No “nice girl” wore these boots!

July 11th, 2011by Timothy LongFiled under: Collections

This pair of boots—one of the more risqué in the Museum’s footwear collection—would make any collector of fetish-wear swoon. The tall design and high heel pushed the boundaries of Victorian morals. The open cutwork would beautifully display silk stockings in bright colors or with vertical black-and-white stripes, the most sought-after accessory for a “lady of the night.” And, the color! When you combine all of the clues, there are very few legitimate occupations where these boots would have been appropriate. Adding to the intrigue, the donor requested his or her name remain anonymous.

Women’s boots, c. 1890
Red leather, metal buttons
Anonymous gift, CC1971.339ab

Around the time that these boots were the height of fashion, Ada and Minna Everleigh opened a brothel in the 2100 block of South Dearborn in Chicago’s red-light district, “The Levee.” The Everleigh Club was no ordinary clip joint, though. The sisters were cultured, clever women, and their luxurious house boasted damask chairs, oriental rugs, mirrored ceilings, and a perfumed fountain. There was also a library and an art gallery, both filled with well-chosen books and pictures. Men from Chicago’s elite circles were rumored to patronize the club’s elegantly dressed, well-kept girls, and Chicago’s Vice Commission called it “the most famous and luxurious house of prostitution in the country.” After years of fighting the police and reformers, the Everleigh Club closed in 1911. Ada and Minna retired to New York as wealthy women—and reportedly started a refined poetry circle.

Ada (left) and Minna Everleigh, c. 1905
Chicago History Museum, ICHis-34791 and 34792

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