After the family scattered, I turned the farmhouse at the ranch into a Bed and Breakfast. Each bedroom had a name of an unsung hero of the Helena area. One room was named, "Chicago Joe."
Who Sez Lust Don't Pay?
Chicago Joe could have more accurately had the nickname, "Irish Mary." At least this name would have given a hint to her gender and a reason for the thick Irish brogue. But "Chicago Joe" it was, a nickname that needed no explanation in early Helena history.
Mary Josephine Airey left Ireland when when she was 14 and found her way to the seamy side of Chicago. The Civil War was raging to the East and South but in Chicago, it was "business as usual" for the prostitutes, the soiled doves, the ladies of the evening. Mary Josephine took the name "Joe" and soon learned the subtle manners of the oldest profession of women.
With youth, good looks and and indomitable will to survive, Joe learned her trade in the big city, then took her satchel of money and headed to the Western mining camps. Helena, one of the bawdiest, fastest-growing mining camp in the West was a mecca of opportunity for Chicago Joe.
She invested in real estate, hurdy gurdy houses, saloons, brothels and variety theaters. Joe ruled as queen of the underworld for more than 30 years, at a time when prostitutes owned the greater percentage of main street real estate. She held politicians and bankers in her pocket ...... all the time never having learned to read or write her name.
No woman had ever been arrested for prostitution before 1886. Prostitution WAS respectability. Money hold power. A bank clerk earned $125 a month while a "lady of the evening" earned an average $233 a month.
As the railroads increased and brought families, Helena bowed to tighter legislation and soon the Madam establishments were pushed off Main Street. Cornered into obscurity with "pimps" for protection, prostitution descended from it's "glory days" into it's present state of degradation .............. BUT the memory of Chicago Joe lives on.
The memory especially lived on in the cheerful name-sake room, up in the mountains, of Birdseye Bed and Breakfast. After breakfast, the guests (usually history buffs) asked me to sit with them over coffee and tell stories of the room names. It kept me from doing my work but I loved being a "story teller."