Meet the sisters who ran ‘the most famous and luxurious house of prostitution in the country’

The spread, so to speak, at Chicago’s famed Everleigh Club was nothing short of breathtaking. There was lobster, caviar, fried oysters, deviled crabs, and iced clam juice. There were ducks, geese, pheasants. Not to mention nuts and candies, pastries, and lavish chocolate confections. And the alcohol? It flowed. The wine was some of the best you could find anywhere in the country. It figured that dinner at the 50-room manse cost $50 — about $1200 today. And that was after paying the steep $10 entrance fee.

The decor was also sumptuous. The club at 2131 Dearborn Street, which was open from 1900 to 1911, was decorated, according to PBS’s City of the Century, with “silk curtains, damask easy chairs, oriental rugs, mahogany tables, gold rimmed china and silver dinnerware, perfumed fountains in every room, a $15,000 gold-leafed piano for the Music Room, mirrored ceilings, a library filled with finely bound volumes, an art gallery featuring nudes in gold frames — no expense was spared.” Many of the rooms were themed: the Persian Room, the Japanese Room, the Turkish Room, and the Room of a Thousand Mirrors, among others. A four-piece orchestra frequently played, as “hostesses” glided around, tending to guests’ every desire, or making arrangements to.

The Everleigh Club was the brainchild of two entrepreneurial sisters, Minna and Ada Everleigh, born Minna and Ada Lester in Charlottesville, Kentucky, in the 1860s. Having used their inheritance to open a brothel in Omaha, the pair were experienced madams when they landed in Chicago and purchased the mansion that would become the Everleigh. They took the name from the closing signature their grandmother used when she wrote letters: “Everly Yours.” And they recruited the best talent they could find, initially putting a call out to the women who’d worked for them in Nebraska, and then to other top-notch brothels around the country. They did face-to-face interviews with all of the candidates, and selected only those who were both beautiful and compelling. Even the chosen women still had to undergo courses in culture and manners before being trotted out to clients.


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