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Sin in the Second City , a new book by Karen Abbott, offers an in-depth look at the prostitution trade in turn-of-the-century Chicago. In particular, Abbott focuses on the Everleigh sisters, two madams who ran a high-class brothel on South Dearborn Street that earned them extraordinary wealth and international fame.
Abbott agreed to answer our questions about her book. Q: Could you describe the economics of the Everleigh brothel? What was the total income? Salaries for the Everleigh madams and their prostitutes? Q: Tell us about the legality of prostitution. What was the stance on enforcement in the s? How has it changed? A: Prostitution was technically illegal at the turn of the last century, but it was also ubiquitous.
When the Everleighs were in business, every city with a population of more than ,00 had a bustling red light district where dope fiends, pickpockets, and brawlers got their kicks next to lawyers, ministers, moguls, and, of course, politicians. Vice thrived, with municipal indulgence.
The Progressive-era reformers challenged this way of thinking, which led to a major culture war. The Everleighs were targeted because they were this gleaming, shining symbol of open and protected vice, known around the world.
Q: Does the Everleigh experience relate to the current scandal involving a D. In your view, do the same rules still apply? A: Absolutely! Prostitution and politics are inexorably linked, both literally and figuratively. The press inevitably zeroes in on the politician in the aftermath of such scandals: How sincere was his apology? Can his career survive? His marriage? The focus is rarely on the prostitute, who wields tremendous power in these situations. Q: If the Everleighs existed today, would their business plan still succeed?