Red Light Women of the Rocky Mountains

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Red Light Women of the Rocky Mountains
Series Title:
Red Light Women of the Rocky Mountains
Fetter, Rosemary
Place of Publication:
Denver, CO
Center for Colorado and the West
Publication Date:

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Auraria Library
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Auraria Library
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All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.


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Red Light Women of the Rocky Mountains | Center for Colorado & the West at Auraria Library[12/8/2015 12:55:25 PM] Home Red Light Women of the Rocky MountainsRed Light Women of the Rocky MountainsSubmitted by jainlayconley on 2-26-2010 06:29 PMAuthor: Jan MacKell Publishing: Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 2009. Photos, endnotes, index. xxi + 458 pages. 9-1/2 x 6. $34.95 hardcover. Reviewer: Rosemary Fetter Its likely that more books and articles have been written about prostitutes in the Old West than any other group of women. While the importance of red light ladies in the grand scheme of westward expansion may be disputed, their ubiquitous presence in mining camps, small towns and cities is undeniable. Generally, they were the first females to set foot in a mining camp and the first to go when respectable women had their say. Usually, this took awhile. Cripple Creek historian Jan MacKell offers a new take on the topic with Red Light Women of the Rocky Mountains MacKell originally made her mark with Brothels, Bordellos, and Bad Girls: Prostitution in Colorado, 1860s which took an in-depth look at prostitution during its heyday in Colorado. She continues the saga with her latest book, beginning with Native American and Chinese prostitutes and following the trail through the Rocky Mountain states of Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. According to MacKell, each of the seven states represented here had its own unique geographic, social, economic and cultural standards with regards to the industry. Even the professions terminology varied from one place to another. Given that she only had a year to research and write and a lot of ground to cover, MacKell does a creditable job of pulling it all together. Many of the books illustrations have never been published, and copious endnotes often cite primary sources. Her scholarship has been open to question by other reviewers, however. MacKell has a tendency to quote her own work as a source too often, and her occasional citation of Wikipedia as a resource is simply asking for trouble. The book might have benefited from a bit more digging and a later publication date. The author is a talented storyteller with a comfortable cadence to her prose, however, and she shows insight and compassion when delving into the lives of women who might otherwise have faded into history without making a blip on the radar. Most tales have a tragic ring, although she mentions several ladies who managed to run a profitable business and retire comfortablyor at least retire. An interesting example is Mae Phelps, who organized the Trinidad Madams Association and later built the Madams Rest Home, which provided a safe haven for girls looking for a temporary escape or a much-needed vacation. MacKell explains that these women turned to prostitution for a variety of reasons. Some entered the trade to escape an abusive father or husband, while others were enticed out West by false promises of marriage or an honest income. Often, the unfortunate girls had been seduced, abandoned, and disowned by their families. Many simply took what seemed like the easy way out, trading drudgery and boredom for the possibility of disease, drug and alcohol addiction, persecution, abuse, pregnancy and abortion, or even EXPLORE BY MEDIABook Reviews Photographs Video Biographies New Publications Resource Guides County Newspaper HistoriesEXPLORE BY TOPICLand & Natural Resources Government & Law Agriculture Mining Commerce & Industry Transportation People & Places Communication Healthcare & Medicine Education & Libraries Cultural Communities Recreation & Entertainment Tourism ReligionEXPLORE BY CULTUREHispanic Native AmericanIn 1893, Colorado became the first state in the union to allow women the right to vote through popular election.


Red Light Women of the Rocky Mountains | Center for Colorado & the West at Auraria Library[12/8/2015 12:55:25 PM] Auraria Library 303-556-4587 1100 Lawrence Street Denver, Colorado 80204 In the News Partners & Donations About Us Contact Us murder and suicide. On the other hand, some prostitutes found husbands and married well and happily. Others, particularly in the mining camps, found themselves working for their husbands fourteen to sixteen hours a day with no time off. They simply traded one form of slavery for another, worn out by overwork and childbirth before they turned forty. The problem with any book on prostitution is that, however well written, the stories have an inevitable similarity, and some of the content is bound to be apocryphal. So little is known about these women, and so many are mentioned, that its difficult to get too involved in their lives or destinies. MacKell does a good job of filling in the gaps with interesting details on the business itself, including social and legal ramifications, along with information on brothel museums, theatrical performances and similar events. Since the general public seems to have an endless appetite for the topic and MacKells work is lively and full of anecdotes, the book should attract a substantial readership. Reviewer Info: Rosemary Fetter is a free-lance writer, retired communications director at the Auraria Higher Education Center and former CU graduate student in Colorado history. She has written numerous articles about local history and preservation for magazines and newspapers statewide and is currently a part-time staff writer for the Villager newspaper. She is the author of three books, including Climb Every Mountain a history of Denvers Graland Country Day School, and Colorados Legendary Lovers a collection of vignettes about famous Colorado couples. She is currently working on a history of the Denver Rotary Club. Add new comment