Prostitution in Budapest in the nineteenth and the early twentieth century

Markian Prokopovych

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


As in other parts of Europe, in Austria-Hungary prostitution during the nineteenth century was recognized by reformers and "respectable" society as a phenomenon of massive proportions and a cause for alarm. The perception of the nature of prostitution, the underlying social and cultural factors fostering it, as well as its consequences for the social order were also similar to those in other parts of Europe. Prostitution was seen as a necessary evil that could not be eradicated, and its apparent unprecedented expansion to the public spaces of Budapest and Vienna was considered a natural consequence of particularly rapid urbanization. Regulationism predominated over other approaches as government policy. The exact nature of the policies that were implemented was shaped by local traditions of municipal governance and the police, and by cultural norms. In comparison with Vienna, which was a Catholic stronghold and where attempts at introducing regulatory norms and legislation were for decades strongly opposed by the clerical elite that saw it as a policy of "legalizing the whores", late nineteenth-century Hungary and its capital city traditionally practised a much more laissez-faire attitude in line with other initiatives of the Transleithania's ruling liberal government. Thus while the system of regulation was similar to that of Cisleithania, enforcement of the regulation was different in the sense that the Hungarian authorities were given fewer powers of coercion and control. The first attempts to control prostitution in Hungary were recorded during the 1848 revolution, when the government of Hungary requested its army to make weekly checks of the " girls " it frequented. In the decade following the crushing of the revolution, prostitution thrived in pubs, coffee houses, dosshouses, baths and streets of the Hungarian capital. That laid foundations for the establishment of formal brothels in Hungary. The existence of brothels was formally recognized in the guidelines of the Pest municipal government from 31 October 1867, the year of the Austro-Hungarian Compromise. There was an attempt to convert every courtesan house into a brothel and to confine every prostitute within it. Naturally, from that point onwards the brothels were also to function within the market and had to put up with competition, pay their taxes and undergo regular supervision by the municipal police. Prostitutes were issued medical identity cards, the so-called “yellow cards” and the police decided, in each particular case, how much a brothel should ask for its services and how much the government levy should be. Investigations conducted by the police and independent sources further confirm the proliferation of street prostitution. Covert (unregistered) prostitution was mostly concentrated in the same area or areas nearby to the ones that hosted the majority of brothels, in houses on and along the main thoroughfares surrounding the VIth, VIIth and VIIIth districts.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTrafficking in Women 1924-1926
Subtitle of host publicationThe Paul McKinsie Reports for the League of Nations
EditorsJean-Michel Chaumont, Magaly Rodriguez Garcia, Paul Servais
Place of PublicationNew York
PublisherUnited Nations Publications
ISBN (Print)978-9210601566
Publication statusPublished - 19 Jul 2017

Publication series

NameUnited Nations Series 'History of the United Nations System'

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History


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