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The arrival of prostitution in Little Rock is undocumented, but the first city ordinance against its practice appeared in , when the capital city was home to just more than 1, citizens. In February , the city council adopted an ordinance regulating the city's new theater, including a provision providing that "if any lewd woman or notorious prostitute be found in any of the boxes of any theatre during the time of the performance, she shall be fined the sum of twenty dollars.
The city followed up the theater legislation with an ordinance outlawing bawdy houses altogether, imposing a stiff fine on any man or woman who kept or resided in a house of prostitution.
The new ordinance was not aggressively enforced, and by a number of bawdy houses were located on "Battle Row," the city's first red light district. Battle Row was the widely used nickname for a one block stretch of Water Street, near the modern River Market. Situated just up the bank from the steamboat landing, Battle Row was a shabby collection of cheap saloons, warehouses and ramshackle shacks housing the town's poorest.
It was a place where a steamboat roustabout could get a cheap drink, but he could also get his skull fractured in a brawl or lose his wallet to thieves. A second lowbrow hangout developed on nearby Elm Street, called "Fighting Alley. This changed with the coming of the Civil War.
Prostitutes have been associated with armies since classical times, and plenty of "nymphs of the night" could be found among Civil War camp followers. The late Margaret Ross, a keen student of Little Rock history who has written extensively on prostitution in the city, noted that the sudden influx of troops meant that the town had to deal with "prostitutes, con men, petty thieves, drifters, idlers, gamblers -- the whole catalog of the lowest level of society.