A Milwaukee brothel's account book, ca. 1910

Ledger kept by a house of prostitution (1909-1910?)

In 1913, the Legislature established a committee to investigate the causes of prostitution and other vice in Wisconsin. Chaired by Sen. Howard Teasdale (1855-1936), it sent questionaires to officials throughout the state and held hearings in many cities. During those hearings it questioned working women about their lives, asked religious and civic leaders about vice in their communities, and consulted experts about how to reduce or eliminate the suffering caused by prostitution, alcoholism, and other social problems. It even sent undercover investigators into brothels and taverns around the state, before it issued its final report in 1914. Teasdale's investigation produced hundreds of pages of first-hand evidence about Wisconsin women whose lives otherwise went largely undocumented. Selected photographs from the commission's files are online at Wisconsin Historical Images.

At an unknown point in its research it came into possession of this 6 x 8" ledger volume, which archivists later labeled, "Ledger kept by a house of prostitution" and which, from internal evidence, they located in Milwaukee. Its first 256 pages have been torn out and are missing, but page 257 contains dates, the names of women, and the charges incurred for each visit in July of 1909(?). The remaining pages (258-330) are a dual-column ledger: on the left appear to be the dollar amounts that each woman brought in each day (typically in five-dollar increments), while on the right are expenses which the operator of the brothel charged to each woman working for her between July 1909(?) and the following September. These charges are for laundry, lights, beer, silk stockings, cash advances, towels, and other expenses of daily life, against which are recorded the dates of their payments. Because the ledger was written in light pencil and the paper has faded slightly, legibility may be at times problematic. 

In November 2012, a researcher communicated to us that his research indicates the ledger came from a brothel located at 502 River St., Milwaukee, and that the person named at the top of its first page, "Cecil Hayes," is listed in various contemporary records as the building's owner.

Related Topics: The Progressive Era
The Birth of the Labor Movement
Creator: Wisconsin. Legislature. Committee on White Slave Traffic and Kindred Subjects.
Pub Data: Unpublished manuscript in the Wisconsin Historical Society Archives: Wisconsin. Legislature. Investigations, 1837-1945. Series 173, box 19: "Exhibits, 1913-1915"
Citation: Ledger kept by a house of prostitution (1909-1910?). Unpublished manuscript in the Wisconsin Historical Society Archives: Wisconsin. Legislature. Investigations, 1837-1945. Series 173, box 19: "Exhibits, 1913-1915." Online facsimile at http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/search.asp?id=1567 Online facsimile at:  http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/search.asp?id=1567; Visited on: 9/25/2022