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

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

by Maryjean Wall


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Belle Brezing made a major career move when she stepped off the streets of Lexington, Kentucky, and into Jennie Hill's bawdy house — an upscale brothel run out of a former residence of Mary Todd Lincoln. At nineteen, Brezing was already infamous as a youth steeped in death, sex, drugs, and scandal. But it was in Miss Hill's "respectable" establishment that she began to acquire the skills, manners, and business contacts that allowed her to ascend to power and influence as an internationally known madam.

In this revealing book, Maryjean Wall offers a tantalizing true story of vice and power in the Gilded Age South, as told through the life and times of the notorious Miss Belle. After years on the streets and working for Hill, Belle Brezing borrowed enough money to set up her own establishment — her wealth and fame growing alongside the booming popularity of horse racing. Soon, her houses were known internationally, and powerful patrons from the industrial cities of the Northeast courted her in the lavish parlors of her gilt-and-mirror mansion.

Secrecy was a moral code in the sequestered demimonde of prostitution in Victorian America, so little has been written about the Southern madam credited with inspiring the character Belle Watling in Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind. Following Brezing from her birth amid the ruins of the Civil War to the height of her scarlet fame and beyond, Wall uses her story to explore a wider world of sex, business, politics, and power. The result is a scintillating tale that is as enthralling as any fiction.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780813168449
Publisher: University Press of Kentucky
Publication date: 07/13/2016
Series: Topics in Kentucky History
Pages: 232
Sales rank: 546,016
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Maryjean Wall served as the turf writer for the Lexington Herald-Leader for twenty-five years. The author of How Kentucky Became Southern: A Tale of Outlaws, Horse Thieves, Gamblers, and Breeders, she holds a doctorate and is an instructor in the Department of History at the University of Kentucky.

Table of Contents

Preface vii

1 The Elegant Miss Belle 1

2 Civil War and Home War 9

3 A Troubled Youth 19

4 A Businesswoman Whose Business Was Men 35

5 Networks of Power 49

6 A Wealthy Benefactor 67

7 Lexington's Exclusive Mansion for Men 81

8 A Uniquely Powerful Woman in a Changing City 99

9 Crackdown on Vice 113

10 A Growing Moral Menace 127

11 The Passing of a Legend 141

Epilogue 153

Acknowledgments 155

Notes 157

Bibliography 175

Index 181

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