Women and prostitutes thrived in ‘Hell’s Half Acre’ brothels in Fort Worth – CBS Dallas / Fort Worth


by Ken Molestina | CBS 11

FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – Fort Worth’s infamous red light district, “Hell’s Half Acre,” had all kinds of vices.

It was precisely prostitution that created power and wealth for the women who chose this way of life at the time.

They were known as the “Tainted Doves” and although their less than moral activities helped create a wild west feel in Fort Worth, their work in the sex trade has left a lasting impact on the town’s history. .

Brothels were plentiful within the boundaries of Hells Half Acre during the booming 1870s to 1920s.

Dr Jessica Webb is a TCU-trained historian who wrote her thesis on the subject.

She described the activity as being plentiful, saying, “I would say the word creepy. The quote you frequently see used in the newspapers of the day was that Fort Worth was a wide open city.

The men were served in one of the three types of sex houses of the time, which were arranged in tiers.

Dr Webb said that on top and most expensive were the salon houses that would offer all the amenities of the time and the most desirable prostitutes.

A date there, she said, would cost $ 5 to $ 10.

Then there were brothels or boarding houses.

These tended to be smaller and less luxurious where the price for female companionship was around $ 1 per date.

At the very bottom of the list were cribs, one-room houses that you rent by the day.

One date there was about 25 cents.

The women who worked there had generally “aged” outside the salon and brothel, but still worked in the sex trade.

If a prostitute was successful, had money and business acumen, she usually became a madam if she ran a whole operation to include buying or renting a house for service and employing a long list of workers and staff apart from the prostitutes themselves.

One of the most famous madams of the time was Mary Porter, who was buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Fort Worth after her death in 1905.

Her gravestone, donated by local historians, bears her name, with the phrase “Call me Madame” below.

The ladies were making an extraordinary amount of money for the time and often investing their money in other activities, especially philanthropic affairs.

Historians say that every time law enforcement tried to crack down on prostitution in “The Acre”, the ladies were the target of arrests.

These arrests were made in a cowardly fashion, as the real intention was simply to collect fines and costs from the madam.

Most of the people who studied the matter said the Madame was generally out of jail within hours and back to business as usual after the fine was paid.

Dr Webb said: “They have this influence because they know they are important to the city even though they are kept away from the rest of the city.”

While Madame generally led a hard-hitting and powerful life, the many prostitutes who never achieved this status did not.

Dr Webb says by the age of 30 they were generally out of the sex trade, and it was not uncommon to hear of a prostitute committing suicide.

“For a lot of these women, especially those who are flagged, they leave notes,” Webb said. “They say, ‘You know, I’m desperate, I’m helpless, I can’t do this.’

Prostitution was finally driven out of the acre along with other vices around 1920.

Soon after, the City of Fort Worth called the area “morally cleansed.”

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