You’ve seen them at Dirty Dan Days, the Fairhaven Rain Festival, Ski to Sea, the Steampunk Festival, and other events throughout the year. They’re the Fairhaven Ladies of the Evening Society (or the LOTES, pronounced Lotties). They’re the bawdy ladies in the Victorian costumes, strolling the Green.
I’m a member of the group and can’t tell you how often people interrupt me to say, “You’re the ones who give those tours!” No, we are not. Those are the Good Time Girls. They’re a business; we’re just in it for the fun. The Good Time Girls give great historical tours with several themes—take one if you get the chance.
The LOTES honor the original businesswomen of Fairhaven, the ones who owned the “sporting houses” in the 1890s when there were so many men coming to work in the logging industry and shingle mills, build the railroad, or set sail for Alaska.
We dress in opulent Victorian costumes and we flirt and strut our stuff, but we’re never lewd. In contrast to the “decent women,” who dressed plainly, the madams wore lavish dresses with short-laced boots, and often jewelry given to them by admirers.
Founding member Taimi Dunn Gorman, co-founder of the Colophon Cafe and the Doggie Diner, created the group in 2003. “I realized that the Fairhaven businesswomen of the 1890’s were primarily Madams who owned many of the 30 brothels in the district,” she says. “I got together five businesswomen to honor that history, not treat it with shame.”
Because of that era’s discrimination, if a woman wasn’t weren’t married or the schoolmarm, she didn’t have a lot of opportunity to work. “Seamstress and laundress were about it, and they didn’t pay much,” says Gorman. “These powerful women saw an opportunity during the Fairhaven building boom and took advantage of it.”
The group membership shifts organically, with some falling away because of busy lives, and new friends joining the fun. Parites are held a few times a year at the Todd Mansion; sometimes in costume, sometimes in plainclothes or other theme attire. LOTES parties always include a ritual singing of our anthem, “Hey, Big Spender.”
Some of the LOTES take on the identity of a real historical person. For example, local veterinarian Kris Johnson models herself after Ursula Undig Boyde, who was sent by her husband from Seattle, in 1891, and instructed to live in a house of ill repute and steal everything in sight. She didn’t have the stomach for the stealing part, but when he arrived and beat her for her failure, Ursula shot him (it is not known whether he survived). Other LOTES make up a persona, like co-founding-member Alice Maurey’s Alice of The Palace.
Diane Phillips, owner of The Barber Shop at Fairhaven, really knows her character, Miss Dora Reno, who had the largest sporting house in town on 1313 9th Street. “With five parlors and 21 immaculate cribs…if you had too good of a time and enjoyed the spirits of the time, you might get run over by the train that went by my place,” she says, in character. “I did very well in Fairhaven for five years, and then I went to Vancouver, BC, where I owned another brothel.”
Phillips has has copies of the records showing the property purchase, arrest records, taxes paid, and her marriage to a prominent businessman.
Jodi Sipes, the first non-business-owner to join, was given her name by the others. “They were impressed that I had come to my first meeting dressed and acting the part, so Taimi bestowed upon me the name of Mae Morton, the youngest co-owner of a brothel,” she recalls. “I loved those early days of wandering from business to business and being recognized like rock stars. Sometimes we even had a town crier announcing us out the street corners: ‘Ladies, watch your men and men watch your wallets, here come the Ladies of the Evening!’”
The women make their own costumes or collect them from antique shops. Liz Davis, who models her character after madam May Wright, found an elegant skirted suit in an antique shop that allegedly belonged to Ms. Wright. There’s no proof of the suit’s provenance, but it could be true, and what fun to believe!
The LOTES do have some honorary men in their contingent: artist Rick Bulman and his husband, many-time Dirty Dan Lookalike Contest winner Jim Rich. The men dress for the period and provide a display of old-world chivalry.
After every event, the LOTES convene for drinks at Skylark’s. We’ve been the honored guests of owner Don White for years, and we’ll continue to enjoy a welcome under the new ownership. A portrait of the LOTES from 2003 hangs over the stairs to the mezzanine.
The LOTES are all about reviving the historical bordello era, a little for education and a lot for entertainment. Our Fairhaven district is a treasure, and the LOTES make sure its spirit is never lost.
For excellent information about Fairhaven’s history of brothels, go to Village Books in Fairhaven to obtain The Brothels of Bellingham, by Dr. Curtis Smith (a local dentist here in town with an interest in history), or take a tour with the Good Time Girls.