Part of what gives San Francisco its, um, charm is its vibrant history of colorful characters. The city has survived multiple earthquakes in addition to plenty of cultural and political upheavals. (Merchant ships are buried beneath the streets!) From its beginning, our enticing Baghdad by the Bay has attracted free spirits and entrepreneurs alike, perhaps no more so than during the Gold Rush. And sure the 49ers were full of pluck and determination, but what of the women who came to San Francisco to seek their fortunes? Yes, we're talking about the city's original sex workers, the prostitutes who plied their trade at a time when men outnumbered women in the city 50 to 1. (That bears repeating: Men outnumbered women 50 to 1.) Revel in the salaciousness of their stories at a screening of Michael Rohde's film Madams of the Barbary Coast hosted by local historian and tour guide extraordinaire Daniel Bacon, a man who intimately knows the secrets of this debaucherous district. Hear about Chinese madam Ah Toy and the infamous Tessie Wall, legendary for gunning down an unfaithful lover in broad daylight. The movie also gives screen time to the female reformers who were keen on ending the slave trade prevalent in Chinatown during the era. One was Donaldina Cameron, who often risked her life to rescue underage prostitutes. It was a wild and dangerous time but also an exhilarating one, when traditional class, race, and gender lines were a little blurry. These are the enterprising women who took full advantage.
Fri., Oct. 21, 7 p.m., 2011