Before opening their world-famous Club, the Everleigh sisters, too, were girls who disappeared, and they reconstructed their histories at a time when America was updating its own. To that end, this book is also about identity, both personal and collective, and the struggle inherent in deciding how much of the old should accompany us as we rush, headlong, into the new. (xii)
I have always had something of a fascination with prostitution. I don't think I'm the only one, and I hope for Karen Abbott's sake that I'm right. Focused on Chicago shortly after the turn of the century, but more specifically on the Everleigh sisters and their Club, this book was fascinating. Operating in a time and place where the field was especially tainted, the Everleigh sisters did their best to remain classy and dignified, in a profession that doesn't easily lend itself to that.
There was a great deal of persecution of the prostitution that was taking place at that time, and rightly so. Even though it had been at least ignored previously, there were some very legitimate concerns that surfaced with regard to he profession. There were many young girls who were being taken advantage of, being used and abused and sold to the highest bidder. The Everleigh sisters said from the beginning, they were going to have only girls who wanted to be there, they were going to interview all of their clients ahead of time, they were going to be in control and protective of their girls. They had waiting lists of girls waiting to get into their brothel.
Written in a thoughtful, almost novel-like format, Abbott is organized, and unbiased in this retelling. She doesn't approach prostitution with automatic derision. She covers both sides: the madams and pimps, and the side of the religious and legal opposition.