Prostitution, the world’s oldest profession, flourished in the “Old West” in the 1800s because of the mining camps and lawless cow towns. There were few women on the frontier, sometimes two women for every 100 men, and therefore prostitution was widespread. These women were known by many names: soiled doves, painted ladies, ladies of the evening, ladies of the night, ladies of easy virtue, sporting women, demimonde, and courtesans to name a few. To conceal their true identities, many of these women assumed, or were given, nicknames or a humorous moniker to identify them, such as Big Nose Kate, Irish Molly, Rose of Cimarron, Molly b’Damn, Hambone Jane and the infamous Diamond Tooth Lil.
Many factors forced women into this line of work. Some were expelled from their homes or deserted by their parents or husbands and turned to prostitution to survive, or help their families survive, while others worked as domestics and servants and were tricked into the profession because they were seduced by their owners and masters. However, some went west, like the men, for adventure and actually enjoyed their profession. The background of these women usually had a common thread: they were young, usually illiterate, poor and from broken homes. Some were daughters of prostitutes. Immigant and Chinese women were sometimes sold into prostitution.
The term “Red Light District” is said to have originated in Kansas in the various towns that lined the railroads. The railroad men would pay a boy to watch for incoming/outgoing trains while they would go visit the brothels and cribs near the railroad yards. The men would leave their lights on outside the prostitute’s place of business in order for the boy to find them. Sometimes, there were so many lights the whole area would glow red, and thus the name “Red Light District.”
Contrary to popular belief, the dance hall girls were usually not prostitutes, being employed to brighten the evenings of the lonely cowboys and men of the western towns. They wore short, brightly colored skirts with many petticoats. The bodices were usually off the shoulder and low cut, and decorated with sequins, fringe and lace. They were usually called “painted ladies” because of the makeup they wore.
While researching this subject for my historical western romance Miss Lily’s Boarding House, I was surprised to learn that a hierarchy of prostitutes existed. At the top were the courtesans and mistresses who were beautiful, intelligent and sophisticated. Then came the women who worked in the fancy brothels and lavish parlor houses with elegant furnishings, servants and even entertainment. Finally came the crib prostitutes and the streetwalkers. Many names existed for these houses of “ill repute,” such as bognio, bordello, crib, parlor houses, houses of sin and bawdy houses. Portable brothels, called “cat wagons,” were used in the mining camps and around the military posts.
The parlor houses were often referred to as boarding houses to infer respectability. The women who worked there usually paid room and board, hence the term boarding house. This snippet of information was the idea behind Miss Lily’s Boarding House, where the heroine inherits a “boarding house” and travels west to claim her inheritance—only to discover she’s actually inherited a bordello.
I love writing love stories set in the “Old West.” Ever since John Wayne and Claire Trevor crossed Monument Valley in a stagecoach to Kevin Costner crossing open range to Russell Crowe catching the 3:10 to Yuma, I’ve loved westerns. Spent a lot of time growing up watching the oldies: Johnny Yuma, The Rifleman, Big Valley and Have Gun, Will Travel. After many years of writing, I became published in 2008. Miss Lily’s Boarding House will be released by The Wild Rose Press this month.
About the Author: Sandi has been writing longer than she cares to remember. But her efforts finally paid off when her first historical western romance was published in 2008 by The Wild Rose Press. Five more releases followed since then. Her latest manuscript, Miss Lily’s Boarding House will be released by The Wild Rose Press in November of 2012. Sandi’s debut novel with Champagne Books, Broken Promises, was released in July, 2012. Her short stories have appeared in New Love Stories Magazine, and several of her poems have been published in small press magazines and anthologies.
Despite the fact that Sandi is a Florida native and has never lived outside of Florida, she loves everything “western” and her passion for the “Old West” shows in her historical novels. She resides in Tampa with her husband Howard of 32 years. She has four grandchildren and will soon be a great grandmother.
Find Sandi online at:
When Grace Wentworth receives word her beloved aunt has died, she has no idea her inheritance is one of the most infamous bordellos in the State of Texas. Traveling to Texas to claim her inheritance will lead her straight into danger—and the chance for love. Logan Barnett wants to find his father’s killer—at any cost. He vows to avenge his father’s death—he’ll fight anything or anyone who stands in his way. Even the woman he loves.