The Everleigh Club (1900-1911)
Currently occupied by Hilliard Towers Apartments this plot of land was once the address of the Everleigh Club, a brothel operated by sisters Minna and Ada. During a time of decadence, crime, and corruption in Chicago the brothel gained infamy as a house of ill repute while also acting as a mark of status for those men who stepped over its threshold. Labeled by the Living History of Illinois and Chicago as the 'Most Famous Brothel in USA History', the Everleigh Club entertained only the wealthiest of clientele, ranging from poets and industrialists to boxers and princes of Prussia. Wiped out by the cleansing efforts of the Chicago Vice Commission in 1911 and the demolition of the original building in 1933, there are no markers or signs to commemorate the existence of the Everleigh Club or the women who lived and worked behind its doors. Because of reconstruction and street updates, 2131-2133 South Dearborn St. has since become 39 West Cullerton Street.
Backstory and Context
Resourceful and clever, however, they worked their way up the ranks from prostitutes to madams. Together they toured the country, looking for a suitable location that had many wealthy a wealthy man but no superior houses to act as competition. Like many entertainers, the sisters changed their name from Simms to Everleigh, a creation based upon their Grandmother's habit of signing all of her letters "Everly Yours". This was the name that they would give to the establishment they bought from former madam Effie Hankins in Chicago, Illinois. The Everleigh Club first opened its doors on February 1, 1900.
"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."
The 'Scarlet Sisters', as they came to be called, spared no expense on the brothel, creating a lavish fantasy world for those that ventured through their doorsteps. It boasted '50 different 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.' It was their idea to create an exclusive environment that drew in clientele seeking prestige and status, even going so far as to require that new patrons bring with them a letter of recommendation from an existing patron. Those who spent only the bare minimum entrance fee of $50 were asked not to return.
This money was put back into their business and those ladies in their employment. In a time when prostitution was a last resort for women and their protection was not assured, the 'butterflies' at the Everleigh club were given all the comforts in the world and paid anywhere from $100 to $400 per week. They were even given lessons on literature and theater, particularly the works of Honoré de Balzac. Minna and Ada's requirements for the women in their employ were as follows:
- Be well read.
- Look good in an evening gown.
- Be polite.
- Be there of their own free will.
- Be at least 18 years of age.
- Visit the doctor kept on retainer at least once a month.
- No drug or alcohol usage.
"The orders for closing were received by Ed McWeeny, General Superintendent of police, and the news spread to the club and many of its patrons immediately. No action was taken on the order, however, until 2:45 a.m. on Oct. 25. During the last night, many of the old regulars and, especially reporters flocked to the club. Attempts were made to contact Mayor Harrison, but he could not be reached: he was supposedly asleep. While many of the people were sad and melancholy, the sisters, clad in many diamonds, refused to be morbid. Minna reputedly said, "If the ship sinks, we're going down with a cheer and a good drink under our belts anyway." By 1 a.m., cabs were lined up, and gentlemen in silk hats marched out. None of the patrons nor the girls were arrested. At 2:45 a.m., the club was officially closed."
Not that this was too great a blow for the sisters who made out with $1,000,000 in cash, $200,00 in jewelry, and $150,000 in furnishing. Even the girls that they had employed were offered jobs from clubs all around the country, hoping to cash in themselves.
Abbot, Karen. Sin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys, and the Battle for America's Soul. New York, New York. Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2008.
Fulton, William. "Everleigh Sisters - Symbol of Commercialized Vice." Chicago Sunday Tribute(Chicago), January 19, 1936, Vol. XCV No. 3 ed, 8 sec, 1-8.