Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Madam Belle: Sex, Money, and Influence in a Southern Brothel

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Madam Belle: Sex, Money, and Influence in a Southern Brothel

Article excerpt

Madam Belle: Sex, Money, and Influence in a Southern Brothel. By Maryjean Wall. Topics in Kentucky History. (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2014. Pp. x, 190. $24.95, ISBN 978-0-8131-4706-2.)

Infamous locales like Storyville in New Orleans and the Tenderloin in New York City most often come to mind when thinking about well-known, frequently traversed red-light districts of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Often neglected are the many districts that flourished in smaller cities and towns across the country. Maryjean Wall's biography of Belle Brezing, a well-known madam of brothels in Lexington, Kentucky, begins to rectify this absence with a fascinating look at Brezing and her hometown.

It is not surprising that Lexington's internationally known madam lived an unconventional life. When Brezing was a child, her mother sued for divorce, which became a source of much gossip in the small city of Lexington in 1866. At age fifteen, while pregnant, Brezing briefly married. A story in the local newspaper made fun of the marriage; thus Brezing's reputation as someone willing to engage with men in romantic liaisons and sex was known very early across the city. This notoriety often served her well, and she opened her own brothel at the age of twenty. Her connections to the wealthy men involved in the horse-racing business, not only Kentuckians but also men from the East, like the Singerly brothers of Philadelphia, ensured a moneyed clientele for her business for many years to come. While she died in relative obscurity at the age of eighty, her reputation, or perhaps her notoriety, earned her an obituary in Time magazine. …

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