Monthly Archives: July 2018

group portrait

Mollie Johnson – Queen of the Blondes (Part Two)

Continued from 7/8/18 Read Part One here.
Mollie Johnson Queen of the Blondes | Kari Bovee | Empowered Women in History | Madams of the West
Prostitutes 1800’s

In 1879, a fire raged through Deadwood, burning many places to the ground including Mollie’s. The day before the fire, one of Mollie’s girls had died due to either injury from a cat bite, or some other illness. She lay in her coffin in Mollie’s parlor as the roof caught fire. Mollie made no action to save her furnishings or herself until someone could take the young woman’s body to the neighboring town of City Creek, for burial.

Though Mollie had a reputation for a lack of generosity toward other “soiled doves” of Deadwood, the newspapers, particularly the Black Hills Daily Times, loved to stir up controversy concerning the popular madam. In one instance, the Times alluded to Mollie providing information to the U.S. Marshall regarding three of her competitors selling alcohol without a license. Mollie retorted back in a note to the Times stating she would do nothing of the kind against her “sisters in sin.” The Times later stated they received their information from another source.

Though newspapers like the Black Hills Daily Times loved to report stories of Mollie’s wickedness, they also gave her credit for her generosity with local girls like Miss Pettijohn and Miss Woodall, and also for her financial support of Irish Famine Relief.

According to Bryant, with the passing of time, the stories of Mollie Johnson became less and less frequent. He alludes to the idea she traveled more, or that perhaps the newspapers just lost interest. Maybe with age, Mollie settled down and didn’t give them much to write about.

We may never know what prodded Mollie to become a prostitute like so many other women who settled in the west. Perhaps she had no family and struggled to survive, or perhaps she saw an opportunity to become a businesswoman in a time that didn’t allow women to prosper by any other means. Whether or not the stories are true, the accounts of Mollie’s life and her business paint a colorful portrait of a woman who made an impact on the town of Deadwood, South Dakota, and the history of the wild west of the late 1800’s.

 

historical mystery book Grace in the wings Kari Bovee

Are you a historical fiction fan? Do you love the Roaring Twenties and a strong female lead? Check out my latest novel, Grace in the Wings!

 

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

group portrait

Mollie Johnson – Queen of the Blondes (Part One)

Life was tough in the 1800’s. Especially for women, and especially in the West. While most women married, or worked in service, or took respectable professions like teaching, others took a road less-than-acceptable for survival. Some even prospered on that road. Women like Mollie Johnson, prostitute turned madam, and self-proclaimed “Queen of the Blondes.”

Historical accounts of the early life of Mollie Johnson, or why she turned to prostitution are not recorded. In fact, not much is known about Mollie at all, aside from newspaper accounts consolidated into an article written by Jerry L. Bryant in Deadwood Magazine, 2002. According to Bryant, his research was gleaned from some 40 articles in Deadwood newspapers. He also states that upon publication of the article, he re-researched and discovered that most reports were possibly only representative of bordello life in Deadwood in the 1880’s. Either way, Mollie proved a sensation for news of the day.

Mollie's Brothel
Possibly Mollie’s Brothel

Accounts record she started working in the trade in her mid-teens when she headed west from Alabama during the American gold rush. She settled in Deadwood, South Dakota, a town known for its ruthlessness, and highly populated with men out to seek their fortunes in gold. According to Bryant’s article, in 1880 the census revealed Mollie claimed to be twenty-seven years old, a widow, and that she lived with five young ladies from all over the United States—all of them blond, either naturally or by artificial means. It is not known when she transitioned from mere prostitute to madam, but somewhere along the line, she secured a house in Deadwood on the corner of Sherman and Lee streets and started making money. Quite a lot of money. It was then she became known as “Queen of the Blondes,” and many a gentleman visited her place with regularity.

Mollie’s first moment of notoriety came in 1878 when a story of her appeared in a local paper for marrying Lew Spencer, an African American actor/comedian who performed at the Bella Union Theater. The details of the affection the couple had for each other is uncertain. Mollie reportedly never gave up her profession. Later in the year, while in Denver, Lew Spencer was arrested for fatally shooting his “wife,” although Mollie was very much alive in Deadwood at the time.

Lew did not hang for his crime, but pursued his vocal career and reportedly recorded the earliest known version of the song, A Hot Time in the Old Town, in 1896. The song later became the theme song for Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. It is not known if Mollie and Lew reunited after his stint in prison, but it seems the two became estranged.

Mollie, her girls, and their notorious antics provided great fodder for the local papers, and a source of gossip for the townspeople of Deadwood and abroad. According to accounts, Mollie and her girls often hosted wild parties and balls in the Firehouse, or warehouses throughout town. She also, reportedly, often rented a pricey carriage and went about Deadwood heckling other “working girls” for not working for her. She also never failed to report abusive or ill-behaving customers to the local law enforcement.

There are also reports of her motherly sternness, kindness, and compassion. Mollie often encouraged wayward girls to live a virtuous life and took them in as boarders. Two girls living in the town, Miss Pettijohn and Miss Woodall, had proven themselves to be out-of-control “hell-raisers.” Their mothers had gone to great lengths to change them but to no avail. While attending a ball thrown by either Mollie or the other reigning madam in town, Dora DuFran, the girls’ mothers’ requested that the sheriff arrest them and deposit them at Mollie’s place for rehabilitation. Mollie agreed to the task, much to the mothers’ relief. Under Mollie’s care, the two girls had to fly right or suffer the consequences.

Stay tuned for Part Two of Mollie Johnson, Queen of the Blondes Part Two next week!

annie oakley mystery series kari bovee novel authorAre you a historical fiction fan? Do you love a good adventure and a strong female lead? Check out my Annie Oakley Mystery Series here!

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Coco Chanel

Seven Mysteries of Coco Chanel (Part Two)

(Continued from last week – find Part One here.)
Her reasons for closing shop

After the stock market crash in 1929, many businesses struggled, including Coco Chanel’s couture house. In 1939, at the outbreak of WWII, she closed down her shops, leaving over 3,000 employees out of work. Some suggest she did this in retaliation against those workers who took part in the labor strike in France in 1936, which forced her to close her business at the time. She maintained that wartime was not a time for fashion. Only Coco knew her motivations during that period in history.

Her Nazi affiliation

Coco ChanelIt is suggested that Coco Chanel, influenced by her lover the Duke of Westminster—an outspoken anti-Semite, had little tolerance for the Jewish population. This idea is further supported because, during the German occupation in France, Chanel had an affair with a German diplomat, Baron Hans Gunther von Dincklage. Chanel received special permission to continue her residence at the Hotel Ritz in Paris, the preferred residence of high ranking German officials. It was also rumored that through von Dincklage, Chanel may have served as a Nazi spy. When the war ended, Chanel was interrogated about her relationship with von Dincklage and her affiliation with the Nazis. Some believe her friend Winston Churchill came to her aid. Chanel was never officially charged. She left Paris to spend time in Switzerland.

Her relationship with the Wertheimers

Early in her career, Chanel met businessman and director of a well-known perfume and cosmetics business, Pierre Wertheimer, through a mutual friend, Theophile Bader. Together, with Pierre’s brother Paul, they created “Parfums Chanel,” with the Wertheimers providing full financing, marketing, and distribution of Coco’s classic fragrance Chanel No. 5. The agreement stipulated that the Wertheimers received seventy percent of the profit, Bader twenty percent, and Chanel ten percent—with the caveat she allowed them to run operations of Parfums Chanel. She never got over the disappointment at the deal and made no secret of her dislike of the Wertheimers, who were Jewish. One wonders why she would agree to such a contract, but she must have had her reasons.

She decided to sue. In 1924, they renegotiated the original contract and in 1947, Chanel received wartime profits of the perfume, estimated at nine million dollars in today’s money. She also would receive two percent of all sales worldwide. In addition, Wertheimer agreed to pay for Chanel’s living expenses for the rest of her life.

When Chanel, at seventy years of age, revived her couture house in 1954, Wertheimer financed the business.

 Her morphine addiction and death

Coco Chanel ran with a fast crowd. At least two biographies, one by Lisa Chaney, and another by Hal Vaughan maintain that Chanel was a habitual user of opiates, particularly morphine.

Chanel died in her suite at the Hotel Ritz in Paris in 1971 at eighty-seven years of age. Some accounts state she wasn’t feeling well, and after returning from a walk with a friend went to bed and died peacefully in her sleep. Others allude to the supposition that upon retiring to bed, she gave herself one last injection. She might have, but whether it killed her has not been recorded.

One thing is certain, Coco Chanel liked to keep everyone guessing. From her birthdate to her upbringing, to her reasons for not marrying—and even how she died, this fashion icon who changed the world with her smart and elegant fashions, definitely had the last word.

annie oakley mystery series kari bovee novel authorAre you a historical fiction fan? Do you love a good adventure and a strong female lead? Check out my Annie Oakley Mystery Series here!

 

 

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave