TITLE: Ladies of the night
DATE: 10:02:00 AM
Far from any big city and off the information highway, wandering through the dusty articles of curiosity under glass in the museum in Bodie, I happened upon a book tucked away on the store shelf unlike any of the other individual accounts of the Wild West, or of botanical interest in the Eastern Sierra. This narrow paperback -- tucked away because of it's controversial subject matter, with the quaint moniker "Soiled Doves" in a gentle script, announced it's an account of the "grey world of prostitution and the women who participated in the oldest profession."
My curiosity was aroused; I bought the book because I want to know about these ladies of the night, what role they play in history, what role they play in the present.
The back cover claims it's a "strong book proved(ing) a toughing insight into the ladies of the night." 165 pages strong, this self-declared "touching insight" is composed mostly of rare photos, re-typed newspaper accounts, and heartfelt comments by the author about the years she spent researching old and out-of-print books, and many thanks to the individuals who "allowed her mother's fascinating book" to be used as reference.
Who is this Anne Seagraves and what compelled her to write "High-Spirited Women of the West," "Women Who Charmed the West," and "Women of the Sierra?" She lives in northern Idaho where she is currently working on her seventh book. Wesanne Publications, also in northern Idaho, has four titles in print and no web address -- three of the four titles are by Seagraves.
Some of these "ladies of easy virtue" I've heard of, like Calamity Jane; and a place that I know, Lola Montez, is named for where the most sought-after courtesan of the era once lived. These fallen women are described in colorful detail, not sparing the glamour of these fancy "houses" (author's quotes) decorated with elaborate furnishings, and describing the admirable qualities of well-known madams who "saved innocent lives" of girls coming to them for work. Though never socially accepted, these ladies played an important role in the early West -- some of them strong entrepreneurs, and settling the frontier right along side male pioneers. But the reader is often reminded that this was a way of life scorned by citizens then and now, a life without hope, where flesh was sold, women exploited and seduced into prostitution, alcohol and drugs... sometimes ending in suicide, or at least shame if she tries to marry and lead a normal life.
There are other women with an interest to keep this part of history alive; Jan Koski and many others have published on red-light ladies, purveyors of pleasure, sportin' women, ladies of ill-fame, and every other manner of labeling the nortorious history of the American old west.
Overall, I give Seagraves an "A" for effort and a "D" for grammar, style and presentation.