Sin in the Second City, by Karen Abbott

Book 1
Sin in the Second City, by Karen Abbott, is a pop history book about the red-light district at the turn of the century. (Note: It is my declaration that “turn of the century” means the 1900s. If we want to talk about the 2000s it is “turn of the millennium”. I just decided.)

Two sisters open the most fab house of ill fame on the continent. The harlots appeared genteel and educated. They were well-paid and kept in good health. There was a waiting list a mile long of girls that wanted to work there. If you wanted to make an argument about why prostitution should be legal (and I don’t) you would point to the Everleigh Club. Except for that part where Marshall Field jr. was (allegedly) shot inside.

Outside its walls, however, Chicago was getting uglier and uglier. The Chicago Way, one might suggest, is eternal. But White Slavery is no joke and the good people and Good People were fighting it. This book chronicles both the Club and the fight.

What Abbott did really well as a storyteller was to make me sympathetic to two sides – the sisters and the reformers. The sisters were never a part of a White Slavery operation, but were certainly operating outside the law and in the same industry. As a reader, I could root for the Good People to take out the Bad Guys and still root for the sisters to stay out of the crossfire. While they made fun of the lady who lead the anti-cigarette league.

Seriously – girls are being drugged, kidnapped, raped and enslaved outside your door and you want to crusade against smoking cigarettes? Priorities, people.

When the district was dismantled, the Everleigh Club went down first and the sisters retired. With all of the pure evil houses in town, they took out the least offensive because it was the most famous. An embarrassment to the city, they called it. It somehow felt like they – the politicians, I mean – couldn’t deal with two women that had been playing their game and winning.

It made for a good read, anyway.

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