Some history of Johnson County-Western Missouri. Thanks to McClure Archives at UCM, Trails Regional Library and JOCOMO Historical for sharing and preserving our history. JCHS Board of Directors
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April 27, 2018
Minna and Ada Simms Everleigh (Lester) Lived In Warrensburg, MO at one Time - Later Became Madams of the Most Famous Brothel in America, in Chicago
Chicago’s Everleigh Club is the most famous brothel in USA history.
It was located in the notorious Levee district (Chicago, IL).
Minna and Ada Had Lived In Warrensburg, MO
Sisters Minna (1866-1948) & Ada (1864-1960) Everleigh ran the “club”. They hosted senators, foreign dignitaries, literary icons, actors (big surprise there!), business moguls, and on and on. Prince Henry of Prussia, Theodore Dreiser, Diamond Jim Brady, and other celebrities of renown went to the Everleigh Club. The department store heir, Marshall Field Jr., was even shot there.
The Everleigh “butterflies” were expected to be well read and were even tutored in Balzac. Other requirements …
… look good in an evening gown
…be there of their own free will (they wanted nothing to do with parents selling their children, white slavers, etc.)
… be at least 18 years old
… visit their doctor (that they kept on retainer) at least 1x/month
… no drugs/alcohol
Such women included the legendary Suzy Poon Tang, one of the club’s most popular girls and big draws. Hailing from China, Poon Tang was infamously good at satisfying the clientele, so much so that her name would later become synonymous with the now sullied term of “gonna get me some poontang.” Needless to say, her name and the term still maintains a more dignified connotation than that of a “Rusty Venture.”
The Everleigh Club might be the only brothel in American history that enhanced, rather than diminished, a man’s reputation. Clients reportedly boasted, “I’m going to get Everleighed” tonight, which helped to popularize the phrase “get laid.” A man wouldn’t want to be seen at the “lower” houses, however.
The early history of the sisters is wrapped up in the War Between the States. The fortune of their family reflected what was happening financially to families all across the south.
Harold Woodward wrote, “a grim reality of poverty & decay … Once-fertile fields were covered with scrub oaks and stunted pines, the landscape dotted with decayed fences, half-starved cattle, ramshackle houses and the remnants of crumbling mansions.”
The sisters’ grandparents died. Their dad had to stop practicing law and farm the land. Agricultural prices were low. Taxes & interest were high. Income was scarce. Their father’s brother had stolen most of the family money secretly and moved to Missouri.
Their mother and little sister died when Ada was 12 & Minna was 10. Baby brother George was given to an aunt to raise. The sisters began to detach themselves from life. The family moved to Madison County (VA) where their neighbors were former Virginia governor & confederate general (with 5 children). Visits to his mansion reminded them of everything they lost.
Lula, another sister, died and the family moved from Virginia to Warrensburg, Missouri, where their father had relatives. They grew up believing daddy was the only man that mattered … why marry?
Minna & Ada did marry, but needed to flee for their lives because of physical abuse.
The sisters concluded from their experiences that men were greedy, brutal, spend thrifts, and not to be trusted. A niece, Evelyn Diment, would later write to Irving Wallace in 1989 about her great aunts,
“They were struggling because they were at the end of the Civil War and there were very few ways to make money. Their plantation was lost because they couldn’t pay taxes. They began as prostitutes and they became madams. Their father put them in the business, and then these women made a marvelous success out of it … Southern families have a way of keeping things very quiet. And if anyone knew anything, they kept their mouth shut.”
The sisters provided for their family in the only way they knew how. They changed their last name. Their grandmother signed all correspondence with “Everly Yours” and the name of their new club was established: Everleigh.
Everleigh Club Admission: $10
Bottle of Champagne : $12
At a time when the average wage per week was $6, those visiting the Everleigh Club found they were spending anywhere from $200-$1500 per visit. If a patron only spent $50, they were asked not to return.
Was it right? …. NO
Do I approve of it? … NO
Can I understand it? … YES!
The business management skills and acumen of the sisters is undebatable.
Yes, they did much better than other “wayward” women of the Victorian era whether they were located in Chicago, Philly, NYC, Washington DC, major European cities, etc.
Even though their “business” prospered beyond what they dreamed, they do represent an important aspect of the Victorian Era.
(Left)The Everleigh Club at 2131 South Dearborn.
(Right)The Everleigh Club just before demolition in July 1933.
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 Everleigh "Pullman Room" Designed to Look like a Pullman Train car, Chicago, 1909
Ada and Minna Simms Lester were two very young women with a very fortunate career. In the early 1900's 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. 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. 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." 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, and perfumed fountains in every room. A $15,000 gold-leafed piano (the price is the equivalent of $369,205 in 2007) stood in 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 "the most famous and luxurious house of prostitution in the country.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."
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, and perfumed fountains in every room. A $15,000 gold-leafed piano (the price is the equivalent of $369,205 in 2007) stood in 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 "the most famous and luxurious house of prostitution in the country."
Prior to the opening of the Everleigh Club, Ada was responsible for recruiting talent 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 Everleigh Club - America's Most Famous Brothel
On the other hand, not all women who participated in this sort business had it that easy. Prostitution during the early 1900's 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.
Everleigh Club, Rose Parlor Room, Chicago
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.
Minna Everleigh (left) and Ada of the Everleigh Social Cluв Minna (1866-1948) and Ada (1865-1960) Everleigh, arrived in Chicago in 1899 from Omaha and the doors opened on 1 February 1900 what soon became the most famous brothel in America. Lavish rooms made their services seem respectable to many including the press. Regular patrons included Marshall Field, Jr., poet Edgar Lee Masters, author Theodore Dreiser, columnist Ring Lardner, industrialist John Warne Gates, boxer Jack Johnson, actor John Barrymore and Prince Heinrich of Prussia. Their corporate headquarters was located in the heart of the Levee District at 2131-2133 S. Dearborn Street. Their phone number was CALumet 412.
The $15,000 Gold-Leafed Piano at the Everleigh Social Club
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.
The Grand Ballroom of the Everleigh Social Club
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 Social Club, Oriental Music Room
The Everleigh quickly gained a reputation as an upscale gentleman'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."
The Everleigh Blue Bedroom, Chicago ca 1900
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."
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.
On January 9, 1910, Nathaniel Moore died of natural causes in the Chez Shaw brothel in Chicago's Levee district after spending much of the previous night 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.
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.
Their House: From its 1900 opening until a forced closing on Oct. 24, 1910, America's most famous (and sumptuous) brothel operated in two adjoining three-story stone mansions at 2132 South Dearborn Street, well within Chicago's famous red-light Levee District. The buildings provided 50 rooms, including 12 soundproof reception parlors where three orchestras played, 30 bedrooms, a library, an art gallery, a dining room, and a Turkish ballroom complete with a huge fountain and a parquet floor.
Everleigh Club prostitution den at 21st and Dearborn where the Hilliard Center projects now stand
The most famous of the parlors was called the Gold Room and featured gilt furniture, gold-trimmed fishbowls, $650 cuspidors, and a $15,000 gold piano. Upstairs in the boudoirs, guests found marble-inlaid brass beds, mirrored ceilings, gold bathtubs, fresh-cut roses, oil paintings, and push-buttons to ring for champagne. One room had an automatic perfume spray over the bed, another had a silver-white spotlight which focused on a divan, a third had the furniture of a Turkish harem. Spending an evening at the Everleigh Club was such a special occasion that many guests publicly boasted of their adventures. Prince Henry of Prussia enjoyed a memorable orgy there in 1902. Other delighted celebrities who visited at least once included writers Ring Lardner, George Ade, and Percy Hammond, boxer "Gentleman" Jim Corbett, actor John Barrymore, and gambler "Bet a Million" Gates. Chicago newspapermen made it their favorite watering and wenching place. (When a small fire occurred in the club one evening, three of the top reporters on the Chicago Tribune were on hand to cover it.) Newsman Jack Lait once insisted, "Minna and Aida Everleigh are to pleasure what Christ was to Christianity." Poet Edgar Lee Masters was also a devoted patron. He once described a typical arrival at the Everleigh Club. Minna ("somehow the larger personality, the more impressive figure") would come to the door, walking with a sort of "cater-pillar bend and hump. . . . She was remarkably thin. Her hair was dark and frizzled, her face thin and refined. 'How is my boy?" was her cordial salutation."
Specialties and Eccentricities: Often on special occasions, Minna would set a number of butterflies loose to flit about the house. Madam Cleo Maitland, an old friend of the sisters, once remarked that "no man is going to forget he got his behind fanned by a butterfly at the Everleigh Club."
Aida once told journalist Charles Washburn how she selected her "hostesses." "I talk with each applicant myself," she said. "She must have worked somewhere else before coming here. We do not like amateurs. . . . To get in, a girl must have a pretty face and figure, must be in perfect health, must look well in evening clothes. If she is addicted to drugs, or to drink, we do not want her. . . ."
The girls received weekly instruction in makeup, dress, and Southern manners. They were required to read books from the Everleigh library. And Minna lectured them on general operating procedures.
"Be polite, patient, and forget what you are here for," she said. "Gentlemen are only gentlemen when properly introduced. . . .No lineup for selection as in other houses. . . . It means, briefly, that your language will have to be ladylike and that you will forgo the entreaties you have used in the past. You have the whole night before you, and one $50 client is more desirable than five $10 ones. Less wear and tear. . . .Give, but give interestingly and with mystery. I want you girls to be proud that you are in the Everleigh Club."
The rewards for such conduct were princely. The sisters made an annual profit of about $120,000 (despite the fact that expenses were high and that graft cost them over $10,000 a year). When a wave of reform forced them to close the club on Dearborn Street, Minna and Aida departed with a cool million in cash, furnishings worth $150,000, and about $200,000 in jewelry.
They lost a hunk of it in an abortive attempt to reopen on Chicago's West Side in 1912, but they still were able to retreat into comfortable obscurity. Like most investors, they were hit hard by the stock market collapse of 1929, but they salvaged an expensive home off New York's Central Park, where they lived the life of genteel club women.
"All they ask for the remainder of their lives," reported Charles Washburn, "is a roof and one quart of champagne a week."