Sin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys, and the Battle for Americas Soul is an exciting look inside one of the most famous whorehouses in America, the Everleigh Club in early 20th-century Chicago. The book is a non-fiction work that reads like fiction, weaving the tale of how Minna and Ada Everleigh moved into Chicagos Levee district, determined to change the face of whorehouses, with how the Levee ultimately meet its demise.
The Everleigh sisters were madams who wanted to ensure that their girls, the Everleigh Butterflies, were honest, clean, and elegant. They wanted true courtesans, so they provided the girls with weekly doctor visits, etiquette training, lessons in Balzac, and the ability to leave the Club any time they chose. Shortly after opening its doors, the Club had a waiting list of harlots and a clientele list that was carefully vetted by the sisters. The men were expected to behave themselves, so, the Club quickly became famous for catering to the elite, with customers such as John Barrymore, Marshall Fields Jr., and Prince Henry of Prussia.
Unfortunately for the Everleigh sisters, though, the early 20th-century also brought about the Progressive Era reformers. The book describes the challenges facing the Levee, in general, and the Everleigh Club, in particular, as Ernest Bell went on his anti-white slavery crusade, as Congress passed The Mann Act of 1910, and as Chicago politicians who once provided protection to residents and businesses in the Levee were pressured to shut the district down.
Karen Abbot presents a well-research and well-documented look at this interesting period of Chicagos history. She manages to keep the facts lively, making for a readable, historical account. Abbot also provides photographs of the various rooms of the Everleigh Club, as well as of the Cast of Characters in this saga, which helps add to the successful recreation of the atmosphere, the excitement, and the mystery surrounding the period, the Levee, and the Everleigh sisters.
This is a really cool book. I had to read it for a history class I took, but I ended being really glad I got the opportunity to read it. It's very interesting and informative about America during the turn-of-the-century and the battle between vice in Chicago (mainly prostitution) and the Progressive reformers. It plays out like a story, with a lot of colorful characters, rather than a boring textbook-like supply of just facts and dates.
Karen Abbott's meticulously researched Sin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys and the Battle for America's Soul reads like a leisurely carriage ride through a specific moment in American history. The storytelling is glamorous, unhurried, and sometimes the characters blur together from afar in Chicago's underworld at the dawn of the 20th century. Abbott focuses on Ada and Minna Everleigh, a pair of sisters who ran the most upscale--and in some ways, most progressive--brothel in Chicago's Levee district. They insisted on feeding the 'Everleigh butterflies' gourmet meals, hiring an honest doctor to certify their health, and tutoring them in Balzac. Therefore the sisters are a bit miffed--but too classy to show it-- to be grouped with other Levee madams and saloon keepers by Progressive Era reformers who rallied against their 'white slave trade.' The investigation into the wholesale luring of American and immigrant girls into situations where they are raped and then sold into debt-bondage brothels spurred in part the formation of the (Federal) Bureau of Investigation. Abbott does an admirable job tying these tensions into a detailed, readable story as she volleys between the Levee regulars and the protesters as each side waxes and wanes in influence in Chicago politics. Those who enjoy Chicago history, women's studies, or modern human trafficking would want to indulge in Sin in the Second City
If anyone is interested in Chicago history, history of brothels and prostitution, or how the Mann Act came into being, I would recommend this book.
However, this book can be a slow read at times and all of the people can be confusing at first. I was expecting to read mostly about brothels, but this is a much wider reaching book that delves into those people who are both for and against brothels. Hope this review helps!