Mame Faye

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Mame Faye (August 15, 1866 – May 5, 1943) (sometimes spelled Mame Fay, Mayme Fay, Maime Fay, etc.) was a madam from Troy, New York. She ran a brothel at 1725 6th Avenue from approximately 1906 to 1941.

Mame Faye was born Mary Alice Fahey, the daughter of Irish immigrants Thomas Fahey and Margaret McNamara Fahey.

Little is known about Mary Fahey's life before 1904, when a prostitute named "Mame Fay" was arrested in a sweep of Troy's houses of ill repute. Unfazed, Mary purchased a row house just two years later (1906) and opened her own bordello on 6th Avenue, three buildings north of the police station.

Mary married a man named Bonter in 1897, but Mrs. Mary Bonter reported herself "single" or "widowed" on censuses from then on. These same censuses (1910-1930) also list up to six female boarders between the ages of 19 and 36 living in Mary's house, whose occupations were listed variously as "domestic" or "unemployed." The census also lists a "radio set" on the premises.

As a city, Troy developed a reputation for this kind of work, largely built on serving the New England market, where houses could not operate as freely. (Another well-known house was the Old Daley Inn, now the "Olde 499 House" restaurant.) Access to Canadian liquor also supported the business, especially through Prohibition.

Mame's nearly 40-year career as madam coincided with a major shift in American attitudes toward prostitution. What earlier Victorian mores had deemed a necessary evil became known as "the social evil." An effective public campaign was waged to prove that prostitution was the cause of all other social ills, particularly venereal disease epidemics among soldiers. Wildly overblown reports of "white slavery," in which young (mostly white) women were kidnapped by (mostly Asian) men and forced into prostitution, swept the nation. This was one of the major American culture wars of the 20th century. " The passage of the Mann Act forced the hand of local governments who had allowed this illegal practice to flourish for decades.

Mame had a lot of money and a good lawyer. Still, after decades of legal skirmishes, her house was closed for good in 1941. District Attorney Earl Wiley made a name for himself by clearing the social evil from the notoriously corrupt Troy.

Mrs. Mary Bonter died two years later at the age of 77, leaving an estate valued at $282,690.76 (about $3.5 million today) to her nephew Thomas.

She was buried in St. Joseph's Cemetery in the Fahey family plot. Although she set aside $2,500 to pay for a monument, none was erected until 2006.

The 6th Avenue row house was torn down in 1952.

In 2008, a documentary film was made about Mame Faye.


"Mame Faye and Other Myths From the Golden Age of Prostitution (Penny Lane, On The Issues magazine August 15 2008)

"A Legend Remade" (Danielle Furfaro Albany Times Union 06/13/08

"Mame Fay & Troy's Red Light District on Rensselaer Railroad Heritage Website

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