Doctors and Prostitutes - What's with the red light?

This topic came up in a converstion recently, and nobody could give an explanation.

Is there a connection between the reasons that a doctor traditionally hangs a red light out in front of their practice, and that areas where prostitution is notorious are called “red light districts”? I know that the red light district expression came from the red lights that prostitutes used to hang out, but why do doctors do the same thing?

Doctors hang red lights? Where is this common? I’m in Canada, and have never seen such a thing.

Doctors traditionally hang a red light outside their practice? Not in America. Never heard of that, and my father was a doctor.

I’ve always heard that the whorehouses had a red porch light to keep drunk customers from knocking on the door of the wrong house.

Hmmm, maybe that’s just a common practice here in Australia. I’ve seen it outside any number of doctors surgerys here. Any other Aussies to confim/deny this?

I think the red light tradition for prostitutes came from them hanging a red garment (drawers?) in the window. In France, I IIRC. Do we still hate France?
I do recall something about doctors doing the same, but my memory is fuzzy.

You mean a red light outside their business or the surgery room?

The red light is hung outside the premises, usually by the front door.

I may be wrong here, but I distantly remember that the reason some barber shops had that striped red & white column outside their shops was a throwback to the days when your local surgeon would operate from the same premises. In medieval times, there were basically three categories of the medical profession: Physician, Surgeon and Barber, The red probably representing blood.

I don’t know of doctors in the UK having a red light specifically but it may derive from that…

I’m working on hazy memories of readings here, but IIRC the red-stripe barber pole was symbolic of a towel or something that the barbers hung out after ‘bleeding’ a patient.

I’m pretty sure you guys nailed it. The barber thing rings true with me too.
Question is, do any doctors still set out a red light?
Or is somebody been into the valium? :wink:

Doctors surgeries around here (Sydney), if running out of a house in a residential area, typically have a red light out the front.

Surgeries in medical centres probably dont - they have great big sign saying “medical centre”.

Perhaps it has because council by laws prohibit advertising devices such as signs and hoardings to be erected in residential areas.

A friend told me (no cite) that they do/did that to make themselves look better. The red light makes complexion look better, skin looks like it has fewer flaws, you look tanner, &c.

This is probably a folk tale, but I once heard that railroadmen used red lanterns at work, but left them on the porch when they entered certain extablishments on their time off. So, much like looking for big-rigs as a sign that a diner had good, cheap food, folks would look for congregations of red railroad lanterns.

Feel free to discredit this.

What kind of doctor performs surgeries in someone’s house? So far as I know, here in the US, most surgeries are done in hospitals. Maybe this is common practice in Australia.

From the Columbia Guide to Standard American English:

I assume that the Aussies follow English usage on this point.

Yeah, a “Doctor’s Surgery” is a general practitioners work place. The above sentence regarding residential surgeries refers to doctors who work out of their homes. Not performing surgery, but seeing patients in their (the doctor’s) surgery.

Doctors in the UK, in the late 1800s and possibly into the early 1900s, used a red lamp to indicate that it was a doctor’s premises. (Arthur Conan Doyle wrote a collection of medical themed short stories called Round the Red Lamp.) I do not know the background to this but would assume that it was to let people know where they were located, particularly at night. This was in the day when only major surgeries and conditions were treated in hospital and for most procedures either the doctor made rounds to people’s houses, or saw patients at their own home/office. (This would be more for General Practitioners and does not necessarily apply to specialists.) It was also not polite to have a big sign indicating that you were a doctor. Instead an understated plaque was placed outside the surgery (British usage) which would be difficult to see at night. A red light would help a person in need at night to find the place.

I do not know when this stopped being a practice in the UK (probably during WWI – many changes seemed to happen then) and I cannot remember how the red light for prostitution started up. I doubt very much if there is any connection between the use of red lamps by doctors and prostitutes - just coincidence.

In the 19th century, American doctors used to nail or hang a shingle to the mailbox. This enabled illiterate people to know a doctor lived there.

Today, starting a medical practice, or starting any new business, is called “hanging out your shingle”.

[Possible origins]

Kid: Mom, why has dad gone into the house with the red light outside ?
Mom: Oh he has, has he? The bastard’s gone to see the, eh, “Doctor”.

[/Possible origins]