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Monday, January 28, 2008

Waco's Red Light District

Researching for Tom P's Fiddle brought to light some interesting history concerning nineteenth century Central Texas. Growing up, I always thought of Waco as a very conservative Christian community with Baylor University located there. With much surprise I discovered that the city had an actual, sanctioned, legal red light district at one time.

Shortly after the Civil War, Waco was still on the edge of the settled frontier in Texas. Rough around the edges, cowboys, gunslingers and ranchers saw Waco as a "lusty center for revelry of all kinds." Part of Waco became known as Six-Shooter Junction because so many shoot-outs took place there.

Along with that revelry was the arrival of women intent on practicing the world's oldest profession. The first recorded establishment with a quasi-legal status was owned by Matilda Davis in 1879. Ten single women lived there. Waco's most famous madam was Molly Adams (picture to the right). Business was brisk and soon more 'houses" sprang up down by the Brazos River, close to the bridge. As time passed, the city leaders moved toward more and more regulation of these 'soiled doves,' setting rules that bawdy houses had to follow or be raided.


1. Each madam had to pay for an annual license ($12.50 for each bedroom in the house)

2. Each working girl had to pay $10.00 annually as well.

3. Prostitutes could not leave the boundaries of a clearly marked territory, known as "The Reservation" while locals simply called it Two Street. If prostitutes needed to shop, it had to be after dark in an enclosed hack. They could not enter a store but had to send in for the owner to come out to the hack to get their order.

4. Prostitutes also had to submit twice a month to a medical exam by a city doctor.

The working girls tended to be young. They were initially on the census as actresses, but by 1900 they were listed as prostitutes under the column for occupation.

What brought legal prostitution in Waco to an end was not an outraged populous but the federal government who warned Waco they would not set up a training camp for soldiers there if the city did not end the sanctioned legal vice. So 1917 saw the end of this part of Waco's colorful history.

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