Saturday, December 31, 2011

Return of the Desert Darlings!

What better way to close out 2011 and begin 2012 than with a replay of one of my most popular posts?  Have a wonderful New Year everyone. Stay safe....

Prostitution has always gotten a bad rap and during the Great Depression it was a topic of widespread comment and concern.  Many Americans believed that the economic crisis might lead to social and sexual chaos and cited the increase in prostitution as an example of this. Sadly, they failed to understand that in many cases, prostitutes were not the morally weak, selfish, power hungry femmes of early films such as Baby Face and Blonde Venus, instead they were women, single women and single mothers, who like the men of the Hoover Dam, did what they could to stay alive. The idea of the male supported family was prevalent, welfare was non-existent and women had few economic opportunities available. Ads like those below were common.

 LV Evening Review Journal 6/24/31

LV Evening Review Journal 8/18/31


In 1930, Las Vegas was a railroad town with a population of just over five thousand. Due to a zoning glitch when the town was originally laid out, two areas in North Vegas, what is now the downtown area, were exempted from the laws that restricted gambling, alcohol and prostitution. One of those two areas, known as Block 16, became famous for its easy access to prostitution.  The bars and casinos in this area had tiny shacks in the back where their clients could be serviced, and one establishment, the Arizona Club, built a second floor to house a bordello.

Between 1930-1931 an estimated 40,000 unemployed men arrived in Las Vegas in hopes of getting one of the 5,000 jobs that would be available at the new government works project later to be known as the Hoover Dam. The legalization of gambling in 1931 brought visitors and gamblers in record numbers, and the liberal divorce laws introduced in the same year increased the population as well.  Block 16 thrived. The girls paid the city doctor $2 a week for a medical clearance, which kept them off the law’s radar. At one point, an estimated 300 women worked the area as prostitutes. Brothels and speakeasies were scattered along US 93/95 between Las Vegas and Boulder City, the government sponsored town built for the Hoover Dam workers. In 1931, the Railroad Pass casino opened just beyond the gate of the Boulder Canyon Project Federal Reservation. Behind the casino on the hillside, tents and small cribs were set up where prostitutes performed their services.



And they were very popular with the men from the dam.

Oral history records reflect that there are fond memories of the prostitutes. An entry from the diary of a Hoover Dam medic states he paid “$2 to Babe to blow it.”  Quite a job, I must say, considering that men at the dam made an average of $5 a day.

In my upcoming novel, Ragtown, Mae and Sally are sisters that work the cribs behind the Railroad Pass. While their presence in the novel was originally intended to be minor, Sally and Mae took over at some point and decided they had a story of their own to tell. Two women, just trying to survive.  And as Sally states, “the dam isn’t the only dangerous place to work in the desert.”

11 comments:

Krystal Wade said...

So sad. Times were so difficult then. They still are, but the thought of having to sell ones self (in that way) in order to survive is horrible. I know a lot of women still do, but I think it's a bit different now. I'm impressed with all the research you did for your novel. Can't wait to read it!

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

Thanks, Krystal. The research is really fun!

Justin Bogdanovitch said...

Happy new year, Kelly. I can't wait to read Ragtown. Learning about the history, behind-the-scenes, of the moment, is the stuff of great literature.

Suzanne Shumaker said...

yep, this is my favorite blog entry of yours :)

Erica Lucke Dean said...

Hookers and New Year's Eve go together like...well, Dick Clark and New Year's Eve. You have truly uncovered some interesting history.

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

Are you saying Dick Clarke is a hooker? Wow, didn't know that. Thank you, Justin, I love sharing what I have learned while writing this book. Suzi, I bet you say that to all the bloggers. :)

Pamela Beason, Author said...

I recently went on a tour about the era of prostitution in Bellingham, WA. It was fascinating. Like you say, prostitution was one of the few ways women could make money in that era, and the intersection of fishing, logging, mining, and U.S. Navy here made for big business in the Red Light District, which then supported a lot of other businesses (prostitutes rent or buy properties, shop and eat and send their kids to school, too, after all). When the do-gooders managed to finally close down the Red Light District in the early 1920s, the entire economy collapsed and the population dwindled to nearly nothing. History always has interesting lessons to teach us, if we would only pay attention.

Happy New Year and Happy Reading (and Writing) to All in 2012!

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

Sounds like a very interesting tour, Pamela. Happy New Year!

moonduster said...

You've done so much research. Such a sad history in many ways. I am looking forward to your upcoming novel Ragtown. :)

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

Thank you. I am looking forward to it, too! lol. Hopefully, the agent that has it in his hands is looking forward to it....I am playing the waiting game right now.

Judy said...

Fascinating post! Would like to know when the book is released. Sounds like a good read. I visited a former bordello-turned-visitor center near me a few years ago. On the wall were photographs of some of the girls who had worked there, and I left wondering what might happen if someone came in and recognized great-grandma! The result was a novel--The Face on Miss Fanny's Wall--due for release in March 2012 by Champagne Books. More info at www.judynickles.com