Did ol’ “Fighting Joe” Hooker’s proclivity towards sex workers during the Civil War lead to a moniker of his namesake?
Well, yes and no.
The origin of the slang term is believed to have come decades prior to the Civil War out of Corlear’s Hook, a New York City neighborhood whose brothels became a notorious stopping point for sailors.
“So notorious was the Hook’s reputation as a site for prostitution that (according to one theory) the local sex workers were nicknamed ‘Hookers,’ generating a new moniker for the entire trade,” according to Edwin Burrows and Mike Wallace in Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898.
But while the term hooker may not be directly attributed to the thorny Union general, he certainly popularized the namesake.
“Women and whisky,” writes Hooker’s biographer Walter H. Herbert, “followed the army as they always have.” And they seemed to have garnered particular attention from Hooker.
The carousing general and his men were infamous for their lack of military discipline at Hooker’s headquarters near Washington, DC.
One colonel, Charles Francis Adams Jr., wrote that “During the winter (1862-63), when Hooker was in command…the headquarters of the Army of the Potomac was a place to which no self-respecting man liked to go, and no decent woman could go. It was a combination of barroom and brothel.”
It is a little-known fact that Grammy-winning rapper Ludacris’ fourth album “The Red Light District” was inspired by that red light district in Washington dubbed “Hooker’s Division.” Luda is a big history buff. Huge.
In a time when about two-thirds of all military deaths were related to disease, “Fighting Joe” really put to the test the motto “I ain’t here for a long time, I’m here for a good time.”
In his An Analysis of the Medical Problems of the Civil War, Dr. Alfred Jay Bollett wrote that “Early in 1863, a new commander of the Army of the Potomac encouraged prostitutes to visit the troops as a morale measure, and reportedly used their services liberally himself. His name has been associated with the profession — he was General Joseph Hooker.”
So while “Fighting Joe” can’t be credited for the etymology of the term hooker, he sure did have a good time with it.