all manner of brothels, cat-houses, and cribs thrived throughout the
West, those "parlor
houses” that were elegantly furnished and having the most beautiful
and desirable women, were obviously the most profitable. These better establishments were run by a female owner called a
"madame.” This was usually an older woman who had "paid her dues” by practicing
the same profession as those who worked for her. Many of these women
became legends of the
Old West for the popularity of their
"houses," the people they came into contact with, or events that
occurred in their lives.
The running of a parlor house or brothel was
often a very profitable business and the most successful madames were
extremely adept business women, who amassed not only wealth, but real
estate, fine horses, and other material goods.
First-class places set a good table and prided themselves on
their cellars, offering choice cigars, bonded bourbon, and the finest
liquors and wines. Customers could often enjoy champagne suppers and sing
with the girls around the piano. In very high class parlor houses,
the women could only be seen by appointment.
The girls’ rooms were always on the second
floor, if there was one. Parlor houses would usually average six to 12
girls, plus the madame, who entertained only those customers she
personally selected. Some of the more famous madames charged as much as
$1,000 for their services, such as
Colorado's famous madame,
Pearl de Vere.
provided for the women who worked for them, a number of services,
primarily protection, often employing "bouncers" who would rid the
house of any "rif-raf." Sometimes, room and board was also provided,
though at others, the soiled doves paid rent. The
madame would then
take a split of the money earned by the "girls," an amount that varied
from house to house, and the "services" provided by the