Saloon Style Women Photographs & Images
Though Shady Ladies were not allowed in all saloons, other drinking houses were simply bordellos with a bar. Perhaps, some other type of entertainment such as a piano or dancehall girls. However, even if the saloon didn’t allow the women to practice their trade within its confines, the walls would still often be lined with women like them in photographs, prints, and beautiful paintings in some of the more upscale saloons.
In the Old West, by the 1860s, prostitution was a booming business. Though it was illegal almost everywhere, it was impossible to suppress, so the law generally did little more than tried to confine the parlors and brothels to certain districts of the community. Others regularly fined the brothels and painted ladies as a type of taxation. But otherwise, the businesses thrived with little intervention from the law.
Shady Ladies were so numerous in some of the frontier towns that some historians have estimated that they made up 25% of the population, often outnumbering the “decent” women 25 to 1. As the Old West towns grew, they would often have several bordellos staffed by four or five women. Usually, painted ladies were between the ages of 14 and 30 with an average age of 23.
Some high-class courtesans often demanded as much as $50 from their clients; however, rates on the frontier generally ranged from $5 at nicer establishments to $1 or less for most ladies of the night. Sometimes they would split their earnings with the parlor house’s madam, while others paid a flat fee per night or week.
Last, but certainly not least, were the paintings of nude women that often draped historic saloons’ walls. Paintings of nude women have always been popular, but never more so as they were during the 19th century, especially hanging over the bar of a saloon filled with rowdy men. While the great artists of Europe painted masterpieces that today hang in museums, hundreds of others copied their styles, techniques, and figures to produce numerous erotic works displaying naked women in lustful poses.
In the lobby of the Bird Cage Theatre in Tombstone, Arizona, is a larger-than-life-sized painting entitled Fatima. The original painting is of a woman named Farida Mazar Spyropoulos, who went by Fatima’s stage name. She played the Bird Cage in 1881, and this was a gift from her to the theatre. It has hung in this spot since 1882.
Paintings of harems or a single harem girl were often popular in the saloons of the Old West. The ultimate male fantasy, these paintings depicted rich Persian dynasties filled with the beautiful women of the royal harem, surrounded by velvets and gold, who were smiling and eager to serve their master. Due to explorers’ writings, American men imagined a harem as a top-of-the-line bordello with half-clad women laying around pools or spas, their bodies oiled, glistening with jewels, and rich fabrics. With a pouting smile on their lips, their sole purpose was to please the powerful man for whom they had given themselves for service.