The Call of the Wild
Alaska seems to have a voice louder than any other place. She has called over the centuries to the souls of outcast men, and lured them to her from far and wide. John Muir, Georg Stellar (no, I didn’t spell his first name wrong), Chris McCandless, and countless others. Hundreds, thousands, have risked it all in the hopes of finding peace within the wilds of the 49th state.
Though our history books regale us with the tales of wild men, what about the women who have felt the pull of Alaska? I certainly am not exempt from her siren song.
From 1914 until 1954, there stood 26 houses between 2nd and 3rd avenues in Seward, Alaska. This area of town went by many names – Alley B, The Line, and the Red Light District. If you stand there today, all that remains is a row of cottonwood trees, but in the days of yore, it was the beating heart of Seward commerce.
In 1930, the population of Seward was 504. Only 130 of that population was female, thanks to the waves of young, single men who were stationed in Seward during WWII. And of those 130 females, only a small handful were Ladies of the Night. Men would stand in line waiting for admission into these bawdyhouses, and one man, then young, but now weathered with age, remembers being terrified of the Madam as she would step out onto the porch and holler “who’s next?!”.
But those Madam’s, they were the wealthiest in town. A local man who used to do the taxes for Madam Stella Brown claimed that she earned one of the highest incomes in the entire territory, and tax records show that the Madam’s of Seward owned more property than any man. As they say, prostitutes are always the wealthiest in town. The cost of visiting a bawdyhouse was either $2 or $5, depending on the services provided. Five dollars in 1914 would be the equivalent of nearly $121 dollars in 2018.
Of course, prostitution wasn’t exactly legal, but since these ladies were not drug addicts, were not impoverished, and had no turf battles between one another, each house was simply fined $25 per month, an income that the city of Seward desperately needed. The Good Time Girls were not trouble makers in any way, and according to many historical documents, they are remembered as women with kind hearts who donated vegetables from their gardens to the community. They are also remembered for their fashion. With dresses shipped from New York City, the women were the best-dressed in town, and apparently never dressed provocatively, feeling that their services didn’t need “selling”.
People say that the Seward prostitutes were also “unusually old”, most of them in their 50’s. Perhaps due to their age, there was a noticeable absence of unwanted pregnancies and children, so the respectable women of Seward seemed to have no qualms with the ladies and their chosen profession, resting easy at night knowing that their children had no unsolicited siblings.
Back in the good ‘ole days, young boys had paper routes. Seward was no different. What was different, however, is that apparently the local boys fought over who got to deliver the paper to Alley B. One boy paid his boss $20 (the equivalent of $483 today) for the joy of calling that route his, and he bragged to his friends one day about seeing a naked woman in the window of one of the houses.
None of the Good Time Girls of Seward were locals. Each and every one of them had come from the lower 48, heading the call of the wild north. They arrived on ships to a new land where the promise of money lured them as strongly as it did any man. Alaska’s history was created by strong and adventurous men, but it can be argued that the reason those men prospered was due to the companionship of equally strong and adventurous women.
By Liberty Elias Miller.
Visit her blog here: https://www.libertyeliasmiller.com/