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Thursday, November 30, 2017

Reader's Diary #1674- Lael Morgan: Good Time Girls of the Alaska-Yukon Gold Rush

Lael Morgan's Good Time Girls of the Alaska-Yukon Gold Rush is a remarkable account of the prostitutes of Alaska and Yukon in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Most applaudable is the amount of material she was able to uncover and collect on a subject and people not often discussed and from a time and place so remote. But almost equally impressive is the dynamic storytelling. I'm always in awe of historians who make nonfiction as compelling as fiction and Good Time Girls reads almost like a novel.

Of course, it probably helps that the characters in question aren't boring-ass politicians or bank tellers. However, despite these girls' trade, it's not a salacious book. She doesn't shy away from what they actually did for a living, but I can recall only sexual description in the whole book that even comes close to graphic. Likewise, for violence. She presents the women non-judgmentally and allows their rich and diverse personalities to shine through.

I was particularly fascinated with the women of Dawson City. While it's a sad reality that many are, and were, forced into prostitution, a lot of those in the trade there were adventure-seeking entrepreneurs who eschewed the mores of the day. Some, heaven-forbid, even enjoyed sex! They were not unlike their male counterparts, most of whom left the comforts of San Francisco behind to find thrills and riches in the north.

Almost as compelling were the johns. Many wound up falling in love with these women and often didn't even care when they continued to sleep with other men for money.

None of this is to suggest that Morgan presents an overly rosy picture. There were many hardships and heartbreaks and disease, abuse, suicides, prejudice, and poverty are all recorded.

Together it's a fascinating look at the women who were crucial to the culture and development of many northern towns.