Dance Hall Girls Of The Old West
Diamond Belle Saloon. Source: (pinterest.com)
In the Old West, dance hall girls were hired in saloons as a form of entertainment for the men of that time. Not only was it a profitable way for the owners to sell more drinks but also a way to help provide an entertaining evening for the lonely men. Although the men loved it, the “upstanding” women were very much against it and quite suspicious of their presence in the area. They considered the women that were employed by these saloon keepers as provocative women and called them many things such as “painted ladies,” “disgraceful,” “ladies of the night,” and much more. The truth was, though, that most of them would never have even considered prostitution. It was just as degrading to them as it was to the women who were making that assumption about them.
On the contrary, these dance hall girls were making good money without having to stoop to that level. They also got to dress up in bright colored ruffled skirts and petticoats all decorated with fringe, sequins, lace, and other embellishments. Many would carry pistols or daggers on them for protection hiding them either in their bosom or inside their boots.
They even wondered why the “respectable” women would choose the life of being a wife and mother who had to work so hard on the farm along with raising a family. Many of the girls came from farms or mills themselves. A lot of the dance hall girls did eventually become wives later in life after they had saved their money and had nice little nest eggs.
The life of a dance hall girl was, for the most part, highly respected within the saloon circle because the owners required that the customers respect them. The men were able to buy tickets to dance with one of the girls and buy her a drink but their time was limited. The men were unknowingly paying the price of whiskey for the girls, but it was actually just cold tea or something similar made to look like whiskey. Not only were the girls making so much money per week but usually made a commission off of the drinks they sold. Saloon owners had a dual reason for keeping their time together short. One reason was to help protect the girls, but the other was that they did not want to lose them to a possible marriage.
In the Old West were also the girls who actually were prostitutes (or “soiled doves”) who lived in parlors designed for that purpose if they were high class. The head was the Madame who assigned the girls to their “customers.” There would be bouncers on hand in case any of the “customers” refused to pay his bill or got out of hand. Red lanterns would be hung in the windows to indicate what they were. Besides the high-class parlor houses, there was the lower class who stayed in “cribs” or those that were found in honky-tonks and then, of course, there were the independents who were street-walkers.
Libby Thompson, who was nicknamed “Squirrel Tooth Alice,” was one of the few who were both a dance hall girl and a prostitute. She had a bad childhood as her family had lost everything during the Civil War and she was taken captive by Comanche Indians. When her parents were able to pay her ransom, she was returned to them. Things were not the same for her though. At age 13, she was shunned because everyone assumed that she had been sexually active with the Indians. She then ran away from home at the age of 14 and hooked up with a gambler, Billy Thompson, whom she met in Abilene, Texas. They later married when she was 18, and three years after that she had her own “dance hall” which was a front for a brothel.