Category Archives: updates

reading and signing events in wallace

I just wanted to spread the word on a few local reading and signing events coming up. My first event will be in the Wallace Brewing Company‘s tasting room on Bank Street, Friday, May 19 at 7 pm. Please join us for a reading, question and answer session, and signing/meet-and-greet. Plus, there will be delicious craft beer! [Update on 5/15/17: There will be a wheelchair-accessible event at 6 pm at the Wallace District Mining Museum on Thursday June 8–please encourage older readers to attend this event, or the one at the Sixth Street Melodrama I listed below.]



There will also be an event on Wallace’s Founder’s Day, at the Sixth Street Melodrama, a building that used to be home to the Lux Rooms brothel upstairs. This reading will take place at 2:45 pm on June 24th, after the parade.  I’ll be the opening act for local writer and publisher, Tony Bamonte, who will be reading from his new book on Colonel Wallace.

The Fainting Goat A Wine Bar, one of my favorite restaurants here in town, will be hosting an event called “Dinner and a Book” on July 15, starting at 6:30 pm. We are going to have to take reservations for this one–call the Goat between 11:00 am and 7:30 pm to reserve your spot…


I’m still working on setting up more events and I’ll update this site to announce them as they are finalized.

The interest and level of enthusiasm for this project have been humbling. If you would like your own signed copy from me, please click the “buy now” button on my website to pay with a credit/debit card or you can also PayPal me: findheatherlee at gmail.

*buy my book here!*

It’s finally here! My book,

Selling Sex in the Silver Valley: A Business Doing Pleasure,

is now available!

If you want a signed copy, they are $22.00. To order one or more using your credit card or PayPal, please click on the “Buy Now” button:

Buy Now Button with Credit Cards
Thank you for supporting my work! Here is the front cover:


And this is the back cover:

FullSizeRender (1)

Buy Now Button with Credit Cards

reading at the wallace brewery—7:00 pm on jan 13, 2016

A week from today, I’ll be reading an excerpt from my work on the history of sex work in the Silver Valley! Please come join us at the Wallace Brewery (610 Bank St., Wallace, Idaho) on Wednesday, January 13, beginning at 7:00 pm.

Wallace Brothel Signs

I’m actually the opening act for the Idaho-raised author, Keith Lee Morris, who will be reading from his recently released novel, Travelers Rest, a surreal and time-bending story set in a fictionalized version of the town of Wallace. I just started reading it last night and I’m already hooked by his observations about the characters and chilled by his description of Wallace as a snowbound bermuda triangle.

Travelers Rest Cover Art

For anyone who hasn’t yet read Morris’s work, I highly recommend you also check out his earlier novel, The Dart League King, which is set in a fictionalized version of Sandpoint, Idaho.

This reading is going to enable a lot of opportunity for us to talk and hang out (and I think play darts and pool) afterward. PLUS, the Wallace Brewery has excellent beer at very reasonable prices (personally, I love their Vindicator IPA and Huckleberry Shandy).

Also of interest to readers of this blog, the theme of the Brewery is distinctly brothel-oriented, including lots of the old Playboy-style calendars Dolores Arnold used to give away as party favors. I’ll have copies of my DVD for sale (more on this in a couple of days!) and Morris should have copies of his books for sale that I’m sure he would be happy to sign. So if you’re local-ish, come down, enjoy a drink, and chat with us about Wallace portrayed in both fiction and nonfiction!

a business doing pleasure

So, lots of big developments lately…

I visited Dolores Arnold’s grave in Tacoma, Washington this week. She’s buried next to her mother, who died when she was six, and her sister, who died last fall. Here are pictures:
Jennie&DoloresDoloresGraveI felt sad and humbled when I got there and saw how small the grave marker is. It’s about the size of a book or iPad, understated for a woman who was the most famous and beloved madam in Wallace’s history. The grounds at the Calvary Cemetary were very well-kept. Standing there on the damp ground I could smell cut grass, wet dirt, and fallen leaves. Planes flew into and out of McChord Air Force Base just to the Southeast. Birds chirped. It tried to rain but eventually gave up.

Some of you might not have heard yet: this summer, I resigned from my job as a professor to move back to Wallace and focus most of my time on the book. It was a big decision and definitely the right one for me. Needless to say, access to primary sources was pretty tough when I lived 2,400 miles away in Virginia. It was also difficult to build face-to-face relationships with research participants from across the country. It’s been great to live back in the valley again. I just picked up a job that will allow me to work on the project a lot more and this week I’ve been working on a book proposal for publishers. Wish me luck!

You might have noticed some small changes with my site. My new web address is “” although still forwards to it for at least another year. I changed my domain name because I think I finally settled on a book title. I also formed my own company, so now I’m officially the manager at findheatherlee media, llc. That’s kind of exciting. Next comes a Facebook site for the project (stay tuned for the chance to win a prize for liking the page)…

I’ve also begun to advise the writing club at the jr./sr. high school. As a result (thanks to Val), I found out about this writing tracker-motivator app called Writeometer that is pretty cool. I love how you can set your deadline and then see how many words per day you need to write to get there. Or you can enter in the words per day and then hit the calculator button to see how many days it will take to complete the project.

And finally, after much written correspondence and a phone conversation with the folks at the FBI, I am happy to announce that they will be sending 950 pages worth of information about the 1991 raid. Most of that is a report for the prosecutors written by one of the special agents who was investigating the case. It was looking like I was going to have to pay a huge amount of money for the files (and Dean Cooper at the 1313 offered some really helpful support—thank you so much!) but after talking with a researcher at the FBI over the phone, I decided to reduce the request to 950 pages in order to speed the processing and limit the amount of information that would be heavily redacted. When I originally put in the FOIA request, I’d hoped to see the evidence they’d gathered for the trial, but the researcher said it had been “dispositioned,” which means that it was either destroyed or returned. Regardless, I’m really looking forward to checking out the agent’s report and will post an update as soon as it arrives.

Well, that’s about it for today. In the future, though, I’ve got a special post coming up. I’m trying out something a little different for this one. This summer, I met up with Seattle-based escort Maggie McNeill for a conversation about sex work. She writes a popular blog called The Honest Courtesan, and we met up a couple weeks before Amnesty International came out in support of decriminalizing sex work, a decision with which she agrees. The profession has received a lot of negative publicity in the meantime (people often conflate sex work with trafficking) and I think Maggie’s perspective balances things out a bit. I recorded our conversation and am trying to get it into podcast shape, but it was a long talk, so that may take me a bit longer. In the meantime, go check out her site and look forward to more here soon.

updates and progressive era reform tidbits

Well, I took a hiatus from blog writing during April and May, mainly due to my professor responsibilities and work on related scholarly publications. One of these projects includes a twelve-minute movie that offers an overview of the history of sex work in Wallace from 1891-1991, complete with pictures and maps. If all goes according to plan, I’ll have physical copies available at the Wallace All-Class Reunion and Slippery Gulch next month!

Here in Wallace (where I’m hiding out in a cabin to write for the next two months), it’s the 74th annual Gyro Days, which one of those strange small town festivals when people “party at the drop of a ball.” The Gyro club drops a big rainbow-colored beach ball into the river and floats it from Mullan to Wallace to raise money for scholarships. My young nieces have been looking forward to the carnival and games.

These past couple weeks, I’ve been going back through relevant primary and secondary sources and have updated my bibliography to reflect the range of research for the book project, so check that out. It needs to be updated further with a few more recent items, but I probably won’t update it again until this fall. Some of the material is not widely available—is there anything in particular that you would like to learn more about in subsequent posts?

Further reading from the updated bibliography: If you are interested in finding out more about the historic connection between sex work and mining cultures on the rocky mountain frontier, I recommend Mary Murphy’s social history of Butte, Montana and Paula Petrik’s community study of Helena, Montana. Those who are interested in reading a more sociological discussion should see Marion Goldman’s Gold Diggers and Silver Miners, a thorough overview of social dynamics and prostitution on the Comstock Lode in Virginia City, Nevada. If you’re looking for something a little less scholarly and more narrative, try Jan MacKell’s book, which offers stories about Colorado’s women and houses. And finally, Ruth Rosen’s Lost Sisterhood focuses on the Progressive Era reform period from 1900-1918.

Wallace’s houses obviously survived this reform period, but it was not immune to the threat of closure during World War I, which was when most restricted districts in the U.S. closed down. I’ve been going back through some of the primary source documents from this reform period and thought it might be worthwhile to share some of that information in the rest of this post….

As Americans prepared for WWI, everyone was expected to support the war effort: newspapers published articles encouraging people to buy bonds, conserve resources, and help keep morale high. The government singled out vice districts as a special part of the preparations. The War Department launched a massive campaign that they called a “war on prostitution.”

Letter from the War Department soliciting businesses to help eradicate prostitution

Letter from the War Department soliciting businesses to help promote social and moral health during World War I

Working with Brown Manufacturing Company and the American Social Hygiene Association, the War Department distributed propaganda meant to educate potential soldiers about the risks of venereal disease. Some of these materials are available in the Potlatch Papers at the University of Idaho Library’s Special Collections and Archives. One pamphlet warns:

A venereal disease contracted after deliberate exposure through intercourse with a prostitute is as much of a disgrace as showing the white feather.

A soldier in the hospital with venereal disease is a slacker.

His medicine and care cost money that could be otherwise used to win the war.

He has lost the self-respect which is the backbone of every true soldier.

If you go with a prostitute, you endanger your country because you risk your health, and perhaps your life. You lessen the man-power of your company and throw extra burdens on your comrades. You are a moral shirker.


No matter how thirsty or hungry you were, you wouldn’t eat or drink anything that you knew in advance would weaken your vitality, poison your blood, cripple your limbs, rot your flesh, blind you, and destroy your brain. Then why take the same chance with a prostitute?

(Keeping Fit to Fight)

Federal authorities targeted restricted districts and the women within them by rallying employers and community members as the enforcers, calling upon everyone to do their part to “protect” the soldiers and the “sisters, wives, and future mothers of the race we are fighting for” (Fit to Fight pamphlet). “Loose women, on the other hand,” were framed as morally degenerate and disease-ridden, and sometimes referred to as “feeble-minded.”


(Potlatch Papers, MG 96 Box 4, UI Library Special Collections & Archives)

These materials discussed women as though they were pests on par with mosquitoes, spreading disease and contagion wherever they were found. As one government authority put it: “To drain a red-light district and destroy thereby a breeding place of syphilis and gonorrhea is as logical as it is to drain a swamp and destroy thereby a breeding place of malaria and yellow fever” (quoted in Allan Brandt’s No Magic Bullet 72). This sort of language invoked old stereotypes of women’s bodies as mysterious and dank incubators capable of unleashing disease. The Fit to Fight pamphlet also included “educational” information about sex:

The mere fact that famous boxers and wrestlers, explorers and athletes who want their bodies in perfect condition for a great struggle keep away from women during the long period of training proves that the use of the sex organs is not necessary to health. Even the ancients knew this in training their gladiators and athletes.

On the other hand, over-exercise or excitement of the sex glands may exhaust them, and weaken a man. (Footnoted here: “If this is done by a man himself it is called self-abuse or masturbation. It does not make a man insane, but it is so weakening both to the body and to the will-power that many boys and men worry themselves sick over the habit, when they might have cured themselves by athletics, fun, and their own self-respect and will-power. Most boys who masturbate quit the habit before lasting injury has been done. Going to a prostitute (whore) instead will not really break the habit and makes matters worse.”)

Many a champion boxer has found this out to his cost. And thinking about things which excite the sex feelings makes it hard to control the sex organs, just as thinking about food makes the mouth water, or thinking of a sorrow may bring tears to the eyes in spite of a man. (And another footnote here reads: “Booze makes it easy to lose control of the thoughts and get into trouble with loose women, and it makes the body more likely to catch their diseases. That is one reason why the government prohibits liquor to soldiers.”)

Even though much of this information is obviously wrong (“most boys who masturbate quit the habit,” haha), it was actually correcting Victorian Era misinformation about male sexuality. During the 19th century, it was commonly thought that if a man didn’t have sexual release, he would explode with lust or rage. This kind of thinking is also behind the rationale that prostitution was a “necessary evil” required to protect young women from being raped.

Social and moral hygiene sex “education” materials

The War Department’s propaganda repeatedly claimed that 70-90% of “professional prostitutes” were infected with gonorrhea or syphilis “all the time.” These materials add, “that kind of girl is likely to lie” so the soldiers were instructed to “Just remember this—all loose women are dirty. Therefore, any man who joins his body with the body of a prostitute or loose girl runs the risk of catching one of these terrible diseases” (Fit to Fight).

Another pamphlet, Your Job and Your Future, advises all men to prevent the spread of syphilis and gonorrheal “germs” in the following way:

you’ve got to keep away from the kind of women who are willing to “give you a good time,” whether they want money for it or not.

Don’t forget it: Keep away from prostitutes, whore, hookers, chippies and so-called ‘private snaps.’

The government provided ready-made speeches with notes for the speakers, which they delivered to industrial plants alongside the pamphlets, posters, and pay stub enclosures. Sometimes the War Department also sent people to present these lectures in person. Local historian and former Judge Richard Magnuson told me that in Wallace, by 1916 or 1917, someone from the military came to town and made a speech about how the houses were ruining the workforce. During an address at the Methodist church, a U.S. Army lieutenant pleaded with the citizens to understand that soldiers would be “useless if debilitated by venereal disease,” citing “the fall of Rome as an example of what Wallace could expect if it let prostitution thrive in its midst” (Hart and Nelson 138).


Example of ready-made anti-prostitution speeches provided by War Department in 1917-1918

Despite the federal government’s rhetoric lamenting the houses’ negative influence, the reality is that sex work and the government—especially the military—have been interdependent throughout American history. And in Wallace, the economic symbiosis of the brothels and local government would ultimately increase as a result of this propaganda campaign. The obstacle to eradicating sex work was common logic during this time that countered the government’s rhetoric: if the restricted districts were shut down, the thinking went, prostitution would scatter throughout the community and as a result the problem would become worse. Or, as the late former mayor Moe Pellissier told me in an interview last summer, “If you shut down the upstairs, it just moves to the bars and the streets. You can regulate venereal diseases if you regulate prostitution.”

The town chose to “license” sex work by charging the houses operation fees and so the War Department’s war against prostitution ultimately ended up strengthening the connection to local government because “the community felt better leaving that particular element in that particular place rather than having it be pervasive all over” (Amonson). So it was during this time that we first see doctor’s visits and regulation by public health officials (Wallace City Council Minutes, September 1917). While it is true that syphilis was a serious public health problem during this pre-penicillin era, the health exams also improved the image of prostitution in Wallace, which was needed to effectively counter the federal government’s arguments. Madams and Wallace citizens would continue to emphasize cleanliness and regulation in both discursive and ritualized practice from this time onward.