soiled dove

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soiled dove

Post by Ken Greenwald » Fri Jul 08, 2005 4:13 pm

In Isabel Allende’s historical novel Daughter of Fortune (1999), which takes place (1843-1853) in Chile and then in California during the gold rush, I came across the expression SOILED DOVE. The only ‘soiled dove’ I had ever heard of before is a well-known bar / music concert venue of that name in Denver.

From the context it was clear that ‘soiled dove’ was a synonym for ‘prostitute,’ but strangely enough when I went to look it up it did not appear in any of my standard or slang dictionaries. It did, however, appear, appropriately defined, in Webster’s 1913 Dictionary and there is no dearth of its appearance on the internet (14,038 Google hits). It has been everything from the title of a poem by Carl Sandburg to, to a book title, to the name of a bar, to the subject of many stories about successful entrepreneurial, women of the American West (e.g. Pearl de Vere - ‘Soiled Dove of Cripple Creek’), to the title of an entire chapter in Allende’s abovementioned novel.

It was hard to find any reliable information on the specific origin of the phrase, but my general impression is, and if Isabel Allende did her homework properly, that it was coined by the 49ers of the California gold rush and was a comment on the lost purity of the young maidens (doves) who had become ‘soiled’ or ‘fallen.’ However, after doing a search of 19th century publications (see quotes below), the earliest appearance in print that I came up with was 1868, and Blevins (see below) seems to imply that the phrase (along with many others for ‘prostitute’) was invented by newspaper editors in the 1870s and ‘80s. But the 1997 N.Y. Times article (see quote below) does confirm that the phrase was contemporary with the time of the gold rush.

In Blevins’ Dictionary of the American West (2001), he says the following:

"Calico Queen: One of the many terms for prostitute. The Westerner is fecund with names of things that interest him, so he has many expressions for the woman for sale: ceiling expert, hippy, crib girl, Cyprian, dance-hall girl, frail denizen, frail sister, girl [[or ladies]] of the line, girl of the night, horizontal worker, hurdy-gurdy girl, inmate of a house of ill fame, margarita, nymph du pave, nymph du prairie, painted cat, SOILED DOVE, sport, sporting women, woman of evil name and fame. In the 1870s and ‘80s, newspaper editors needed to talk about such matters, and propriety led to creativity.”
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And my favorite contemporary version is, of course, the politically correct ‘sexual service provider’!
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<1868 “She was a ‘SOILED DOVE,’ indeed, but the gentlest and dearest, and most devoted of ‘doves,’ ‘soiled,’ not by herself, but by others—soiled externally , but not impure within.”—‘The Secret of the Great City’ by J. D. McCabe, page 297>

<1872 “Two married men, whose souls reject the tyranny of marriage, find their affinity in the same SOILED DOVE and eliminate each other with revolvers from the embarrassing problem.”—‘The Life of James Fisk, jr’ by W. Jones, page 324>

<1876 “Suicide of a SOILED DOVE [[title of news article]]: Mollie Penders, an inmate of a disreputable house on Pacific Avenue, committed suicide on Monday night with a dose of laudanum.”—‘Chicago Daily Tribune,’ 19 April, page 8>

<1892 “Why, then I shall claim you my sad SOILED DOVE; Shall claim you, and kiss you, with the kiss of love.”- in ‘Songs of Summer Lands’ ‘A Dove of St. Mark’ by Joaquin Miller, page 236>

<1910 “A young man, born rich, accustomed to enjoy all that money can control, naturally induced to believe in his omnipotence, had taken a SOILED DOVE under his protection and finally made her his wife.”—in ‘Journal of the American Institute of Criminal Law and Criminology,’ Vol. 1, No. 2, July, page 20>

<1916 “LET us be honest; the lady was not a harlot until she married a corporation lawyer who picked her from a Ziegfeld chorus. . . . ”—‘SOILED DOVE’ (poem) in ‘Chicago Poems’ (1916) by Carl Sandburg>

<1929 “‘Who is this Dinah Brand?’ . . . ‘A SOILED DOVE. . . a de luxe hustler, a big-league gold-digger.’—‘Red harvest’ by D. Hammett, iii. page 27>

<1959 “ . . . ; her emphasis is on the ups and downs of, behavior and misbehavior of lesser folk in such oil boom towns as Titusville, Franklin, . . . and the ‘sodden Gomorrah’ of Pithole, where Ben Hogan, self-styled Wickedest man in the World, and his partner French Kate purveyed relaxation to the sinful with an assortment of ‘SOILED DOVES.’”—‘New York Times,’ 22 February, page BR6>

<1997 “‘Fandango houses’ exploited impoverished young women from the cities — ‘SOILED DOVES,’ a contemporary writer noted, enslaved in brothels where ‘oxygen, like virtue and all decency, had long before taken its flight.’”—‘New York Times,’ 14 September, page WK7>
Ken G – July 8, 2005
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