Galveston’s red light district lasted for over 70 years as a uniquely successful industry because of the combination of social and economic conditions on the island. One of the factors that contributed to the longevity was the existence of The Mob who controlled the booze and gambling. Vice came in three; drinking, gambling and prostitution. The vices were tolerated on the island because it filled the hotels. 2% of the population worked directly for the mob, 20% worked indirectly.
Sam Maceo and his wife celebrating at the Balinese Room
An advertisement for the Balinese Room
The girls posing for a photograph
They came from all over the country because Galveston was where the money and the action was, but only the beautiful stayed because of the fierce competition. The "soiled doves" as they were known, sold love every 15 minutes. Those considered less attractive migrated to the Wild West.
The ladies paid rent and 40% commission of all fees to the Madams. They worked three weeks on and one week off. They would service sometimes up to 25 clients in a night, making up to $450 per week ($4,000 in today's money). Constantly subjected to harassment by the police, venereal disease and violence, it was no easy life. Despite the high wages, suicide was prevalent, often as a result of drinking mercury to induce abortion. With advancing age they were required to move to the lower-end houses where the wages were reduced significantly.
Two of the girls getting ready for the night
Some of the most successful women in Galveston were the madams. Rising through the ranks, most were former prostitutes who saved their money for old age...25 years! They bought or leased houses and would only entertain certain visitors or distinguished guests in their private parlors. The madams had working relationships with the politicians, police, pimps and gangsters. Extremely shrewd, they could navigate their way through the myriad of demands placed upon them. Some retired as millionaires and took their place in "proper society".
The Mary Waters House, one of the most prominent houses, where Mayor Cartwright "learned to dance"
Beautiful and elegant Victorian Mansions, built before the Civil War. When the downtown business district was expanded by the Union Army, Postoffice Street was split in two and the houses between 25th and 33rd on Postoffice declined in value and became less desirable. They were readily snapped up by the shrewd madams of New Orleans who knew a bargain when they saw one. Close to the port and downtown business districts, these elegant but worthless houses were in an ideal location. The houses were uniformly painted white with either green or grey shutters as a shrewd marketing device by the madams. The higher-end and elegant houses were located directly on Postoffice Street. The alleys and cross streets were lined with "cribs" where sex could be had for a quarter.