c 2021 by Jan MacKell Collins
The following is excerpted from Good Time Girls of Arizona and New Mexico: A Red-Light History of the American Southwest.
One of the worst perils a working girl could face was becoming pregnant. Unmarried mothers were frowned on society to begin with. Prostitutes, already burdened with being societal outcasts, could be put out of work by such a malady. Many girls used birth control, but in frontier Arizona there were few reliable remedies. The girls found that using opiates sometimes suspended menses. Diaphragms, the most common type of birth control available, could be fashioned with beeswax, eel skin, a hollowed out orange half or a large glob of Vaseline. Wealthier girls could perhaps afford condoms made from animal intestines or later, rubber. Douching with a choice of anything from water to more dangerous substances such as alum or sulphate of zinc could actually push sperm farther into the uterus. Thus, those who employed these practices were susceptible to their birth control failing them.
If a woman found herself pregnant, she was naturally left with two choices: either have an abortion, or carry the baby to term. But abortion operations could be hard to come by, especially after Congress passed the Comstock Act in 1873, an “Act of the Suppression of Trade in, and Circulation of, Obscene Literature and Articles of Immoral Use.” Such literature included information about abortion and contraception. While women could still access information about such things via a friend, neighbor or other means, the subject remained largely forbidden and the information unreliable. Few frontier doctors were skilled, willing, or even allowed by law, to perform abortions. Within the red light district might be a woman who knew how to perform abortions, but such an operation came with great risk of infection or a botched procedure that could result in dire injury or death. Such back-alley “grannies” were only sometimes charged if their patients died. Abortion in the United States had long been outlawed, and by 1900 the procedure was a felony in every state.
On the other end of the pendulum was how word of such an operation might further deplete a girl’s already tarnished reputation. Those desperate to terminate their pregnancies could try jumping up and down, running, prolonged horseback riding, douching with dangerous chemicals or even throwing themselves down a set of stairs. Some women tried to induce miscarriages with home remedies. Perhaps the most dangerous of these was Ergot, a fungus that was already in use by some doctors to control bleeding after childbirth. The user could indeed induce a miscarriage, but risked other such dangerous side effects as cramps, vomiting, convulsions and even gangrene of the extremities. Quinine could also be used, but the large doses required might damage the kidneys. Consumption of numerous herbs including Black Cohosh, Saffron and other kitchen spices might induce an abortion. Or not. In the latter case, an abortion was the only other alternative. Many women who could not afford such services were forced with no other choice but to give birth. Much of the time, if the infant survived it was given away, abandoned, or turned over to an orphanage. But shame over their unwanted child and the means by which it was conceived could also persuade a woman to keep her baby and try to raise it herself.
In Prescott, the shady ladies of Granite Street, just one block south of “Whiskey Row” along Montezuma Street, were mostly extended freedom and acceptance when it came to selling sex. Prescott was in fact quite lenient in its laws against prostitution, often looking the other way when the ladies violated territorial prostitution laws. Those women who strayed beyond the designated “restricted district” or broke other loosely-worded city ordinances only came into the limelight when a real crime or violence was committed. Notably, little appeared in the newspapers about how officials dealt with children of the women. Various records, though scant, do illustrate how the fine citizens of Prescott accepted, adopted and looked after orphans and abandoned children in their community.
A favorite story from Whiskey Row is about Violet “Baby Bell” Hicks, who was intentionally abandoned by her mother at the Cabinet Saloon. Men in the saloon noticed the “comely young woman” who dropped her off, but apparently made no attempt to stop her. The forty or so men present gathered around the little bundle, and in due course some of them offered to adopt her. Legend states the men played dice with the stipulation that the winner would get the baby. In truth, Probate Judge Charles Hicks, who handled adoptions in town, was summoned and subsequently took charge of the child. They say the men present sent Hicks off with $300 for the baby’s care. What is known for sure is that Hicks and his wife Allie adopted and raised Violet in due course.
Most unfortunately, Violet Hicks proved an exception to so many children who never lived to school age. Lack of prenatal care, qualified physicians in rural areas, and general knowledge of childcare could hinder a child’s growth and make it susceptible to illness and disease. It is no wonder, in the days before aspirin, penicillin and other medicines we depend on today. People, and especially children, were subject to such illnesses as cholera, smallpox and measles. Poor sanitary conditions could produce a number of fatal intestinal diseases. And, there were always colds which easily developed into a deadly flu.
In Yavapai County, the first documented child of a prostitute was Mariana Bran [sic], who is recorded in the first Arizona Territorial Census as living with Santa Lopez. Santa was noted as being the mistress of “Negro Brown.” One-year-old Mariana may have been Brown’s child, her surname misspelled by the census taker. What happened to Mariana remains a mystery, but by 1870 even a well cared for inner-city child had only a 50 percent chance of making it to the age of five. At least three children were surviving in Prescott’s red light district during the 1870’s. In July of 1870, the census noted that one house, occupied by three young women known as Maria Quavaris, Pancha Bolona and Joan Arris, also included an eight month old infant, Savana Deas, who had been born in Arizona. Any one of the women might have been the child’s mother.
Overall, most prostitute mothers did not welcome the idea of a pregnancy or a child interfering with their professional lives. Only a small number of children followed in their mother’s footsteps; most were raised by family members, or sent off to boarding schools by those mothers who could afford it. Other times, the child was left behind with a relative, or perhaps even abandoned along with the father. When Ellen “Nellie” Stackhouse (nee Ellen L. Crane) was murdered in 1877, it was noted she had a husband and child in San Francisco.
Infant mortality rates due to their mother’s doing had become so rampant by 1877 that Arizona Territory enacted a law against women killing or concealing the death of their “bastard” children, as follows:
“If any woman shall endeavor, privately, either by herself or the procurement of others, to conceal the death of any issue of her body, male or female, which, if born alive, would be a bastard, so that it may not come to light, whether it shall have been murdered or not, every such mother being convicted thereof shall suffer imprisonment in the county jail for a term not exceeding one year; provided, however, that nothing herein contained shall be so construed as to prevent such mother from being indicted and punished for the murder of such bastard child.”
Plenty of living infants and children were present in Prescott’s red light district along Granite Street. In 2005, archaeological excavations in portions of the red light district revealed marbles and other toys, indicating that at some point, children lived among the ladies. The 1880 census proves this also, revealing that prostitutes Mary Healey, Mollie Martin, Juana Lugo, and Francisa Traney all had children residing with them in their brothels. Mary Healey and Mollie Martin both lived with Madam Ann Hamilton in a plush house on Granite Street. Mary Healey had an 8 month old son, Henry, born the previous September. Very little is known about mother and child, save for the census information. According to that, Mary had been born in 1861 in California. Henry was also born there, and the only information known about his father is that he had been born in Massachusetts.
A little more is known about Mollie Martin and her daughter, Edith. Mollie was born in 1856 in New Jersey, and told the census taker she was married. Edith had been born in Arizona in 1878, and her father had been born in Virginia. Mollie was either pregnant with Edith or had already given birth in April of 1878 when she was involved in a scuffle. The Weekly Arizona Miner reported that she, Willie Beatty and Jennie Warren had appeared in court on assault and battery charges. The threesome pleaded guilty, and were fined $25 each. “The fines were paid,” concluded the paper, “and the damsels discharged.” An excavation of Ann Hamilton’s brothel in 2004 revealed a small porcelain doll head. Did the doll belong to Edith? The truth will likely never be known.
Little is known about Juana Lugo’s three year old daughter, Josephine, except that she was born in Arizona. In the case of Francisca Tranery, the thirty-year old woman actually had two children living with her. One was her daughter, a ten year old named Rosa who was born in Arizona. The other, six year old Francisco Fryo, is listed in the 1880 census as a “boarder”. No other information about the boy, except that he had been born in Arizona and his parents born in Mexico, is known. Children also were present with prostitutes living at the mining camps in the Bradshaw Mountains close to Prescott. At the Peck Mine was 25-year-old Josepa Noreiga of Mexico. Josepa lived with stable keeper W. J. Milvenon and miner Thomas Gormley. Also in the house was Josepa’s son, two year old Charles Noreiga, listed as a nephew of Milvenon. Charles’ birthplace was listed as Arizona. His father was born in Ohio. Since Milvenon claimed to have been born in Massachusetts, and Gormley was from Connecticut, it can be safely assumed that neither man was Charles’ father.
By 1900, the mortality rate for children on average was slightly lower than before, with toddlers averaging a 75 percent chance of surviving to the age of five years. Those who were born into a union, before their mothers turned to prostitution, were probably the most fortunate. There were exceptions, however. In Prescott, Bessie Covell told the 1900 census taker she had been married for two years and had given birth to two children, but that both had died. Several other working girls in the census were widows and likely forced by their station to work as prostitutes. Such women included Daisy Martin, a widow at the young age of 22, who told the census taker she had a child who did not live with her. Thirty-eight-year old Emma Wilson, also a widow, claimed five children who were still living, with no indication of where they might be. Mattie Wasson was not as fortunate as Emma Wilson. She too had been married for ten years before her husband died, and two of her four children had also died. The hard-core harlot Stella Shank, featured frequently in newspapers due to her antics and brushes with the law, had it even worse. Stella became an unwilling widow after nine years of marriage, and only one of her seven children was still living.
Like Stella Shank, Minnie Moore also made occasional headlines. Minnie was an immigrant from Spain who also was a widow. She had given birth to seven children, but only three were still alive. The pain of losing her children aside, Minnie was known to have lived in Tempe in 1893 when she was arrested for prostitution. No mention was made of her children in reports of her arrest. In Prescott, Minnie shared a house with Minnie Smith who recorded no children of her own. Nor were Minnie Moore’s children living with her, leaving their whereabouts unknown.
Surprisingly, the women of Granite Street were quite open with the census taker in 1900, aside from fibbing about their true occupations as prostitutes. The giddy girls of Prescott had no qualms about revealing whether they were married and had children. In all cases, both husband and said offspring were apparently living elsewhere. One of these women was Flora Freese who said she was born in California, had been married for eight years, and had two children. Likewise, Amelia Hernandez also said she had been married, for six years, and had four children. Fifty-five-year old Carrie Neal revealed frankly that she was single but had given birth to a child sometime in her past. When she died in 1918, no known family member came forth to claim her remains.
By 1901, firm laws were in place with regards to furnishing “necessary food, clothing, shelter or medical attendance” for children by their parents. There also was a law against abandoning any child under sixteen years of age “in any place whatever, with intent fully to abandon it”. Violation of this last law could result in prison time. Unfortunately, the law could do little about the reckless behavior of parents, especially those in the red light district. In April 1907, Faustina Cruz and Alfonso Moreno “shot and carved, respectively”, one Angle Perez in a Granite Street saloon. Just a month later, on May 10, Faustina gave birth to a stillborn baby at her home at 219 North Granite Street. Prescott’s funeral home records are full of these cases. Just down the street from Faustina, in 1910, Refugio and Adela Staragosa’s thirteen day old baby, Manuela, died of apparent crib death at 242 South Granite.
Even as Prescott’s known working girls eventually wandered away from Granite Street, the old red light district continued to be a dingy, unhealthy place. Due to its raucous past, no decent citizen would live there, leaving the neighborhood open to inhabitants of the poorer class. Witness Macario Castaneda, the child of Macario Castaneda and Delores y Tuarte who succumbed to colitis in June of 1919. The death took place at 220 Granite Street. Similar deaths were reported between 1921 and as late as 1936, the deaths of these children occurring in quarters formerly occupied, or sometime still occupied, by red light ladies. Such common maladies as whooping cough, pneumonia, scarlet fever and other childhood illnesses were countered with blatant notes on the babies’ care. “Poor food. Lack of intelligence in feeding,” read the cause of death for a nine-month old baby at the home of Aoroa Cruz on South Granite Street in 1926.
For the most part, the fates of babies born into prostitution were seldom covered by newspapers or anywhere else. Local newspapers did make the most of the case of Lucille R. Bedford, the three-year old child of sporting woman Eileen Bedford. Born Eileen Glassel Mitchell, Eileen was the former wife of Charles Bedford, a well known saloon man. The couple had been married at Prescott on July 18, 1901 and lived happily at their home at 232 S. Marina Street through 1904. The marriage did not prove suitable, and the couple eventually divorced in 1906. Charles moved to Los Angeles, while Eileen remained in Prescott. There, she rented Room 16, an apartment above the Wellington Saloon on Montezuma Street.
Despite being from a wealthy family and inheriting part of an $800,000 fortune left by her grandfather, Eileen was “well known to the pleasure resorts” of Prescott. Whether she actively worked as a prostitute is unknown, but she was generally regarded as “a woman of excellent education, quiet, unassuming and of rather fine disposition.”xxi Little Lucille had been sent to live with her grandmother when Eileen grew despondent, probably over the failure of her marriage. In March of 1907 she attempted suicide with a gun, but it was taken away from her. On April 9, after a day of drinking, Eileen was escorted to her room by proprietor B. F. Winn of the Wellington. Both Winn and his bartender tried to talk Eileen out of drinking any more, and Winn retired to his room. Sometime later he heard Eileen groaning and rushed back to her room, only to find she successfully shot herself in the heart with a Colt .38. She was only 25 years old. Eileen’s body was removed to Angelus Rosedale Cemetery in Los Angeles for burial.
Eileen had in fact been planning to visit her mother, Mrs. Susan G. Mitchell, in Los Angeles within a few days. Her reasons for choosing suicide were unknown, but they could have been because she feared facing her mother and revealing her current occupation. And, learning of her daughter’s occupation may have indeed been what caused Mrs. Mitchell to become ill. Following Eileen’s death, the grieving mother made a will and bequeathed her $250,000 estate to be divided between Eileen’s estate and her other daughter, Mrs. Lucie [sic] Lamborne.
A 1908 lawsuit by little Lucy’s guardian ad litem alleged that shortly before Mitchell’s death in December of 1907, Lamborne had drawn up another will and made her mother sign it. The new will decreed that Lamborne would receive her mother’s house, its furnishings and $10,000 in stock in the firm of Lambourne [sic] & Sons. Little Lucille would get half of what remained, but later reports claimed the amount was only five dollars. This suit was apparently dropped. Charles Bedford also filed suit, in 1909, contesting Eileen’s will. Bedford lost his appeal in court; however, Lucy Lamborne agreed to give half of the fortune left to little Lucy on the condition she be allowed to adopt her.
Lamborne got her wish, for in 1910 little Lucy was living at the Lamborne home in Los Angeles. When Lucy Lamborne died in 1930, her obituary stated she was little Lucy’s mother. But little Lucy was long gone from the home, having married Donald Bryant and relocated to Bakersfield, California where she lived happily with her husband and two sons. Either the family fortune was gone as well, or Lucy Bryant turned her back on it. Census records for 1930 and 1940, as well as various California city directories, indicate Donald worked in the oil fields throughout the southern portion of the state.