“An amusing city, Chicago, any way you look at it.”
Chicago had been the fastest-growing metropolis in America during the last decade of the 19th century. In fact, until New York combined all of its independent boroughs in 1899, Chicago was the largest city in the nation. Men, women, and children flocked to Chicago from overseas and from farms arriving in one of eight railroad stations seeking their fortunes that the city’s promoters promised was available to everyone. Factories belched thick smoke while laborers turned raw materials into consumer products. Workers in the mile-long six story high Montgomery Ward warehouse, the amazon.com of its day, wore roller skates to fulfill orders in an efficient manner.
The pursuit of happiness and money drove the city. Men and women had plenty of places where they could spend their hard-earned cash. At Marshall Fields’ store the customer was always right and his mantra was “give the lady what she wants.” Potter Palmer built an opulent hotel, the Palmer House, with gold-leaf trim where men could order a steak where just hours earlier the cattle was in a holding pin of the Union Stockyards. The L (elevated train) permitted people to cross town without ever stepping on the sidewalk!
As with most cities, Chicago had a “segregated” district. City leaders believed that prostitution was going to happen, but it was better to contain it within a segregated district than to permit it in respectable neighborhoods. Chicago’s vice district was the Levee on the city’s near-south side. If there was a show, person, or item that would give a person pleasure, it was readily available for a price in the Levee. Almost all of the activity that was available for purchase in the Levee was controlled by Ward Bosses. Brothels, saloons, and clubs paid protection money as to not be arrested for providing sensual pleasures that were illegal.
Ada and Minna gave a nod to their grandmother who signed her letters with “everly yours.” As soon as the sisters stepped foot in Chicago they became the Everleigh sisters and their first order of business was to secure a building for their business. They set out to speak with Effie Hankins, a madam seeking to retire and sell her brothel and adjoined building. The place was perfect and the Everleigh sisters became Chicago property owners.