Thursday, October 25, 2012

Speaking of Brides as Prostitutes . . . Dolly Arthur: A Prostitute from Not So Long Ago

Brides used to be sold (see previous blog entry--thus the reference here.)

Some of my family and friends are concerned about my interest in prostitutes as maybe being not quite, umm, healthy. But, good grief, they’ve been with us for a long time. Shortly after the population increased (post-Garden of Eden), we find reference to “harlots” in the Old Testament.

Sex for sale. Old, old story still being retold today.

We even have a family story about it. My maternal grandmother died when my mother was five, and the family was split up for a while. Then Grandpa married Lily1 (Lily2 was the stuff of horror tales, but Lily 1 was a good guy except for one little thing!)

This was the teeth of the depression in one of the most depressed states even in good times: West Virginia. Grandpa married Lily1 and brought the family back together, and purportedly, she was a good stepmother, keeping the passle of kids clean and fed. But money was always tight. Grandpa worked nights in the mines. And that’s when Lily1 worked, too. Oh, dear. Grandpa divorced her, a really big deal in those times, and the family was dispersed again.

But, I’ve always had sympathy for Lily1. I wish I could have met her because she was clearly a pragmatist. A girl’s got to do what a girl’s got to do for survival of her new family. I even admire her, but perhaps I shouldn’t go so far.

So when I came across the name of Dolly Arthur (Arthur being my maiden name), I was intrigued. Here was a contemporary of Lily1. And do both sides of my family include sporting women?

Well, I don’t know. I haven’t seen her on any branches of the family tree, but it could be. Even if not true, I’ve done some reading up on old Dolly. For some reason Blogger won't let me upload a picture, but you can Google her. She was quite the looker!

Born in Idaho in 1888 as Thelma Dolly Copeland, Dolly knew she couldn’t make the same money from serving men in a restaurant as she could if she served them relative to their baser tastes. She left Vancouver, where she was working at the time, and headed for Ketchikan, AL in 1919 where she opened her establishment catering to fishermen, loggers, miners, and town residents. Interestingly, at the time, drinking was illegal in Ketchikan but prostitution was not.

Dolly’s place, and Dolly herself, was known for providing companionship, not just sex, in an isolated area with far fewer women than men. And men paid well for both. She charged $2 for each, and she is said to have made $100 a day--a huge amount at that time.

In keeping with the location, Dolly’s house wasn’t an elaborate Victorian affair such as you might equate with San Francisco. Her furnishings were simple and durable rather than ornate.

Dolly had a long-standing relationship with a man who wandered in and out of her life over the course of 26 years. She knew he was unfaithful (wasn’t she?), but she could always count on him coming back. You can still see Dolly’s house at 24 Creek Street, which is now a museum. When she died at age 87 (in 1975), big West Coast papers carried her obituary in tribute to one of the real pioneers of the Pacific Northwest. She was quite a gal. And not that much older than Lily1. Circumstances and location make all the difference.

Is this fascination with prostitutes was where Streetwalker came from? Could be. Could be.

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