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Tuesday Ten: Soiled Doves


In recent weeks my Old West research has taken me right where I like to be. In town. And as much as I love the general stores, hotels and saloons, it’s a fact that no old west town was complete without a brothel and the ladies who worked there.

In general there were four classes of houses of ill repute, from the parlor houses with the most beautiful girls, finest foods and liquors and elegant décor. A tryst there might cost up to $100 a visit. Next would be the houses typically run by a madam, where the surroundings were somewhat less lush and the beautiful women weren’t as plentiful. An establishment such as this might charge anywhere from $2 to $100 per visit, depending on the competition. Then there were “cribs”, a one or two room shack where a single prostitute plied her trade for as little as $.50; she sometimes had a male companion who helped find her clients—but she still had the option of refusing a client. At the bottom of the list were the women who worked out of the back rooms of a saloon for $1-$2 a tumble.

Depressing as all that is, the names applied to these women and their occupation were quite colorful. Here for our Tuesday Ten, is a list of some of the them.

  • Painted cat
  • Girl of the night
  • Scarlet ladies
  • Fallen angel
  • Calico queen
  • Fair belles
  • Sporting woman
  • Painted ladies
  • Street nymph
  • Soiled dove

Source: Everyday Life in the Old West –Candy Moulton; Soiled Doves: Prostitution in the Early West – Anne Seagraves; Saloons of the Old West, Richard Erdoes



  1. Kristin-Marie says:

    In studying the Gold Country around where I live, it seems there were two professions (okay, three, if seamstress work counts) for women. That being baking and selling pies to miners, or prostituting. Rather few of the miners in the Gold Rush actually wed so there seems to have been quite a bit of business for the soiled doves. Interesting list.

  2. Paty Jager says:

    Colorful names for such a sullied occupation.

    Most of the women didn’t go by their real names. They also had interesting colorful names: Chicago Joe, Klondike Kate, Dirty Maude, China Doll, and flower names were popular.

    We seem to have the same collection of books. 😉

  3. Marlene says:

    Interesting, Nic. Since I live in the 1849 gold country, we still have a lot of the legends and some of the buildings used by the ladies of the night. Sounds like some things never change, just what we call them.

  4. Susan Macatee says:

    Great list, Nic!
    Interesting that prostitutes had so many colorful names to describe them.

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