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Josephine Airey

Photograph of Josephine Airey
Born Mary Welch
1844
Ireland
Died October 25, 1899 (aged 55)
Helena, Montana
Cause of death pneumonia
Nationality Irish, American
Other names "Chicago Joe" Hensley
Occupation Prostitute, madam, landowner, proprietor
Known for Proprietor of brothels, a variety theatre, saloons, and dance halls in Helena, Montana
Spouse(s) James T. Hensley

Josephine Airey (1844- October 25, 1899), was an Irish-born American prostitute, madam, and proprietor of brothels, dance halls, a variety theatre, and saloons in Helena, Montana. She eventually became the most influential landowner in Helena. She was also known as "Chicago Joe" Hensley following her marriage to James T. Hensley.

Contents

Origins

Josephine was born Mary Welch in Ireland in 1844. When she emigrated to New York in 1858, she changed her name to Josephine Airey.[1] She held a menial job, but this soon bored her, so she moved to Chicago where she took up prostitution. In 1867, she quit Chicago and moved out west to the newly-established gold mining town of Helena, Montana. With the money she had saved from her earnings, she opened a hurdy-gurdy house, which quickly became a success due to its appeal to the local miners who formed the bulk of her clientele.

"Chicago Joe"

She soon expanded her business; a fire in 1874 provided her with the opportunity of buying up property from those who couldn't afford to rebuild which made her the richest landowner on Wood Street. She was the owner of the "Grand", a large brothel on the corner of State and Joliet streets. In 1878, she married James T. Hensley, and together they built a stone, fire-proof dance hall as well as the "Red Light Saloon". She began to be known by the nickname of "Chicago Joe" Hensley. Josephine began to rent her numerous properties to other businesses, making her the most influential landowner in Helena.[2]. Her wealth and influence enabled her to donate to charities and political campaigns. Josephine and her husband later built a large vaudeville-style variety theatre called "The Coliseum", which proved greatly successful, due to its rich furnishings and the beautiful girls Josephine hired to perform. Josephine was famed for her lavish style of dress, lifestyle and parties she and her husband regularily gave.

In January 1883, she placed a notice in Helena's newspaper, the Daily Independent, ordering local saloon owners and gambling houses not to serve her husband liquor, allow him to gamble or loan him money on pain of prosecution.[3] Later that same year, on 24 December 1883 she advertised that she was holding a Grand Masquerade Ball at the "Red Light Saloon" and issued invitations to all the citizens of Helena.

"The Coliseum" began to lose its popularity in 1890, as Helena became more respectable. In the Panic of 1893, Josephine lost all her property apart from the "Red Light Saloon". Soon she and her husband were forced to live in the small rooms above the saloon.[4]

Death

Josephine died of pneumonia on October 25, 1899. The citizens of Helena gave her a magnificent funeral with many speeches praising her accomplishments.[5]

References

  1. ^ Ken Adams, Angels or Whores: Prostitutes in the Mining Camps, retrieved on 04-01-10
  2. ^ Adams
  3. ^ www.lifelikecharm.com/old_south_main.htm
  4. ^ Adams
  5. ^ Adams
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