The Soiled Doves of Jerome

The fine for prostitution in Jerome in 1911 was $5.00, with an additional $2.50 for court costs. That’s the first thing I think of when I think of my visit to the Jerome, Arizona. How random is that?

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“Do you want to go in the Mine Museum?” Mr. History Tourist was already halfway through the door of the Jerome Historical Society’s Mine Museum when he asked the question because, really, when have I ever said no to a museum?

Except.  “No,” I said.  I really wasn’t interested enough in mining to go through an entire museum devoted to it, small though it was, and it seemed a no-cost way to conserve Mr. HT’s limited museum attention span.

To my surprise, he said, “Well, I’m interested.” And proceeded to go in.

Good thing he did, too, because “Mine Museum” turned out to be a misnomer.  It’s a museum of Jerome history — all of it.  Jerome, in its heyday in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, was a copper mining town.  But the mining exhibit was actually a very small part of the museum.

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What seemed to take up most of the museum — or maybe it was just the part that caught my interest — was the part about the prostitutes.  Where there were miners, there were saloons.  And where there were saloons, there were prostitutes. The museum building, as it happened, was originally a saloon that was (according to its historical marker) “the leading sporting house in northern Arizona.” Their motto was “We Never Sleep.” The current building is its second iteration, built in 1899 (the first had succumbed to a fire the year before).  The building’s most eye-catching feature was its pressed tin ceiling.

This 1898 photo is of Jennie Banter’s two-story brothel.  Jerome had three fires within 18 months, in the years before 1898, and Banter, a very successful local madam, managed to rebuild after each one. The story goes that during one fire, she offered any man who helped save her building a free pass to see one of her girls.  She got lots of help.

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Each ethnic/social/professional group that populated Jerome through the years had its nook in the museum but the other one that caught my attention was Chinese laborers. Jerome, much like the rest of the west in the 19th century, imported men from China as cheap labor. I was familiar with Chinese laborers working on the railroads, and do you remember Hop Sing, the Cartwright’s cook in Bonanza?  Apparently Chinese men also worked in mines, in the beginning, until mining became lucrative, even for the laborers, and the Chinese were pushed out. Approximately 1500 Chinese lived in Arizona when it was a territory but by the early 20th century, industrial advancements made formerly undesirable jobs more tenable to whites, and more whites were migrating west and needed jobs.  The Chinese community in Jerome (and Prescott, down the road) disappeared.

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Today, Jerome is banking on its small town, shady, shabby, old west feel to make a living off of tourists.  Tourist shops line its winding streets and there’s a couple of artists cooperatives.  “Open at 10,” said one sign on a shop. “Sometimes at 9. Or maybe 11.” We were there around 11:30 and they still weren’t open. Hint to business owner: that’s only cute if you really don’t want to sell anything.

I found Jerome and the museum worth a brief stop, but probably wouldn’t feel compelled to go back again. There is, however, a state historic park there, which we didn’t have time to see (because our main target was Sedona, 30 miles east).  It looks like much of the history tourist material is there, so I’ll wait to make a judgement on Jerome until I visit Jerome State Historic Park.


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18 Responses to The Soiled Doves of Jerome

  1. I have a friend who grew up in Jerome. She couldn’t wait to leave… But sounds like the museum was worth the quick stop.

  2. Rick says:

    I have spent a great deal of time in Jerome researching the activities of the red light district. In fact, I was there last month. It brings to mind an old poem from those days.

    Oh the lust for mountain gold dust
    Brought us lusty mountain men
    Who through lust for mountin’ women
    Quickly lost their gold again.

  3. Sometimes visiting a museum is just a game of chance!

  4. nerdtrips says:

    I don’t think I have ever seen a sign or museum that talks about prostitution – fascinating!

  5. Reblogged this on Jan MacKell Collins and commented:
    Thank you to The History Tourist for this fine review of Jerome and its red light ladies!

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