Albert Morehead

171 West 57th Street

New York, N. Y.


I went to New York in 1928, when I was nineteen years old. I didn’t have any money, but it didn’t take too long for me to get a job at $25 a week. This was enough, in those days, to support a young man in reasonable comfort — a small furnished room at $7 a week, three palatable meals a day, a new suit every six or eight months, cigarettes, and second-run movies. Since I was a good enough bridge player to make eight or ten dollars a week extra, at a quarter of a cent, I could have dates too, putting me socially in the next step above my income and age level, along with young men who had been promoted or raised a couple of times.

Within this group of young men I made a normal number of acquaintances or friends, being able like them to buy a drink or two in a speakeasy. I was clean, presentable, neatly dressed, and able to pay for a pair of dinners, a bottle of bootleg gin, and a taxi fare, and so one of them would sometimes ask me along when he had a date with a girl who had a friend who wanted a date. I wasn’t asked too often, but when I was asked I always accepted unless the cards had been running badly and I was broke. These dates were always with the daughters of joy.

“Daughters of joy” is my own name for them. I am aware of the French meaning of the term, and it is different from mine. “Party girls” would be a better name but it has become an American euphemism just as daughters of joy is the French one, so it would have the wrong meaning.

I am quite familiar with the New York demimonde in its various phases and strata. Though the lawyers may call it a self-serving allegation, I must hasten to say that my acquaintanceship with it is not as a patron. Never having been even a casual roué, I can boast (or if you will, confess) not a single experience with its members in the line of their profession. Still I have known its members well, for certain of my activities have thrust me into the circles they frequent.

However, I need not classify and describe some sections of the demimonde They are too obvious and well-known to waste space on: the house girl, who takes on all comers; the streetwalker; the B-girl, who is a sort of sedentary streetwalker; the call girl who is registered with a sort of telephone placement service. There are two other classes, the ones I have known best, and these I will describe.

One is the high-priced prostitute, the aristocrat of the oldest profession. She fits very closely to a pattern. Her home is an attractive apartment in a good building and fairly expensive neighborhood. Apart from the low, large, becushioned studio couch that is the one invariable piece of furniture, her apartment may be furnished in almost any way, but it will usually be in good taste and will contain interesting current books, pictures that are good or at worst inoffensive artistically, and occasionally even a grand piano. The girl herself is dressed well, in current fashion and in good taste. She is not overpainted and she is not coarse, she is either genuinely cultivated or glib enough to seem so until you know her better than you are likely to, and you can take and introduce her almost anywhere. She is probably broke and worried about next month’s (or last month’s) rent, but you don’t know it until she puts the bite on you, and you can’t be sure even then. She is definitely an attractive girl, but is not offensively voluptuous and employs few meretricious stratagems until she is alone with you at her apartment. Her ambition is to be the kept woman of a free-spending man, and this ambition she often achieves. When she is not being kept, or on nights off when she is, her wares are generally available, but she probably has an established clientele. Even the prices are more or less standard and it seems to me that they follow a formula: Whatever a lesser office girl, like a file clerk, would get for one week’s work, our aristocratic prostitute gets for one date. Thus, it was $15 in the depression years and it is $50 today. Plus tips.

This girl is a “hustler” by the proper definition of that term, which is to say that she lives by her wits and tries always to get something for nothing (she doesn’t consider that her favors cost her anything); she is unscrupulous, but she is careful about felonies, so while she might slip a bill or two out of your wallet, she won’t drug and roll you; she has a keen sense of what the underworld calls “percentage” — that is, she always knows where her own advantage lies — and she s a quick thinker and talker. She comes from a low background if she is a native New Yorker and from almost any kind of background if she isn’t; with her good looks and charm she first sought a theatrical career and tried to further it by submitting to any agent or producer who might give her a job; when even these sacrifices proved unavailing she turned to her new profession with two primary advantages, disillusionment and an utter scorn — sometimes hatred — of men. But in her abortive acting career she got just enough training to disguise her feelings when necessary. She is too fastidious to be unconcerned about disease, so you are about as safe with her as you could expect to be in almost any casual affair. Though she is not necessarily very good in bed — paradoxically, that isn’t essential to success in her profession — she is smart and good company and worth the price, high though it is.

But she is not what I call a daughter of joy. That is the second of the two classes that are my subject here, and the principal one. Pursuing it, I go back to the New York of 1928 and my twentieth year.

I don’t specifically remember my first date with the daughters of joy, but I can infallibly describe it. My drinking companion at a speakeasy bar suggested that he could make a date with a couple of girls. I agreed and he went to the telephone. Depending on the hour and the kind of speakeasy we were in, the girls either met us there and had a couple of drinks with us before dinner, or met us at another speakeasy where we could also have dinner. In class they were a cut below the high-priced girls previously described, unpretentious in dress and manner but withal clean and well enough dressed and what the Situation Wanted ads call personable.

We had dinner for about a dollar and a quarter each, plus the cost of the drinks, in one of the little Italian-run French restaurants in the Fifties or Sixties or Seventies (and quite a good meal it was in those days, too). Then, having provided ourselves with a bottle of something before leaving the speakeasy, and having stopped on the way to get ginger ale at a drug store, we proceeded to the girls’ apartment.

The apartment was typical, and far below the standard of the high-priced prostitutes’ apartments, just as the daughters of joy are below the prostitutes. It had one and a half or two rooms. It was in a converted brownstone house in the West Seventies or Eighties, or in a cheap apartment building much farther up on the west side, say around 145th Street. It was a furnished apartment and little effort had been made to give it a personal or homelike touch.

Having arrived, we mixed drinks and sat down to drink them and neck (pet, today) with a diminishing accompaniment of conversation. I was shy by nature and slow to make advances to a new girl, so for me the necking usually began by the girl’s bringing me a fresh drink and plumping herself down in my lap along with it. Sooner or later during the evening the girls would expect us to go to bed with them (no orgies — each with her own man in a different room). With proper femininity they would wait a decent interval to be seduced, but when burdened with a timid swain like me the girl herself would eventually do the seducing if necessary.

I will not pretend that I did not enjoy these double dates. I always left (one did almost always leave, somewhere between 2 and 4 a.m.) supplied with telephone number and agreement to have more dates. But somehow or other I never called up. In several cases I saw the same girl two or three more times, but always because the same man in the same speakeasy would suggest another date with the same girls and I would agree. I didn’t initiate anything.

Perhaps because of this timid trait of mine I formed no regular connections, with the effect that I met an unusually large number and variety of the daughters of joy. Subject to a bachelor’s frantic lonely nights, often I would be spurred to a resolution to call one or another of the girls; and, reconsidering, I am sure I did call from time to time, but fruitlessly — no answer, or the girl had another date (or perhaps hadn’t been sufficiently impressed to give me one unless I was sponsored by someone else). Then, if the straits were bad enough, I would go to a speakeasy and drink with someone in the hope that he would suggest a double date

Midway of 1929 my job sent me to Connecticut, but sometime in 1931 I became a depression casualty. Back I came to New York, to exploit the advantage that set me apart from other depression jobless and seek total livelihood as a professional gambler.

In my new disreputable profession I was successful as small-time gamblers go, which is never too well. At any rate I stayed alive for the better part of two years, until I became a respectable working man again. Throughout this period I would again be invited out on double dates, and again — less often, now that I needed my nights for card-playing — I would go.

The world of the mad ’twenties had vanished, but the daughters of joy were still there. The same phone call from speakeasy or bridge club, the same Italian-French restaurant (dinner now down to 85 cents), the same bottle of gin, the same furnished apartment on one of the side streets off Central Park West or along the westside IRT. And, most significant of all, occasionally the same girl — roommate changed, apartment changed, but face and body familiar from my earlier New York era.

So somewhere along the line I became aware that I was observing, and was adjunctive to, a true society, a social organism, knit by the fellowship and interdependence of its members, characterized by group spirit and consciousness of kind, and operating under definable code and standards.

That is when I began to think of these girls collectively, and to call them, in my mind, the daughters of joy. Among them you will find such individuality as may be found in any society, but in essentials they are a unitary group.

The daughters of joy are young, in their twenties, with an exceptional precocious eighteen or well-preserved thirty-three. Though they are no beauties who might aspire to a place in show business, they are invariably attractive in manner or feature or both (the unattractive girl is more likely to withdraw into starched virtue).

They like men. They must have men. They are not prostitutes, only because they would not enjoy having men that way. They will borrow; they will accept gifts of money after the act, and occasionally will suggest or ask for them; but they will not permit money to be a condition of their association with men. Sometimes — often, in fact — they will assert their amateur standing by refusing money they do not need, and they are quite capable of slapping the faces of men who offer it in advance.

The daughters of joy work. Most of them work some of the time; a few work quite steadily. They are file clerks and waitresses and hatcheck girls and so on. But let it be emphasized that they are not working girls. To them a job is a matter of temporary economic expediency; it will pay the rent and the telephone bill, buy groceries, put a few dollars in the purse. A daughter of joy seldom keeps a job very long. It is incompatible with her habit and desire, which is to drink heavily with a man every night and entertain him until he leaves in the dawning hours. If a daughter of joy does not voluntarily quit her job because she is tired of it, eventually she will lose it because the flesh is weak and she cannot get up and go to work in the morning.

The daughters of joy congregate; by this fact above all you can recognize them as a true social unit. They know their kind, prefer it, and seek it. Each of them has a wide acquaintanceship within the society, though it must number its members in the hundreds or the thousands. At their occasional parties, all or nearly all of the girls will be daughters of joy. When a pair or trio of roommates is broken up by the departure of one member, her successor will be another daughter of joy.

Where do they come from? I do not know. From everywhere, I suppose. Where do they wind up? That I can answer better.

The daughters of joy are like respectable women in looking on marriage as a goal. Many of them do marry. But they are not domestic. They do not want (though many of them accept, knowingly or blindly) a marriage that means children and poverty and the washboard every Monday morning. After a brief period of marriage they are all too likely to revert to their former habits, sneaking or boldly swaggering out to their former haunts and playmates for rendezvous with other men.

Some become prostitutes; it is the natural end for those who do not catch husbands. The taste or aptitude for working hours and sober nights-before becomes too remote to recapture. Youth and looks dwindle until no presentable man is willing to stay on his best behavior and squire the lady through cocktail lounge and restaurant until the time comes to take her home. And the daughter of joy insists on presentable men; she is not so indiscriminate as you might think.

Some who do not marry and have no taste or opportunity for prostitution become working girls when perforce they must. They still want men and pick them up as best they might at the bars of their neighborhood, becoming progressively less particular as the years pass.

The neighborhood bar is a club and a happy hunting ground for the daughters of joy. Despite my own fruitless efforts to find them in or free, they have dates far less often than they wish. On nights when the telephone has stubbornly refused to ring, they will eventually be found In the bar, drinking whisky or nursing beer as their wealth of the moment may dictate, and keeping a weather eye out for available men. Look for them in the bars along Columbus Avenue above Columbus Circle, and in the small bars along upper Broadway and look for them in pairs, Daughters of joy are gregarious, and besides it saves rent.