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Minneapolis Madams

The Lost History of Prostitution on the Riverfront

2013
Author:

Penny Petersen

Minneapolis Madams

A real-life detective story uncovering the history of brothels in nineteenth-century Minneapolis

Minneapolis Madams is the surprising and riveting account of the Minneapolis red-light district and the powerful madams who ran it. Penny A. Petersen brings to life this nearly forgotten chapter of Minneapolis history, tracing the story of how these “houses of ill fame” rose to prominence in the late nineteenth century and were finally shut down in the early twentieth century.

An utterly engrossing, behind-the-bordello look at the collision between the Mill City’s commercial sex industry, civic corruption, and advocates for sexual purity in the 1800s, Minneapolis Madams is always empathic, never prurient, but often shocking. Historian Penny A. Petersen probes the nineteenth-century ecosystem of brothels and streetwalkers with a keen eye for political hypocrisy, sexual double standards, racial prejudice, and gender-driven economics. A gem of sexual and social history, this book illuminates the boudoirs of the long-forgotten red-light districts with insight, wit, and humanity.

Paul Maccabee, author of John Dillinger Slept Here: A Crooks’ Tour of Crime and Corruption in St. Paul

Sex, money, and politics—no, it’s not a thriller novel. Minneapolis Madams is the surprising and riveting account of the Minneapolis red-light district and the powerful madams who ran it. Penny A. Petersen brings to life this nearly forgotten chapter of Minneapolis history, tracing the story of how these “houses of ill fame” rose to prominence in the late nineteenth century and then were finally shut down in the early twentieth century.

In their heyday Minneapolis brothels were not only open for business but constituted a substantial economic and political force in the city. Women of independent means, madams built custom bordellos to suit their tastes and exerted influence over leading figures and politicians. Petersen digs deep into city archives, period newspapers, and other primary sources to illuminate the Minneapolis sex trade and its opponents, bringing into focus the ideologies and economic concerns that shaped the lives of prostitutes, the men who used their services, and the social-purity reformers who sought to eradicate their trade altogether. Usually written off as deviants, madams were actually crucial components of a larger system of social control and regulation. These entrepreneurial women bought real estate, hired well-known architects and interior decorators to design their bordellos, and played an important part in the politics of the developing city.

Petersen argues that we cannot understand Minneapolis unless we can grasp the scope and significance of its sex trade. She also provides intriguing glimpses into racial interactions within the vice economy, investigating an African American madam who possibly married into one of the city’s most prestigious families. Fascinating and rigorously researched, Minneapolis Madams is a true detective story and a key resource for anyone interested in the history of women, sexuality, and urban life in Minneapolis.

Minneapolis Madams

Penny A. Petersen is a researcher for a historical consulting company in Minneapolis. She is the author of Hiding in Plain Sight: Minneapolis’ First Neighborhood, a history of the Marcy–Holmes neighborhood. She has worked as a historic site interpreter and site technician for the Minnesota Historical Society at St. Anthony Falls.

Minneapolis Madams

An utterly engrossing, behind-the-bordello look at the collision between the Mill City’s commercial sex industry, civic corruption, and advocates for sexual purity in the 1800s, Minneapolis Madams is always empathic, never prurient, but often shocking. Historian Penny A. Petersen probes the nineteenth-century ecosystem of brothels and streetwalkers with a keen eye for political hypocrisy, sexual double standards, racial prejudice, and gender-driven economics. A gem of sexual and social history, this book illuminates the boudoirs of the long-forgotten red-light districts with insight, wit, and humanity.

Paul Maccabee, author of John Dillinger Slept Here: A Crooks’ Tour of Crime and Corruption in St. Paul

Money, sex, and politics stir passions. Penny Petersen’s unique and well-researched history of a group of Minneapolis madams in the late 19th and early 20th century poses universal fundamental questions that are as relevant and controversial today as they were then. This book will challenge as well as enlighten readers. It will surely provoke conversations and upset conventional thinkers, but it should also stimulate deeper thought about not only current economic, social and political issues but about history. It is not static; it changes with new information and insights such as Petersen gives the reader.

Arvonne Fraser, author of She’s No Lady: Politics, Family and International Feminism and former U.S. ambassador to UN Commission on the Status of Women

Minneapolis’ colorful past is unveiled in this true story about women, sexuality and urban life.

... Minneapolis Madams is a detective story that poses questions about the political, social and economic issues that fed into the commercial sex industry.

South-West Review

Minneapolis Madams

Contents

Preface
Acknowledgments
Introduction: The Public Women of Minneapolis

1. Women’s Work of all Kinds: Paid Labor, Sex Work, and the Reform Movement
2. The War on the Madams: Purity Crusades and Liquor Patrols
3. Red Lights Along the Riverfront: The Madams Make their Move
4. Reforming the City: Doc Ames, “White Slavery”, and the End of an Era
5. Vice Report: After the Bordellos Closed

Notes
Index