting a part of them to the Municipality. If the prostitute fell ill with syphilis, she had to be cared for at home by the landlady, and only in advanced cases were they referred to the hospital (articles 15, 17 and 18).


This differentiation between the stages of development of the disease and the field of treatment caused many women to continue working even when they were ill. With reckless speed, women who had been diagnosed with venereal ulcerations the previous month were discharged as cured.


Others, such as Juana Harr or Ida Bartac, were unable to offer their services since they appeared as venereal patients both in the books and in the medical reports.
This did not prevent the former from continuing to prostitute herself until she became pregnant five months after her illness was diagnosed, and the latter from doing the same, but after appearing eighteen consecutive months as a syphilitic patient.

The regulation, which suffered from many defects and in most cases was not respected, continued to order that prostitutes must be over 18 years of age, unless they prove that before that age they had given themselves up to prostitution (art. 9). This article contradicted the Civil Code, which gave the age of majority at 22 years.


The inconsistency reached the point of allowing them the sexual trade, but it denied them the possibility of marrying without the consent of their parents.
The white traffickers (they were called that because of the color of their skin) and the authorized houses were the biggest beneficiaries, since almost all the pupils who entered were minors. They could not be displayed on the street door, or in windows, or on balconies. They had to meet at the house two hours after sunset, and take a photograph with their data and those of the tolerance house where they worked (art. 10). These women were the ones who had to bear the greatest repressive weight on their freedoms.


The regulation, which facilitated and proposed their registration in the prostitution records, prevented them from leaving the brothel and the trade with the same ease. According to article 12: "Prostitutes who stop belonging to a house of prostitution will remain under police surveillance as long as they do not change their lifestyle...".

If they had escaped from their confinement, it would have been very difficult for them to dedicate themselves to another job, since to the persecution of the police it was necessary to add that "all those who knowingly admit in their private home or business as a tenant, guest, maid or worker any woman who engages in prostitution, will pay a fine of $1.000 m/o. Those who allow a prostitute to continue in her house three days after being warned by the authority will be considered knowing (art. 24).


This fact, added to the high patents and medical controls, caused Argentine, Spanish and Italian women, who until then had worked in the city's brothels, to prefer to continue their work clandestinely in bars, cigar shops and inns and that the foreigners from non-Latin countries, prostitutes or not in their native land, but more naive, unaware of the laws and the language, were led to the houses of tolerance.

By 1876 there were 35 licensed brothels, in which 200 women worked. Most of these were located in the neighborhood of San Nicolás, and some were set up with great luxury, having a bar, meeting rooms and musicians to animate the dances.


Around the same time, a campaign of denunciations began that criticized the Municipality for allowing the opening of these houses in the central streets, and in the same way pointed to the traffickers and the way in which they operated in Europe.


The previous year (1875) another request had been published, with a very similar wording, signed by the owner of the house at 509 Corrientes Street. the life of the neighborhood, and communicated that, due to the continuous scandals that occurred there, he was forced to abandon his property to save his family from such a disastrous influence.»
It is precisely in this house at Corrientes 506 (now 1283) that months later one of the most famous brothels would be installed, either because of the luxury and quality of its women or because of the brutal treatment they received.

Other requests that were published with harsher terms and anti-Semitic tone, once again sought to arouse the reproach of society.


Likewise, the intervention of the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, the pastor of the German Reformed Church, and the consular authorities were requested to put an end to this immoral trade. Together, requests began to appear requesting the closure of cafes, casinos and other places where clandestine prostitution was practiced.


In a short time, a war of complaints was generated that made it clear that it was a duel of interests between opposing groups to which some honest citizens, perhaps deceived in their good faith, joined.


In an extensive request, loaded with information, the way in which a trafficker (Jacobo Hónig) invested 600.000 pesos m/c to set up two new brothels, one at Corrientes 506 and the other at Temple 356 Altos, was documented.

Other facilities were also denounced in Libertad 309, Corrientes 509 and Temple 368, properties of Ana Goldemberg, Carlos Rock and Herman Gerber, respectively.
Through another request we know that “in June 1875 Adolph Honing (sic,) domiciled in Corrientes 506, brought from Europe 18 deceived young women whom he exploited for their work, who after six months sold one of them, called JB, to a certain Isidoro Wolf, resident in Montevideo, in the. sum of $17.000.


In December of the same year, Adolph Weismann tricked seven women, four Hungarians and three Germans, by telling them that they were going to Milan and directed them to Marseilles, from where he shipped them to Montevideo.
There they were awaited by Adolph Honing, who bought the four most beautiful. The rest were bought in Buenos Aires by Herman Gerber. The sale of the women is estimated to have earned the broker $150.000 m/c.

Gerber himself, domiciled at 368 Temple Street, had brought 12 women in June 1875. Two had been sold to another businessman from Rosario.
Another, called NW, after five and a half months of staying in Gerber's house, was sold to Isidoro Wolf for the sum of 14.000 pesos, and after two months he resold it for 18.000 to Carlos Rock, domiciled at Corrientes 509.

As a result of the treatment she received, NW fled the house, accompanied by another woman, jumping from the roof. After this, the roof was surrounded by an iron fence.
Some of these women escaped from their confinement went to the Austro-Hungarian consulate to formulate their complaints, but it expressed its inability to intervene.


Since civil marriage did not yet exist, in many cases a religious marriage was forged between the exploited and her exploiter, who put her to work for himself or sold another ruffian.
In this way, women were prevented from making claims to the consular authorities of their country, given that by marrying a foreigner they lost their nationality rights.
The conditions in which these women lived were certainly inhumane. They were bought and sold at the whim of their exploiters.

Upon arrival, they were made to sign a contract in which they undertook to pay for the trip, clothing, food, room and everything they received.
The prices they had to pay were five or ten times higher than the real value, and the debts they always had with the house were used as another retention instrument.
They remained locked up all day, and if they went out for a walk one afternoon a month, it was under the supervision of the manager or a supervisor.

If any refused to accept these conditions, they were punished or sold to another brothel of lower quality in the interior of the country.
Coming from peasant families, -subjected to vassalage and sexual customs that in some cases included premarital relations and pregnancies as a sign of fertility, it is possible that they have accepted the sexual trade as one more stage of their already unfortunate previous experience.

Clandestine prostitutes, who worked for a ruffian, suffered similar exploitation, with the aggravating circumstance that the sanitary conditions were more deplorable and the clientele, less select, much larger.
In 1878 El Puente de los Suspiros appeared, a newspaper whose declared objective was to put an end to the houses where prostitution was practiced clandestinely or authorized. He did not skimp on criticism of municipal corruption, nor the way in which the ruffians managed to circumvent police action.
However, in its first issue of March 28, 1878, several casino owners, closed by the Municipality for considering them places where clandestine prostitution was practiced, asked the police chief to revoke the order and deny the Municipality the help of the public force.

Also, in a column that appeared the same day, the arrival of 12 new European women was mentioned. Consigned to Pepa la Chata, Libertad 276 and Carmen the Galician from Temple, a dozen white slaves have arrived, led by the Savoie, uglier than Dr. Agrelo himself, who has the face of a poorly embalmed plover. Pepa has five of them, mounted in the air, that is, mounted on heels longer than the nails of certain municipal employees, and except for one that is not pretty at all, the poor things are horrible. Carmen has seven, and I won't say anything to you about the ugliness of those unfortunates, because it would be a thing to run.»

These concepts seemed to want to drive away potential customers from these establishments more than to fight against prostitution. The four-page edition came to appear twice a week. There, the police action and the task of the Municipality were criticized. But what he spread the most were the adventures of a group of pimps who had arrived in the city a few years earlier.


The Municipality considered it an immoral product, written by other ruffians who competed with the former. Attempts to censor it were delayed and those responsible for the edition filed complaints with the Supreme Court of Justice of the Province.

Edited in Spanish, it was accompanied by a column in German urging women to abandon their thugs and seek help from the newsroom. Soon after, two girls escape from the House of Tolerance of Corrientes 509 (now 1283). Gabriela Kirch, a 23-year-old German, and Elena Bezembajer, of a similar age, were able to flee by jumping with sheets from the terrace. In the following edition they publish a letter in which they encourage other women to do the same. (The facts are certified by the municipal doctor and by the commissioner of section 5).


Other issues included drawings and the life and work of the 5 or 6 Jews who up to that time were engaged in white slavery in the city.

Although the biographies were true and did not skimp on details, for the morality of the time, the dissemination of these stories implied a greater scandal than the very existence of the denounced facts.
Finally, the Supreme Court ruled that, in its powers, the Municipality could prohibit the sale or appearance of obscene writings or drawings, in a few months it was prohibited, and its entire campaign was disrupted. The last issue of the Bridge of Sighs was published on June 17, 1878.
More than 50 years and thousands of crimes will pass before the authorities investigate and punish this new form of slavery.


Source: Todo Es Historia Magazine N° 342 Year 1996 – Part of a note by: José Luis Scarsi

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