The women we explore here made contributions to early Women’s entrepreneurship, having strong business plans, tenacity, and were not afraid to push boundaries. Though none were known to have the sort of wealth and extravagant lifestyle of our previous headliner, Madam C.J. Walker, these women were not far off. Their business entrepreneurship allowed for their prowess and magnificence as women who knew what they wanted and knew how to get it. These “Madams of the Night” are not recorded in most history books but were integral parts of building many economies in early America.
In Denver, Mattie Silks owned the best brothels in the city in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Though no one has been able to prove a completely factual account of Mattie’s life, one thing that remains constant is that she was a business woman and was good at it. She purported that she was never a prostitute herself, but “went into the sporting life for business reasons and for no other. It was a way for a woman in those days to make money, and I made it.” Mattie prided herself and her employees with having the best women in town, both in look and dress. She also made it a point that the women who worked for her came to her of their own free will. She said in a Denver newspaper interview,
“No innocent young girl was ever hired by me… (the women) came to me for the same reasons that I hired them. Because there was money in it for all of us.”
In New Orleans, Lulu White was a distinctive Madam in the Storyville era. Her entrepreneurial drive gave way for marketing prowess, as she advertised her brothel to be distinct from amongst the others in Storyville during the later 1800s, and early 1900s. She marketed her establishment as having exclusively ‘octoroons’ (women who were one-eight black) to both bypass the Jim Crow laws of the day, and to create an mysterious presence of her and her employees. Lulu was known to flaunt the wealth she had, and her clients gave rise to this wealth. Her clients were entertained by both Lulu White and her employees, along with hired pianists who played the best jazz music of the day in the parlor of her famed “Mahogany Hall.”
Finally, in Chicago, the sisters Ada & Minna Everleigh together ran one of the most successful and upscale brothels in American History. The sisters opened Everleigh Club and hired only the best women from around the county, and allowed only the most wealthy of men to enter the club. Minna Everleigh was quoted as to have said, “one $50 client is better than five $10 ones. Less wear and tear.” Their business model of exclusivity was unique, and allowed for success for the sisters and their employees while the brothel was active. Eventually, their club was shut down by the city after the mayor saw a formal advertisement for their business venture. When they retired, though, they retired with a million dollars between them, along with hundreds of thousands in jewels and furnishings.
The four women entrepreneurs explored here are just a few of the many “Madams of the Night” that contributed to the early economies of American cities. The entrepreneurial spirit of these women allowed money to flow into cities, and for women to have a means to live of their own accord. Though many women today do not look to start their own business as “Madams of the Night” (unless you are in some counties in Nevada), women are still at the forefront of entrepreneurship with numbers growing daily. At Lex Valorem, half of the entrepreneurs we assist are female, which is a little over the national average of women entrepreneurs within the US. The rise in women entrepreneurship should be both celebrated and recognized, as there are still obstacles for women, especially women of color, who are still receiving fewer awarded business loans than their male counter parts, among other challenges to women in the business world.
We hope that by being a woman owned and ran business ourselves, we at Lex Valorem can assist in creating a comfortable and exciting entrepreneurial spirit in our clients, and one that allows women to succeed in their business ventures.
-Caroline Mueller, Paralegal
Not intended as legal advice.