Fact: Sex workers helped build America. These women came to the Wild West/The Old West (whatever you want to go with) and smashed every expectation of womanhood.
They became business oligarchs, they built entire communities and forged their own independence.
It’s a one hell of a tale! But before we dive it it, let’s quickly knock out the basics:
How did the West come to be?
Around the mid 1800s there was a huge boom in the amount of land being built in the South West of America. Most of this land was built for mining. As new sources for coal and metal mining were discovered, towns sprung up overnight to house the influx of workers that appeared to mine it.
Suddenly you had entire towns with 1000’s of men and maybe a dozen or so women. Now you don’t have to be good at maths to see that the ratio here is a little off.
Having spotted the er…supply and demand issue, business minded women start arriving in these towns and setting up shop as sex workers.
Soon these women were earning in one day what they might otherwise earn in a week as a factory worker or clerk.
There were of course risks….a lot of risks. But in the Old West it was these women were effectively working at the same risk level as a working men had. Communities, rules and laws were still being worked out, which meant that murder, beating and work caused incidents/deaths we’re sadly not rare hazards for any gender or line of work!
Yes the risks were high, BUT the clients were many, the going was good and soon the cash was flowing!
So, women started opening their own brothels. This in turn led to women buying land, companies and eventually building business empires of their own.
Soon entire towns revolved around one damn good brothel.
This wasn’t luck. The ladies running these brothels had business smarts for days. Seriously they could have smashed The Apprentice (and probably Donald Trump too…)
One of the best examples of this is Mattie Silks:
A small town girl, Mattie opened her first brothel at just 19. This made her the youngest madam in America.
She invested her profits back into the business, as well as growing her income and holdings by buying real estate and land.
These buisness smarts meant that in just a few years Mattie was running one of Denvers most popular brothels. Patrons were greeted with luxury surroundings and a full orchestra – because this wasn’t just sex…it was Silk sex, and it was classy AF.
But Mattie didn’t stop at having a leading chain of high end brothels. She paid her staff a salary that made them some of the highest paid women in the country.
OK, so, by now you might be thinking – sure these women created businesses that made them some of the richest women in the country and bought tons of new income to the growing West. But is that really building America? Don’t you need stuff like, schools, hospitals and churches, as well as places to have sexy time?
And they did that too.
These women had made themselves pillars in their communities. They weren’t just there for the money, they wanted to make a difference.
Following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, Diamond Jessie Hayman, opened her brothel doors to feed, clothe and shelter anyone that needed help. And Diamond Jessie was far from alone!
Here are just a few examples of how America’s sex workers made a difference:
Lou Graham, donated money to build up Seattle’s schools and also saved countless businesses and banks during a period of depression.
Anna Wilson’s will requested that her huge mansion be turned into Omaha’s first emergency hospital.
And former slave turned influential brothel owner, Mary Ellen “Mammy” Pleasant, campaigned tirelessly for the de-segregation of streetcars in San Francisco.
These women were doing way more for their communities than just providing cash and a good time. They were building them up, and turning them for shit holes to sustainable home steads!
And you best believe these communities didn’t forget the women that helped make them!
In 1890, Wyoming refused to become a US state, if it’s women were not allowed to keep the vote (which they had been granted in 1869) saying:
‘We will remain out of the Union one hundred years rather than come in without the women’
This was really interesting where can I find out more? I’d suggest checking out A Renegade History of the United States, by Thaddeus Russell (great name!), it has an amazing section on this.