12/13/05 - mark twain's mississippi

In today's excerpt - life on Mark Twain's Mississippi River in the heyday of the steamboat, the mid 1800's:

"Cargo not passengers was the profit center of the steamboat companies. These boats hauled cotton and tobacco, flour, farm machinery, the U.S. mail, and livestock.  The vessels, many of which could carry more than a thousand tons, were routinely loaded to the point where the lower decks were nearly flush with the surface of the river.

"Prostitutes swarmed the river and the riverfronts of the 1850s.  Prostitution was an inevitable by-product of the society that limited women's careers outside marriage to laundress, domestic servant or slave; a society in which the preferred approach to the marital act was in the dark, eyes averted; a society that enforced a rigid code of chastity, in part by questioning the morals of a woman who looked into a gentleman's eyes, glanced at themselves in the mirror, fussed with their hair or clothing, laughed immoderately, touched their conversational partner, rolled their eyes, took snuff, beat time with their feet or hands, shrugged, stamped their feet, or God forbid folded their shawl carefully upon entering a room 'instead of throwing it with graceful negligence upon a table'."


Ron Powers


Mark Twain: A Life


Free Press


Copyright 2005 by Ron Powers


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