Photo: The Wild West: Turning Bad White girls into good wives…

[While reading about the Saloon girls of the Wild West, I smiled at this section where it mentioned that these bad girls could turn into really good wives when an upstanding man decided to marry them. Jan]


The best a working girl could hope for was to marry and leave the profession for good. Emma R. Marek cites a respectable woman named Mary Mathews of Colorado who observed, "Sometimes a good citizen, wealthy and respectable, marries his wife from some of these corrupt houses, and he seldom ever regrets his choice. He builds her up to be respected and respectable. I have heard of several cases." Likewise, according to writers Vardis Fisher and Opal Laurel Holmes, Denver madam Mattie Silks told others, "My girls made good wives. They understood men and how to treat them and they were faithful to their husbands … So I knew they made good wives."

Author Helen M. Lewis theorized men were willing to marry saloon girls and prostitutes largely due to the shortage of women in the early West. One of her sources cited the ratio of males to females as 10 to one, while another guessed there were "from three to 30 times as many unmarried men as unmarried women" in the West. Therefore any woman, described as "virgins, including aging spinsters, as well as widows, widows with children, divorcees, and prostitutes," were fair game. Still, some working girls were hesitant or even afraid to marry. In writing his memories of the gold rush, Tim Kinerk recalled "sweet-talking one of the dance hall girls, telling her about a nice farm in Indiana; but she said, ‘No, Tim, you would not want me when you get that farm.’"


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