‘The harem, under various regulations, is found in all eastern countries where polygamy and concubinage are permitted or practised. While the Japanese generally have but one wife, the princes and nobles keep as many concubines as they please, securing them in harems, but much less rigorously than is done in Mohammedan countries. At Hiogo, in October, 1870, Mr. Seward saw a gay Japanese yacht on board of which was a daimio surrounded by numerous retainers and bevy of highly painted and elegantly dressed young women. The daimio was “giving his harem a picnic.”
In Siam the law allows but le wife, except to the king; concubinage, however, is limited only by the means of the man. Within the capital, Bangkok, stands enclosed in a double wall the city of the Nang Harm, or veiled women, which is fully described by Mrs. Leonowens in “The Romance of the Harem” (Boston, 1873):
“In this city live none but women and children. Here the houses of the royal princesses, the wives, concubines, and relatives of the king, with their numerous slaves and personal attendants, form regular streets and avenues, with small parks, artificial lakes, and groups of fine trees scattered over miniature lawns and beautiful flower gardens. In the southern part of this strange city the mechanical slaves of the wives, concubines, and princesses live, and ply their trades for the profit of their mistresses.”
This woman’s city has its own laws, and its female judges, guards, police, prison keepers, executioners, merchants, brokers, teachers, and mechanics in every trade. No man can enter the city except the king and the priests, who may be admitted every morning under amazon guard.
The slave women can go out to see their husbands, or on business for their mistresses; the mistresses can never leave it, except by the covered passages to the palaces, temples, and gardens, until age and position have given them a certain degree of freedom. No fewer than 9,000 women, it is asserted, are thus secluded, and the Nang Harm presents the most extensive and rigorous instance of the harem system.’
– Ripley. G., Dana. C.A., Ed. (1879) The American Cyclopædia – A Popular Dictionary Of General Knowledge New York, United States: D. Appleton and Company (Entrance: “Harem” [between “Hare Lip” and “Harfleur”], written by Parke Godwin).