Born Betty Jean O'Hara in Chicago, Illinois, she was the only child of strict Catholic parents. Her father was a medical doctor. Police records show that between 1934 and 1938, just prior to her arrival in Hawaii, O'Hara had been arrested for prostitution three times.
Miss O'Hara violated the so-called "10 commandments" (for prostitutes) by working outside of Chinatown, which landed her in jail for a period. She made money by purchasing choice real estate and then selling at a substantial profit. When the neighbors discovered who was moving in they would usually pitch in to buy her out. O'Hara thus made a fortune by openly flouting the "rules". She helped force a head with the police which insisted on turning the Chinatown Vice district over to the military, who fixed the price of tricks at $3 and did not otherwise interfere. O'Hara is credited with inventing the "bull pen" system where a single prostitute would work three rooms in rotation: In one room a man would be undressing, in a second room the prostitute would be having sex, and in the third room the man would be dressing. With price controls circumventing the laws of supply and demand, O'Hara's system sped up the process and allowed each prostitute to see many more 'johns' every day.
After martial law ended in 1944, O'Hara's book "My Life as a Honolulu Prostitute" was the straw that broke the camel's back, and led to a complete shutdown of the brothels. Her book was later re-published under the title "Honolulu Harlot."
- Beth L. Bailey, David Farber: The First Strange Place: Race and Sex in WWII Hawaii. The Johns Hopkins University Press. 1994. ISBN 0-8018-4867-9
-  – June 3 broadcast of The History Channel's "XY Factor: Sex in World War II: The Pacific Front." Written & Directed by Rhys Thomas
- Chernin, Ted. My Experiences in the Honolulu Chinatown Red-Light District. Reprinted from The Hawaiian Journal of History, vol. 34 (2000) pg. 203–217. http://www.chinatownhi.com/myexp.asp
- Greer, Richard. Dousing Honolulu's Red Lights. Reprinted from The Hawaiian Journal of History, vol. 34 (2000) pg. 185–202. http://www.chinatownhi.com/dousing.asp