On Jan 25, 1917 300 sex workers in San Francisco marched to protest the imminent closure of their brothels. The Old Pro Project is an annual event that builds towards this anniversary. We are part of a multigenerational movement that has been advocating for our rights for over a hundred years.


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Nancy Boggs | Old Pro in Portland

Nancy Boggs is the legendary madam of the 1880s who ran a floating brothel in the Willamette River. Her brothel – a 3,200 square-foot barge – straddled two municipalities: Portland and East Portland, and she became one of the most popular madams in the area.

She stationed recruiter boatmen on the east and west banks of the river to solicit customers who, in turn, would be ferried to the barge to enjoy the services aboard Boggs’ vessel.

Nancy Boggs is the legendary madam of the 1880s who ran a floating brothel in the Willamette River. Her brothel – a 3,200 square-foot barge – straddled two municipalities: Portland and East Portland, and she became one of the most popular madams in the area. She stationed recruiter boatmen on the east and west banks of the river to solicit customers who, in turn, would be ferried to the barge to enjoy the services aboard Boggs’ vessel.

Legend has it that Boggs was wildly popular and drew additional attention as moral crusaders attempted to crack down on vice. She avoided police raids, liquor laws, and taxes by simply hoisting her anchor and ferrying up the river. She floated away into retirement after cutting the barge’s ties to escape a police raid in the late 19th century.

How much of this is actually true? We don’t know. Archival evidence indicates that she was a widow, had a daughter, and owned a stamping business in the late 1860s. She also owned a dressmaking business in the 1870s before opening the brothel in 1879. Not much more is available about her life, particularly her earlier years.

Nancy Boggs is steeped in legend and not much is known about her life or death beyond the barge. There are several images of barges floating around the internet, but none are definitively attributed to Boggs. Although she’s shrouded in mystery, Nancy Boggs and her floating bordello continue to serve as an influence in the 21st century. The Boggsville Botel, owned by Constance Hockaday, is a floating hotel/art installation in Queens, New York.

Citation: Blalock, Barney. “Nancy Boggs Debunked,” in Portland’s Lost Waterfront (May 12, 2012) accessed October 3, 2020. Link to the source.

Blalock, Barney. “Nancy Boggs Debunked,” in Portland’s Lost Waterfront (May 12, 2012) accessed October 3, 2020. Link to the source.

Blalock’s brief blog post attempts to debunk the legend of Nancy Boggs and offer snippets of her life supported by newspaper archives.

John, Finn JD. “The Original Floating Bordello of 1880s Portland,” in Offbeat Oregon (July 25, 2010), accessed October 3, 2020. Link to the source.

John’s blog article presents another historical take on Boggs’ bordello and also lends additional sources about sex work in Portland during the 1800s. Finn also is the author of Wicked Portland: The Wild and Lusty Underworld of a Frontier Seaport Town which mentions Nancy Boggs’ and her brothel in a bit more detail. **

Libby, Brian. “Madame of the Willamette River: Nancy Boggs’ Legend Lives On,” in Portland Architecture. Link to the source.

Libby’s article provides a short history of Boggs’ bordello and commentary on Portland’s economic position and reputation at the turn of the 20th century.

Perry, Douglas. “Just How Weird is Portland?” in Oregon Live (August 29, 2019), accessed October 28, 2020. Link to the source.

Perry’s article gives a brief snippet about Nancy Boggs and her floating bordello among other short tales of Portland’s eccentric residents.

Portland State University. “Constance Hockaday’s Boggsville Boatel and Boat-In Theater,” in +Art Social Practice, accessed October 3, 2020. Link to the source.

News snippet about Constance Hockaday’s boatel and includes pricing and a bit more background about the business. For additional images of the Boggsville Boatel, see this New York Times slideshow.

The Old Pro Project Happenings in Portland

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Valentine – Photographer & Filmmaker in Portland

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Dr. Charlene J. Fletcher – Lead Historian

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Savannah Sly – National Coordinator

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