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Am I a prostitute because of my roommates? Understanding Millersville’s brothel myth

Julia Walters was a victim of believing that she resided in a brothel. Kat Delaney/SNAPPER

Julia Walters
Managing Editor 

Have you ever heard of the bizarre rule floating around Millersville saying that four women are not allowed to live in a house or apartment because it would be considered a brothel? It’s an odd rumor that has been going around for a while now, and even though it’s one of those small things that sounds like a joke, it really seems to affect students looking for rental housing off campus.

So what’s with this antiquated law? Well, as it turns out, the Millersville Borough Brothel Ordinance is simply a rumor. It’s perpetuated through word of mouth around the community but this ordinance is not true anymore.

According to Michael Tuscan, who deals with Code Enforcement and Zoning issues at the Millersville Borough Administration, the rule has nothing to do with gender. He says that the law was in place a long time ago, “but it doesn’t matter between women and men. It has nothing to do with that.” The ordinance states that, in Millersville Borough, no more than three unrelated people can live together in a rented house or apartment, regardless of gender.

This rumor doesn’t just pertain to Millersville either. The infamous “PA Brothel Law” rumor has been circulating around the entire state since at least the nineteenth century as a way to explain the lesser number of sorority houses on campus in relation to the number of fraternity houses.

No one is completely sure where this rumor first started being applied to women with the word “brothel,” but a supposed explanation could have roots in the old Blue Laws, which were laws enacted by the seventeenth century Puritans in order to regulate moral behavior in the community. They created laws to deal with issues such as public drunkenness, swearing, playing card and board games in public, and even the failure to attend church on Sundays. 

The harshness of these Puritan laws could have snowballed over the years into what college students now consider the PA Brothel Laws, but upon closer examination of the Millersville Borough Housing Ordinances, this supposedly codified rule is nowhere to be found.

The general rule that no more than three unrelated people can live in a house or apartment is not unique just to Millersville’s campus, but actually a rule that’s found in many college towns across the country. “Studies found that with three people, things are pretty good, but with more than three people, it can get rowdier. Most places it’s like that. It has more to do with the university than the town,” Tuscan explained.

But one question still remains: why has this falsity been circulating for so long when it has nothing to do with the truth? The answer, while officially ambiguous, can be theorized. It’s simply a modern legend that has been passed down over the years because it’s an interesting, quirky thing to poke fun about. Though in actuality it spanned the entire state, it seemingly made our small community unique and a bit odd.

The fictitious nature of this law can serve to illustrate the small tidbits of information that everyone at one point or another hears and blindly believes, but never takes the time to research. If anything, this rumor is a lesson to not blindly believe every piece of information heard around the campus community, or anywhere. Consider this myth officially debunked.