Review: Boudoirs to Brothels: The Intimate World of Wild West Women

Boudoirs to Brothels: The Intimate World of Wild West Women
Boudoirs to Brothels: The Intimate World of Wild West Women by Michael Rutter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book #16 for 2017
GenreLand Challenge: Biography & Memoir
Personal Challenge Prompt: A book with a woman on the cover
The Legendary Book Club of Habitica’s Ultimate Reading Challenge Task: A book with a subtitle
PopSugar Challenge Prompts:
– A book with a subtitle
– A book with career advice (prostitution)

This book is an interesting and often unsettling look at the roles women were often forced into in the Old West. It examines a wide range of experiences and backgrounds and attitudes and also provides vivid descriptions of life in the Wild West at various socioeconomic levels. It really gave me a lot to think about for building characters as well as the world for my steampunk/weird west stories.

I purposely read this book slowly, trying to permit myself days between each profile, but some of them still ran together a bit in my head. This might be in part due to some of the women being friends and/or rivals. Many of the stories did stand apart, though, like those of Polly Bemis (the Chinese poker bride) and Dora B. Topham (Madam Belle London, who ran the Stockade in Salt Lake City).

I appreciated how clear Rutter was about his research and which aspects of the tales were documented (and how reliably so) as well as his willingness to repeat (with appropriate caveats) popular legends and even ghost stories. I did, however, find the structure of the book more textbookish than I like, with sidebars interrupting the flow of the women’s personal stories. And this certainly isn’t Rutter’s fault, but I was disturbed by how often the stories kept referring back to their famous menfolk. I’d love to see a female film director use this as the basis of a series of films that focus on the women in these histories.

I would recommend this book to anybody who is interested in learning more about life in the Western US in the 19th and early 20th centuries or who is interested in sex work, human trafficking, and/or intimate partner violence. It contains many insights that apply yet today.

View all my reviews

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