- 1 Opening of the Everleigh Club
- 2 Everleigh expenses
- 3 The sisters' separate responsibilities
- 4 The club's heyday
- 5 The club's interior layout
- 6 Standards for employees
- 7 Scandals at the Everleigh Club
- 8 Closing The Everleigh Club
- 9 Legacy
- 10 In popular culture
- 11 Notes
- 12 References
- 13 External links
Opening of the Everleigh Club
The Everleigh Sisters, Minna and Ada, were born near Charlottesville, Kentucky. Minna was born on February 15, 1864. Ada was born July 13, 1866. Initially born with the surname, Simms, the sisters took the name Everleigh which was inspired by their grandmother's tradition to sign her letters "Everly Yours." According to the sisters, after two unsuccessful marriages (of which there is no record), the Everleigh sisters left the small town they were raised on in Kentucky (another story concocted by the sisters) for Omaha, Nebraska. It was there where Minna and Ada established their first brothel using money they invested from their $35,000 estate inheritance. In only two years, the women doubled their investment in addition to earning a considerable profit . So Mina and Ada closed the brothel and with their recent earnings sought out more lucrative investment opportunities.
The young entrepreneurs were advised to move to Chicago—a bustling sexual commerce district—to invest in another brothel. With Cleo Maitland's suggestion, a madam in Washington D.C., Minna and Ada purchased Effie Hankins brothel. Hankins's brothel was located in the notorious red-light district referred to as the Levee district at 2131-2133 South Dearborn Street. The brothel stood among an enclave of competing brothel establishments each indistinguishable from the rest. So in order to set their new establishment apart from the rest the Everleigh Sisters elaborately redecorated the brothel, which in turn, redeveloped the institution of sexual commerce in the red light district to higher more luxurious standard.
Prior to relocating to Chicago, the Everleigh sisters toured brothels in many cities, trying to find a location which had "plenty of wealthy men but no superior houses." They were directed to Chicago by Cleo Maitland, a madam in Washington, D.C., who suggested they contact Effie Hankins in Chicago. After buying Hankins's brothel at 2131–2133 South Dearborn Street, they "fired all the women and completely redecorated the entire building with the most luxurious appointments available. Silk curtains, damask easy chairs, oriental rugs, mahogany tables, gold rimmed china and silver dinner ware, perfumed fountains in every room, a $15,000 gold-leafed piano for the Music Room, mirrored ceilings, a library filled with finely bound volumes, an art gallery featuring nudes in gold frames—no expense was spared. While the heavyweight boxer Jack Johnson thought the $57 gold spittoons in his café were worth boasting about, the patrons of the Everleigh Club were obliged to expectorate in $650 gold cuspidors." The Everleigh Club was described by Chicago's Vice Commission as "probably the most famous and luxurious house of prostitution in the country."
Prior to the opening of the Everleigh Club, Ada was responsible for recruiting staff for the club. She started by contacting her former employees in Omaha and spreading the word through brothels across the country. She conducted face-to-face interviews with all the applicants. The brothel opened on February 1, 1900 with little fanfare, and turned away many of the clients who initially appeared because the Everleigh Sisters did not deem them suitable for the clientele they were seeking. Once the club was open, Ada, who was quieter and more reserved than her sister, took on the responsibility of making sure the club was kept up to standard. She oversaw cleaning and renovations. Ada was also very much taken with the gold leaf piano in the Club and once claimed she rejected a suitor because he disapproved of the piano.
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The prices of services provided by the Everleigh Club were extremely inflated by the standards of the day, though these high prices were easily paid by wealthy patrons with an excess of funds. Typically, a patron would initially pay a $10 entrance fee. Patrons could also treat themselves to a variety of amenities that the club offers some of which include: a $12 bottle of wine, a $50 dinner, $25 for supper, or $50 to spend an evening with one of the "Everleigh butterflies." Regardless of what the patron chose to purchase, a minimum of $50 had to be spent by each patron in each visit or they risked having their admission permanently revoked. Buy patrons had no difficulty reaching the minimum spending. In fact, often clients would spend on an average of $200 to $1,000 a visit.
High costs resulted in high returns for the employees and owners of the Everleigh Club. The Everleigh Sisters netted an average income of an astonishing $15,000 a week compared to the average working wage of only $6 a week. Once the Everleigh sisters retired they had amassed a net profit of $1 million which was equivalent to $20.5 million today.
In addition to rent, salaries, and upkeep, the Everleigh Club expenses also consisted of thousands of dollars in bribes. This expense, even though great, was entirely necessary in order to ensure the business's survival. The Everleigh Club was afforded protection from two corrupt alderman named " Bathhouse" John Coughlin and Michael "Hinky-Dink" Kenna in the Levee District in return for yearly donations of $20,000 to the First Ward Aldermen. The Everleigh Club also donated a check for $3,000 to a roaster of corrupt politicians to prevent the passage of anti-vice state legislation. In addition to bribes and donations, the club always entertained state legislators and newspaper reporters for free.
The sisters' separate responsibilities
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The Everleigh sisters Minna and Ada—the madams of the Everleigh Club—carried out very different duties in the operation of the club. Ada, the soft-spoken sister, mainly focused on handling all the business transactions, which included handling the books and allocating finances. She did not only take care of the logistics the club required but she also was responsible for hiring new girls. On the other hand, Minna, the outgoing sister, was responsible for carrying out lessons to teach the new girls charm and culture. Her sass lent her the ability to effortlessly interact with guests. Often Minna was seen socializing with guests near the parlors or welcoming them with a friendly greeting into the club. Any duty that required personal interactions was handled by Minna.
The club's heyday
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Ada and Minna Lester were two very young women with a very fortunate career. In the early 1900s their stardom took off through their flourishing establishment called the Everleigh Club. Their creation was nothing less than luxurious with its spectacular furnishings and upscale requirements; they provided only the best for their customers. With that being said, it is safe to conclude that the Everleigh Club was an extravagant attraction for this time period. On the other hand, not all women who participated in this sort business had it that easy. Prostitution during the early 1900s in Chicago was a very rough experience for the majority of these women. While the Everleigh Club charged men fifty dollars for secluded time with one of their women, most prostitutes were only paid about twenty five cents for their work. Also, many of these young women were beaten and taken advantage of by the men who worked for them and sold them to different brothels. Even though some women were lucky enough to partake in the glamour that the Everleigh Club had to offer, the majority of prostitutes in this section of history in Chicago used this business as a way to get by during hard conditions in this time period. The clientele of the Everleigh House included captains of industry, important politicians and European nobility and royalty. Among them were Marshall Field, Jr., Edgar Lee Masters, Theodore Dreiser, Ring Lardner, John Warne Gates, Jack Johnson, and Prince Henry of Prussia.
The club's interior layout
The Everleigh sisters spared no expense in their redecoration of their brothel which they named the Everleigh Club. They replaced all old furnishings with new lavish furnishings including: Mahogany and walnut paneling, tapestries, oriental rugs, statuary, gold-nude paintings, gold-rim china and silver dinner ware, perfumed foundations in every room, a music parlor within a $15,000 gold-leafed piano, mirrored ceilings, and a library complete with finely bound volumes. A dozen parlors were orientated on the first floor. Each parlor consisted of a certain theme such as : the Silver Parlor, the Gold Parlor, the Rose Parlor, or the Japanese Throne Room-all of which appealed to the varying groups of clientele the club received. The upstairs of the Everleigh Club held the private bedrooms were clientele could experience enjoy a more personal encounter with the women of his choosing alongside luxurious divans, damask chairs, gilt bathtubs and warbling canaries. As luxurious, the dining room's design emulated a private Pullman cart with the corresponding ornate gold and mahogany trimmings. The menu featured only the finest entrees such as: duck, caviar, lobster, deviled crab, fried oysters, goose capton, and an excellent selection of wine. It is due to all these extravagant amenities the Everleigh Club was dubbed "probably the most famous and luxurious house of prostitution in the country" by the Chicago Vice Commission.
The Everleigh quickly gained a reputation as an upscale gentlemen's club, so much so that the Everleigh sisters were forced to turn away prospective clients even on opening day on February 1, 1900. The club's extensive popularity afforded Minna and Ada the opportunity to select their clientele. Only those men deemed suitable by Minna and Ada gained admittance into the Everleigh Club. The Everleigh sisters deemed a prospective client "worthy" to be admitted into the club if: the prospective client provided a letter of recommendation from an existing member, an engraved card, or through a formal introduction by Minna or Ada. These standards made the club extremely exclusive, indulging the desires of only the wealthy and influential men. "The cachet of being able to go there, just because they turned down so many people..It became an exclusive badge of honor just be to admitted."
By 1902, the club expanded and the sisters were making donations to the First Ward Aldermen, "Bathhouse" John Coughlin and Michael "Hinky-Dink" Kenna, to ensure their continued leeway. After the club was closed, Minna Everleigh claimed in testimony that she "always entertained state legislators free in the club."
On March 3, 1902, Prince Henry of Prussia visited the Club while in the United States to collect a ship built for his brother, German Kaiser Wilhelm II. Although the city had sponsored numerous events for Henry, his main interest was a visit to the club. The sisters planned a bacchanalia for the visiting prince, including dancing, dining and a recreation of the dismemberment of Zeus's son. During one of the dances, a prostitute's slipper came off and spilled champagne. When one of the prince's entourage drank the champagne, he started the trend of drinking champagne from a woman's shoe.
On November 22, 1905, Marshall Field, Jr. suffered a gunshot that would prove to be fatal. Although newspapers reported it was an accident and occurred at his home, there is some evidence that he was shot by a prostitute at the Everleigh Club.
The club employed 15 to 25 cooks and maids. Gourmet meals featured iced clam juice, caviar, pheasants, ducks, geese, artichokes, lobster, fried oysters, devilled crabs, pecans and bonbons. There were three orchestras, and musicians played constantly, usually on the piano accompanied by strings. Publishing houses would publicize new songs by having them played at the Everleigh Club. The house was heated with steam in the winter and cooled with electric fans in the summer.
Standards for employees
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The Everleigh sisters had standards for their working girls:
Since the Everleigh Club was known for its prestige and luxury, it was important to treat their employees as high-class workers. The prostitutes at the Everleigh Club were called “Everleigh Butterflies,” and they had to be in peak condition to maintain their employment. For the first time in history, women had access to employer sponsored health and dental care. It was essential for these women to be healthy, as well as physically attractive. The Everleigh sisters also recognized that education among their employees was important to maintain their wealthy and sophisticated clientele. They provided classes ranging from foreign languages to basic math skills, so they could engage with a wide variety of customers and conduct monetary transactions. Many of the Butterflies were well versed in politics and social behaviors, so that they were able to hold conversations adherent to the high standards of their clientele. To become a Butterfly one had to formally apply, women were not forced to become one. They had to be at least 18 years of age and had to endure regular check ups from the doctor. Drug and alcohol use was prohibited and anyone caught would be dismissed from her job. With these job standards almost every workingwomen of the levy wanted to be an “Everleigh Butterfly.” Being a butterfly provided a safe living and working environment, the clientele were carefully scrutinized by Mina and Ada then formally invited to the club. Influential politicians who frequented the club provided protection for the women, not just from rowdy visitors, but from other Madams and prostitutes as well. The Butterflies also had financial security, which differed from their female counterparts working in factories or employed as domestics. Women working in factories like the Lowell Mills were required to pay for food, boarding and basic necessities which all belonged to the factory owners. Their hard earned money was recirculated back into the factory, leaving little in the way of savings. However, the Butterflies were able to save money and spend it on entertainment, clothes or other necessities even after room and board was paid.
- "A girl must have a pretty face and figure, must be in perfect health and must look well in evening clothes."
- "Be polite and forget what you are here for. Gentlemen are only gentlemen when properly introduced.... The Everleigh Club is not for the rough element, the clerk on a holiday or a man without a check book."
- Employees had to come to the house of their own free will; the Everleigh sisters would not deal with pimps, panderers, white slavers, or parents eager to sell off their daughters.
- Girls needed to prove they were 18 years old and undergo regular exams by a doctor.
- Drug use was grounds for terminating a girl's employment.
When Everleigh House opened, admission was $10, dinner was $50, and a bottle of champagne was $12. Private time with one of the girls was another $50. The prices only went up from there, so that it was difficult for a caller to leave without spending at least $200. A decent working wage at the time was $6 a week.
Scandals at the Everleigh Club
One of the notorious scandals that surrounded the Everleigh Club concerned the questionable death of Marshall Fields, Jr. On November 22, 1905, Fields experienced a fatal gunshot wound. Different theories arose as to how Fields received the gunshot wound. It was reported that he shot himself accidentally while cleaning his gun before a hunting trip. However, rumors alleged that Fields was actually at the Everleigh Club when he was shot and murdered by an Everleigh butterfly. The actual events that led to the cause of his death still arise suspicion among people.
On January 3, 1910, Nathaniel Moore also died under suspicious circumstances. It was said that Moore died of natural causes after spending the previous night at the Everleigh Club. He was found dead at the Chez Shaw brothel, and the events leading to his death were also questionable.
Closing The Everleigh Club
The Everleigh sisters operated their brothel as a place of luxury and royalty, made available only to the wealthiest and most prominent of clients. This made it more difficult when it came time for reform. Other brothels during this time period would simply be raided by the police and shut down, but because the Everleigh club in particular had such a reputation for its high standards and exclusivity, officials were not able to dismantle the club so easily.
Prior to prostitution reform movements of the nineteenth century, there were no laws that prohibited or regulated prostitution in most U.S. cities, making it easy for brothels like the Everleigh club to operate and profit tremendously. As the popularity of such brothels increased, reformists sought to more and more to educate the public on the evils associated with prostitution, such as the spread of venereal disease, unwanted pregnancy, and the violence and crime that is often associated with illegal prostitution.
The Chicago Vice Commission sought to close the Everleigh club and the entire red-light district of Chicago in an attempt to rehabilitate prostitutes, curb the spread of venereal disease, and cease the crime and violence that was often associated with prostitution (not necessarily within the Everleigh club). Because of the Everleigh sisters and their lavish club, prostitution during this time period became a glamorized activity, which made it harder to eradicate. Local politics played a large role in deciding how and when the club would be shut down. The Everleigh sisters were known for their tendency to bribe local aldermen to look the other way when it came to legal manners. Mayor Harrison wanted the club to stop operating and ordered that the brothel close, which it did in 1911. The Everleigh sisters closed their business with more than $2 million in profits. Following a 1910 Vice Commission report that noted there were nearly 600 brothels in Chicago, Mayor Carter Harrison, Jr. ordered the Everleigh Club to be closed on October 24, 1911. The sisters retired with an estimated million dollars in cash and traveled in Europe before eventually changing their name back to Lester and settling in New York City. When their brothel business closed, Ada was 45 years old and Minna was 47 years old.
Minna, always the more outspoken of the two, responded philosophically, stating "If the Mayor says we must close, that settles it.... I'll close up shop and walk out with a smile on my face." And so they did. She later stated "If it weren't for married men, we couldn't have carried on at all, and if it weren't for cheating married women we could have made another million."
Shortly after the brothel was closed, Minna Everleigh testified against Chicago aldermen "Bathhouse" John Coughlin and "Hinky Dink" Kenna. Although Everleigh announced she would make her testimony public, threats by "Big Jim" Colosimo to kill Minna and her sister if the testimony were made public kept her silent. Nevertheless, Chief Justice Harry Olson of Chicago's Municipal Court released her testimony which outlined the schedule of graft due to the aldermen in return for allowing operations to continue in the Levee District.
The building which housed the Everleigh Club was eventually razed in July 1933. Today, the Chicago Housing Authority's Hilliard Homes, designed by Bertrand Goldberg, stand on the site.
The Everleigh Sisters created a legacy that is still famous today in Chicago. The manner in which they ran their brothel made famous and profitable. They treated their employees well, and their clientele made people rethink their views about prostitution. Prostitution eventually became outlawed in Chicago, partially as a result of the Everleigh Club. The Everleigh Club was one of the targeted brothels to be shut down. While the Everleigh sisters are fine with the brothel for being closed and closed it without much protest, their impact on the girls have changed these girls’ lives forever and the clientele lives are also affected by the Everleigh Club for its pleasurable and sometimes dangerous experience. The Everleigh Club might not have lasted forever, but its impact is important on the history of prostitution.
In popular culture
The book, Sin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys, and the Battle for America's Soul by Karen Abbott, was published June 10, 2008.
- Abbott (2007), p.32-46
- Abbott (2007), p. 7
- City of the Century, PBS
- Asbury (1940), p. 250
- Abbott (2007), p. 18
- Abbott (2007), pp. 70–71
- Lloyd Wendt (1974), p. 321
- Abbott (2007), pp. 75–77
- Abbott (2007), pp. 90–91
- Abbott (2007) pp. 211-16
- Asbury (1940), p. 253
- "Starts Vice War; Mayor in Fight to Clean Up City". Chicago Daily Tribune. 1911-10-25. p. 1.
- Abbott, Karen (2007) Sin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys, and the Battle for America's Soul. New York: Random House ISBN 978-1-4000-6530-1
- Asbury, Herbert (1940). Gem of the Prairie. New York: Knopf.
- DuBois, Ellen Carol, and Lynn Dumenil. Through Women's Eyes: An American History with Documents. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2005. Print.*Hermann, Charles H. (1945) Recollections of Life & Doings in Old Chicago: from the Haymarket Riot to World War I; by An Old Timer (Charles H. Hermann). Chicago: Normandie House; pp. 240 ff.
- Hibbeler, Ray (1960) Upstairs at the Everleigh Club. Volitant Books
- Kanin, Garson (1980) Smash. New York: Viking
- Kelly, Dan "Local History: The Best Little Whorehouse in Chicago" Reader, 12 July 2007. 25 November 2013.*Masters, Edgar Lee (1944) "The Everleigh Club" in: Town & Country, April 1944
- Wallace, Irving (1965) The Sunday Gentleman. New York: Simon & Schuster
- Wallace, Irving (1988) The Golden Room
- Washburn, Charles (1936) Come Into My Parlor: a biography of the aristocratic Everleigh Sisters of Chicago. Knickerbocker Publishing
- Wendt, Lloyd; Kogan, Herman (1943). Lords of the Levee: the story of Bathhouse John and Hinky Dink. Indianapolis, New York: Bobbs-Merrill Co. pp. 320–322. (reissued under title Bosses in Lusty Chicago, 1967 by Indiana University Press, Bloomington ISBN 0-253-20109-8; reissued as Lords of the Levee, 2005 by Northwestern University Press, Evanston ISBN 0-8101-2320-7)
- Media related to Everleigh Club at Wikimedia Commons
- A Chicago Reader article about the Everleigh Club
- Prostitution in Chicago and the Everleighs, PBS
- Photo of Ada Everleigh
- The Everleigh Club
- National Public Radio story and Abbott book excerpt