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Thursday, October 6, 2022
History of prostitution in NOTL explored in museum lecture

Barbara Worthy
Special to The Lake Report

The fact that the oldest trade in the world is still highly controversial, subject to various laws and penalties, and has survived for hundreds of years perhaps tells us more about our society, than it does about the actual “trade.”

On March 10, at 11a.m., Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum’s assistant curator Shawna Butts will present “Not All Women Are Saints” – a virtual lecture exploring this phenomenon, as well as the treatment of women by the criminal justice system over the past 200 years. 

Using court records, transcripts and witness statements, Butts will highlight different women and their stories. “I  think a lot of people will be surprised at the history of prostitution here, because 'prostitute' and 'NOTL' doesn’t  seem to go together these days,” said Butts.  

The oldest trade in the world has always been influenced by socio-economic forces and, in a military town like Niagara-on-the-Lake, “camp followers” were well known. And brothels and bawdy houses were common throughout the town.

Bernard Shaw famously wrote that by “underpaying, undervaluing and overworking women so shamefully … the poorest of them are forced to resort to prostitution to keep body and soul together.” 

This lecture will also explore the history of discrimination within the courts. Historically, women were subjected to a male dominated world view and issues of abuse and assault were often dismissed.  

“This lecture will touch upon sensitive subjects,” said Butts, “Domestic violence, rape and assault will be included, and some participants may find this upsetting.”

Butts received her honours BA in anthropology from the University of Guelph and went on to complete an advanced diploma in applied museum studies at Algonquin College. She is also the sssistant curator of the current exhibit at the museum, “Making Her Mark: The Women of Niagara-on-the-Lake,” which is open to the public with restricted hours due to COVID.

Registration for the March 10 presentation of “Not All Women Are Saints” is required at