Sin in the Second City is about Chicago’s red-light district and one of the grandest, exclusive brothels in America during 1900-1911. In this story it discusses how these two sisters, the Everleigh sisters, trying to reconstruct their own lives at the same time America was trying to update its own. The book is also about identity, both personal and collective, and the struggle in deciding how much of the old should join us as we rush, headlong, into the new. The book greatly encompasses the end of the Gilded Era and transitions into the Progressive Era. Chicago was evolving. Its leading citizens no longer recognized it as the place that they grew up, but always a new tomorrow.
Minna and Ada Everleigh told their story that they came from Kentucky and had a wealthy father that later left them a fortune. Prior to that they went to proper finishing schools and had a proper debut. When Minna was 17 she married a man with the last name of Lester. He turned out to be very abusive. Ada claimed she married Lester’s brother whom also turned out to be abusive. After both marriages fell apart, they ran away and became actresses. They claimed their father died and left them his legacy of $35,000. This was the information given to a reporter trying to get all the details on the sisters and the exclusive club. Later, after this story was known by all, the writer got a letter from the sister’s great niece. She let the writer know that they were not from Kentucky but Virgina. They were not the only children but the second and third of 4 children Their mother died when they were young along with their two sisters. They also had three brothers. The family was wealthy, but they lost most of the wealth during the Civil War. There was some truth to what was told to the writer. The sisters only told him what they wanted him to know.
After the sisters had moved to Omaha, Nebraska with their acting troop, then later stranded by the theater group the sisters decided to change their last name to the now famous name “Everleigh”. They got this name from a much-admired grandmother who used to sign her letters with “Everly Yours”. In 1898 they then opened their first brothel. This was 2 years before the sisters opened the “Everleigh Club”. Omaha did not hold the affluence however, that they were looking for regarding the brothel. They got to Chicago in 1899. They didn’t know it then, but they were about to embark on an adventure they could have only dreamed up, which they did, and in February 1900 they opened the exclusive “Everleigh Club”
The Sisters did not just hire any harlot out there on the street. These delicately provocative ladies of 2131-2133 South Dearborn Street were known as “The Everleigh Butterflies” Minna and Ada wanted these girls to be educated as well as be able to seduce the men that came to the club with a flutter of their eye lash or the art of poetry. These girls were the creme de la crème. Just as the “Butterflies” were the best of the best that worked the club, only the top most wealthy men and or men with status could set foot in the Everleigh Club. Not only were the women some of the most beautiful but the rooms of the Everleigh Club were those of a work of art. The Eveleigh Sisters redecorated the house to fit that “affluent” look they were seeking. They spared no expense. Silk curtains, oriental rugs, mahogany tables, gold rimmed china, silver dinner ware and there were perfumed fountains in every room. They had a specially made piano of gold- leaf for their music room. They had a room made up of mirrors and a fully stocked library with finely bound volume of only the best books. They had an art gallery that featured nude women in golden frames. The house was boasted to be the most luxurious prostitution house in the United States.
Along with the fame of their club, and of course came with the territory of the red-light district, you could say it was only expected that there was also envy of rivals, extortion and murder as well as on-going new reforms. The women were “offered” protection by two men known as “BathHouse John Coughlin” and his partner “Hinky Dink Kenna” in return they collected a sum of money every month for this said “protection”. The sisters also had well known enemies within the Levee district. Other competing whorehouses that never came close the status of the “Everleigh Club” nevertheless it did not stop the madams/pimps of the other whore houses to scheme and try to accuse the sisters of murder. Not to mention that while trying to run a business, dealing with jealous competitors and mob bosses there were a few reforms that tried to pass trying to close the club down along with the other shanty places of ill repute. Thousands of girls were being sold into something called “white slavery”. This wasn’t just poor immigrant girls but well to do girls that were being coerced or snatched up and forced into now what we call today sex-trafficking. Eventually due to reforms and politics the club was finally shut down on October 24th 1911. A little after they closed they passed a reform called the “Mann Act” “The man act was to further regulate interstate and foreign commerce by prohibiting the transportation therein for immoral purposes of women and girls and for other purposes”
In conclusion I found the book to be very informative and interesting. Throughout the story Minna and Ada going through many changes in their life, like most people in that time, they had to adapt and change along with the many new reforms. Ultimately the sisters couldn’t stay. It phased out the way they could do business in the field of harlots and prostitutes. Much like a butterfly they gracefully morphed into the next phase of their life. The sisters never took part in any kind of slave ring and all the women who came to work for them were there on their own accord. They took a disreputable and shameful job of that time and turned it into something glamorous and luxurious.
2. What do you think are the advantages of learning history through historical fiction, or movies, or various forms of media? Explain your answer.
The advantage would be getting to read or see glimpses of what it was potentially like for women that were being sold into sex trafficking or women that pleasured men for money in a time that was booming with industrialization and modernization.
3: What are the disadvantages of learning history this way? Explain your answer.
The disadvantage would be that not everything you are reading and seeing are even close to what it was like or how they really felt in that era. We take for granted all the technology and modernization. Most of us do not truly understand or can appreciate what people in that era went through to make it better for us now.
4: If someone were to only read the book you chose in order to learn about those historical events, how good would their historical knowledge about this subject be?
I believe they would need to know about that period and all the different things going on with the white slave ring and prostitution. They’d need to know about the politics going on at that time and much like now how people in that industry would pay off others to get away with the ongoing crime. Ultimately in my option I do not think most people would really know unless they knew this specific history.