Prostitution Biography of Madam Tessie Wall Part 1

About the famous Madam Tessie Wall, biography and history of her San Francisco bordello and its specialties.


Tessie Wall

She was born in San Francisco as Teresa Donohue in 1869 and died there in 1932. Remembered as a "flamboyant, well-upholstered blond" during an era when ample, slightly plump ladies were extremely popular, Tessie was bighearted, high-living, ribald woman of Irish ancestry who became the best-known parlor house madam in the Golden Gate City between 1900 and 1917.

Long married to the gambler and political boss Frank Daroux (whom she attempted to kill late in 1917 while he was in the midst of divorcing her), Tessie was given to most of the popular excesses of the day. A great fondness for champagne (she once drank boxer John L. Sullivan under the table). A weakness for horse racing (which generally kept her broke despite the fact that she earned at least $5,000 a month). Amazing loyalty to her friends in the police department (Tessie--jeweled, elegantly gowned, and feeling no pain--for years would take the arm of Mayor Sunny Jim Rolph and lead off the Grand March at the annual policemen's ball. She would generally begin festivities by throwing a thousand-dollar bill on the bar and yelling, "Drink that up boys!").

Her Houses: Tessie opened her first brothel in 1898 and operated in several localities in the "Uptown Tenderloin," then the best restaurant, theater, and amusement district. Burned out in the Great Fire of 1906, she reopened in her most famous location, a three-story brick building with terra-cotta facing at 337 O'Farrell Street. The first floor was given over to a saloon. Upstairs one found a large, mirrored ballroom, 12 bedrooms, a dining room, kitchen, and several parlors. (Displayed prominently in the main receiving room was a needlepoint "motto" which read, "If every man was as true to his country as he is to his wife--God help the U.S.A.") Tessie generally had 10 to 15 young strumpets on hand, few of them older than 20. An "average trick" cost at least $20, and Tessie doubled her income by selling liquor and champagne. Visitors were met at the door by a black maid, who ushered them into the parlor to meet the madam. She would generally call out, "Company, girls!" a signal for several young courtesans to walk in sedately. (No profanity or bad manners were allowed from either girls or guests.) While the visitor made up his mind, he was expected to buy drinks for the company and to feed coins into an automatic music box.

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