Prostitution in Early Spokane

Where you stand now, once housed one of the many very popular brothels in the city of Spokane. One young prostitute, by the name of Abbie Widner, worked in this location that was then known as The Colonial Hotel.

The hotel was a three-story brick building with the first floor occupied by hairdressers and the next two by a popular brothel. Between constant drug use and the visits from her "clients," Widner spent her remaining time writing to her boyfriend in Seattle. She wrote of how she missed him and how she despised the way that she was living. Sometimes she would brag about the large amount of money she had been making, but this was immediately followed by her saying that every time a man touched her she "wants to stab him in the heart."

Spokane's incredible early growth (which dwarfed other west coast cities) was due to the abundance of natural resources in the area, which brought miners, business men, rail road workers, loggers, and farmers to the city. This influx of population was largely young working men looking to spend their hard earned money in the city. This polarization of males and females created a large market for prostitution. When these men were not spending their money in brothels and saloons, they frequented hotels, clothing stores, and restaurants. For this reason, prostitution was vital in the initial boost of Spokane's population and economy.

The city profited directly from prostitution as well. Spokane levied fines up to ninety dollars on working women, in addition to a heavy tax on prostitution.

The fine system ended in 1910, after the business community finally stopped pushing for its resumption. This made it possible for the prostitutes to be prosecuted instead of simply fined and it eventually brought an end to open prostitution in Spokane.

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Audio

Abbie Widner letter to "Johnnie" on March 2, 1905
This is one of the three letter collection that can be seen at the MAC.
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