A Brothel Reveals Its Secrets

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...Boston’s infamous Big Dig construction project, which rerouted the city’s central artery, unearthed a trove of archaeological treasures in a 19th-century brothel’s outhouse. Buried there were items of importance to the women who made their living outside the margins of polite society: hairbrushes, medicines, and vaginal syringes used for self-medicating and cleaning.

Now, a team of archaeology students from BU is studying these artifacts to find out what they reveal about how the residents of one Boston brothel lived. The building, long since torn down, existed on Endicott Street, near Boston’s North End, just two blocks from what was then the city’s red light district. The team hopes that by studying the more than 3,000 artifacts recovered from the outhouse and using old city records, they can gain insight into the day-to-day lives of prostitutes believed to have lived at the property between 1852 and 1883.

In the course of their work, the archaeologists have deduced that personal hygiene was of great importance to these women—besides the hairbrushes, medicines, and syringes, items found included toothbrushes, hair combs, and tobacco-related items.

During the massive highway project, construction crews excavated a site called Mill Pond, which in 1828 had been filled in when the city needed more space to expand.

Crews found a sealed, wood-lined privy (the under portion of an outhouse) filled with items that begged for further inspection. During the 19th century, before the advent of municipal trash collection, privies were used not only as toilets, but for general household waste disposal.

Because of limited funding, Massachusetts officials stipulated at the time of the Big Dig that the state would pay to study only those excavated items believed to have been manufactured before 1830....

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