Prostitution in th U.S. West Through Exhbits Discussion/May 1997

Query From Susan Schwerer 07 May 1997

Hello. I completed a paper for my master's degree about if and how museums represent nineteenth-century prostitution in the American West through exhibits.
I would like to hear from anyone on the list interested in any facet of this topic, especially anyone who knows or works in museums that exhibit this. What kinds of artifacts are extant, and how do you express the topic in a non-offensive, yet educational, or perhaps sensational way?

My other interests in Western history are the other experiences of women on the frontier, and those of immigrants. I'd like to hear about businesses in towns such as general stores, hotels/saloons, millinery and others.


>From Janet Forbes 08 May 1997

If you are interested in prostitution in the this case the Canadian west, you might be interested in John Murrell's play "Farther West". It has been several years since I saw a production, but it is a wonderful play. Murrell is an extremely good playwright esp. dealing with women in a historical context; he has written one on Sarah Bernhardt: "Memoir", a play in two acts and one about women on the home front during WWII "Waiting for the Parade". Farther West was well researched from primary sources and it certainly brought the subject to life. I'm attaching the search info from York University library. If it is not available locally I would expect that any large library in Canada...either university or municipal would have it available for inter-library loan. I believe the publisher has recently closed although I'm sure the publishing rights would have been transferred to another publisher, but it may be out of print. There also is a video which I do recall seeing, but Eric Till has done some good theatre and film so it might be worth checking out.

PS 8575 U77 F3 1985
Farther West; New world/ John Murrell.-- Murrell, John, 1945-

Personal author: Murrell, John, 1945-
Title: Father West; New world/John Murrell.-- Pub. Info: Toronto: Coach House Press, c.1985 Physical description: 171p.: ill; 22cm. Uniform Title: Farther West ISBN: 0889102899 (pbk)

Video 3995
Farther West /CHCH-TV (Hamilton, Ontario); made by Eric Till
Pub. Info: Oakville, Ontario: Magic Lantern Communications, 1991. 1 videocassette (95 min.): sd., col.; 1/2 in. Stage on Screen Series, Canadian Collection, VHS Abstract: A presentation of a play by John Murrell. Set in Canada in the 1800s, it is a drama about one woman's struggle for freedom in a world where choices for women are set by men.

>From Maria Elena Raymond 8 May 1997 ...In addition to occupations you've suggested, women were telegraph operators, postmistresses (Tombstone, Arizona was only one of many places). In the 2nd vol. of the Journals of Alfred Doten (in 1882) he makes two references to hiring women at his newspaper office in Austin, Nevada: one woman named Lizzie Adair, as an apprentice to be a printer, and another woman named Laura Stebens (approx. 25-30 yrs old) as an apprentice to be a typesetter. Doten's wife was the Grammar Dept. teacher at the school in Austin. Other women were miners, both in the gold regions and the silver mines. Others owned and operated their own cattle ranches. Some women cleaned houses and cared for children, others split and hauled firewood for sale, and don't forget midwives and the occasional female physician. In addition to traveling troupes of entertainers which included women in the casts, local women would make extra money by lecturing on topics as diverse as the occult and how to contact the dead through seances to temperance or suffrage issues. Best wishes.

>From George Everett 14 May 1997 (H-WEST)

Dear Susan: I recommend that you check out a new source, _Mining Cultures: Men, Women and Leisure in Butte, 1914-41_ by Mary Murphy, who teaches at Montana State Univ. in Bozeman, Montana. It was just published by the U of Illinois Press as part of its Women in American History Series. Murphy's Master thesis (for MSU) is titled "Women on the Line: Prostitution in Butte, Montana, 1878-1917."

A s she points out, prostitution came quickly to mining boom towns like Butte. Murphy quotes an old couplet on the subject: "First came the miners to work on the line, Then came the ladies to live on the line."

Another source that I think is good is titled, _Red Light Ladies: Settlement Patterns and Material Culture on the Mining Frontier_ by Alexy Simmons for the 1989 Anthropology Northwest Series of Oregon State University in Corvallis. It examines the lives of prostitutes in Virginia City, Nevada; Helena, Montana; and Cripple Creek, Colorado.

Butte has some physical artifacts left from a red light district that boomed almost as big as the underground mines. The only remaining evidence of what was a thriving area called Venus Alley is the Dumas Historic Brothel, a restored parlor house that was run until the madam closed it down in the early 1980s. Rudy Giecek now gives tours of the Dumas but there is little in interpretation beyond Rudy's great stories, except a mannequin draped with a feather boa used to lure customers into the antique shops within. If you would like to learn more about the Dumas, and their plans for a future museum, you can contact Rudy Giecek at The Dumas Historic Brothel, 45 E. Mercury St., Butte, MT 59701; 406-782-3808.

Venus Alley was designed like a fortress with only a couple of exits so that drunk customers couldn't easily leave until their pockets were empty. Cribs were equipped with phones to call nearby bars for liquor and Chinese noodle parlors for food. "Cribs" are still visible in the walls of the standing buildings in the block but the grander Copper Block that was the home to many prostitutes and was run by Dirty Mouth Jean Sorenson, a novel unto herself, is no more. Crumbling bricks led to the demolishing of her building only a few years after her death. While in her prime, Jean earned her nickname by having the foulest mouth of any madam west of Paris. She kept a petrified walrus penis behind her bar and used it to mollycoddle patrons who got out of line in her establishment. No museum could do her justice.
One other note about Venus alley. Pimps here were known as "secretaries", a term I think is unique to Butte. ...Would it be possible to get a copy [of your thesis]? I would be glad to pass it along to the Dumas to inform their efforts to restore the parlor house and highlight its past as an upscale parlor house for "public" women, as they were called not too long ago.

>From Timothy Blessing 12 May 1997 (H-WEST)

As long as we are in the trans-Mississippi West, I can do nothing. I wonder though about the West I study, which ends in the Appalachians at 1783. The primary sources I am familiar with here reflect a society with less "looseness" in it and less room for behaviors which are not "middle of the curve." This could indicate the different paces of settlement, the different periods in which each were settled, or the different process of diffusion (i.e. expansion diffusion vs. relocation diffusion). My sense of the trans-Mississippi West is that it was settled by relocation diffusion where my region was settled by expansion diffusion. If I am right, then we are dealing with two very different processes which could make the question of the roles of "frontier women" very challenging in terms of interpretation.

>From Ray McInnis 12 May 1997

This item may be helpful. In Ketchikan, on River Street, "Dolly's House" is on display for the public. Dolly obviously catered to the "gold" miners and other entrepreneurs. However, she misses the "American West" and the 19th century. First, is Alaska a part of the American West? And I believe her activities are all confined to the 20th century. Best wishes.

>From Genevieve G. McBride 12 May 1997

...the Milwaukee (Wisconsin) Museum's "Streets of Old Milwaukee" exhibit includes homage to a famed brothel run by a Miss Kitty Wells here in the 19th century, which is said to have featured dozens of rooms with decor of different countries--and employees dressed to match. It's easy to miss, but those in the know go up a staircase to see the second-story room in the exhibit which, although its decor is prosaic, does feature a man's hat, cane and gloves on the bed--which is said to be, along with some other items in the room, from the original site. Also in the room is a copy of the venerable "Gentlemen's Guide" to our fair city, which was said to be where even Chicagoans came for fun in a wide-open town...until the appointment of the first German police chief

>From Bob Spude 27 May 1997 (H-WEST)

You probably know of two popular museums, the Homestead in Cripple Creek and the Brothel museum in San Angelo, Texas. In Skagway, Alaska, the upstairs of the Red Onion Saloon was under development as a bordello museum, but not sure if it was ever completed. The National Park Service acquired two small structures in an alley way of Skagway that research proved were part of the community's red-light district. The structures were not restored as cribs, but as rentals.