Madeleine Blair: Nobody's Victim

Brothel workers from the 1800s

Brothel workers from the 1800s

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Today the Supreme Court of Canada heard final arguments in a case that could see laws pertaining to prostitution struck down. Many of these laws were born at the turn of the 19th century -  a period of huge transition where prostitution and so-called 'vice' became the focus of social uplift campaigns. A woman who went by the pseudonym 'Madeleine Blair' found herself at the crosshairs of these campaigns and wrote a rare and detailed account of her life as a prostitute and brothel owner in Canada's west. Ideas Producer Nicola Luksic found an old copy of Madeleine's autobiography and brings us her story.


madeleine-book.jpgShe wrote under the pseudonym Madeleine Blair, the same name she used with the hundreds of clients she saw over the course of her 15 years as a prostitute and brothel owner traveling between the American and Canadian mid-west. It was the turn of the 20th century - a period of huge transition in Canadian society as things like alcohol and prostitution and so-called 'vice' became the focus of social uplift campaigns which gave birth to laws that are still in place today - laws that are currently dangling before the Supreme Court.

Madeleine put pen to paper and wrote about her life and the moral climate and hypocrisy of the time. It is an incredibly rare and vivid document. Published in 1919 Madeleine's writing provides us with a fascinating snapshot through which we can understand the evolution of laws around what we often refer to as the world's oldest profession. Ideas producer Nicola Luksic found a dusty old copy of Madeleine's autobiography and brings us her story.


Madeleine's book is called Madeleine: An Autobiography

The documentary was inspired by the book Westward Bound: Sex, Violence, the Law and the Making of Settler Society by Lesley Erickson.


Guests (in order of appearance):

Lindsey McMaster, Associate Professor of English, Nipissing University. Author of Working Girls in the West: Representations of Wage Earning Women.

John McLaren, Professor Emeritus of Law at the University of Victoria.

Phillippa Levine, co-director of the British Studies Department at the University of Texas in Austin. Author of Prostitution, Race and Politics: Policing Venereal Disease in the British Empire.

Marianna Valverde, Director and Professor at the University of Toronto's Centre for Criminology. Author of the Age of Light, Soap and Water: Moral Reform in English Canada 1885-1925.

Janine Benedet, Professor of Law at the University of British Columbia.

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