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In antebellum New Orleans, selling sex was not considered a crime. Thus, public women were punished under vagrancy laws. Upon conviction, women were fined or sent to workhouses. In 1854, The Times-Picayune reported the arrests of Harriet Kennedy, Mary Smith, Johanna Wright, Catherine Kane and Helena Cotibo on charges of disturbing the peace. Two of the women were sentenced to either a ten-dollar fine or twenty days in the workhouse. The other three women were sentenced to either a five-dollar fine or ten days in the workhouse.
Devised to be unpleasant enough to curtail crime, the workhouses were poorly maintained and offered subpar room and board to prisoners. Women performed manual labor for long hours, with the workhouse exploiting and profiting from their labor. Thus, a woman would certainly elect to pay the fine if she could afford to.