Linda LaRoque ~ Women of Controversy in Waco, Texas

My time travel romance, My Heart Will Find Yours, is set in 1880s Waco, Texas. Located on the Brazos River, in its early history, Waco was known as Six-Shooter Junction. Trail drives herded their cattle across the Brazos in Waco and the cowboys usually spent time in the bawdy houses of the Reservation or Two Street as the red-light district was known. Drinking in the multitude of saloons and card games sometimes led to fights, often involving the use of firearms.

When the suspension bridge opened in 1870, and the railroad arrived in 1871, business in Waco thrived. Trail drives repeatedly lost cattle when herding their livestock across the Brazos. It wasn’t uncommon for a man to be caught in the undertow and drown. Cattle bosses were willing to pay the 50 cents per animal to get their cattle across safely.

In her book, A Spirit So Rare, Patricia Ward Wallace broaches the topic of how women forged a path in the early history of Waco. Her chapter on prostitutes is titled Women of Controversy. Since prostitution plays a minor role in my western time travel romance, I’d like to borrow her title and share some of what I learned.

The first noted record of prostitution in Waco is documented in an 1876 city directory. Matilda Davis of 76 N. Fourth St. is listed as a madam with 10 occupants in her house. The women listed their occupation as actress. Waco had no playhouse at the time. In 1879, the city issued the first license for a bawdy house for an annual fee of $200 and a good behavior bond of $500.

Waco officials legalized prostitution within the Reservation in 1889 making Waco the first town in Texas and the second in the United States to condone a controlled red-light district. Madams paid a yearly fee of $12.50 for each bedroom and $10.00 for each bawd. Prostitutes paid an additional $10.00 license fee and paid the city physician $2.00 twice a month for a medical exam. This guaranteed they didn’t ply their trade outside their designated territory and were disease free. The city prohibited drinking within the area. Fines for violators ranged between $50 and $100. With the large number of prostitutes it’s easy to see the city benefited from trade within the Reservation.

Prostitutes were prohibited from being seen on the streets outside the Reservation yet they were allowed to trade with local businesses. No more than two at a time could travel via a city hack to the stores. Usually tradesmen sent clerks to the curb with merchandise. Some store owners required the prostitutes to stop at the back door.

Life was hard for these working girls. Violence abounded in the bordellos as did drug and alcohol use and abuse. Though licensed, the police had little to do with the establishments. The madams disciplined the women in their houses and maintained order among their clientele. On occasion the police were called when robberies or assaults occurred.

Waco’s most famous madam was Mollie Adams. She had worked in another house but in 1890 opened her own three-room operation. By 1893 she had a seven-room establishment. In 1910 she’d obtained enough wealth to commission a house to be built by the same firm that built the First Baptist Church of Waco and the building now the Dr. Pepper Museum. Her home at 408 N. Second St., had indoor plumbing, electric fixtures, two parlors, a dance hall, and a bell system wired to every room. Her portrait, included here, hung over the fireplace. Though wealthy at this point in her life, she died in an indigent home in 1944. Lorna Lane, the madam in Madison Cooper’s epic novel, Sironia, is supposedly modeled after Mollie Adams.

In 1917, the US Government ordered cities with military bases to shut down red light districts to protect the health of America’s soldiers. Not wanting to lose Camp MacArthur and its 36,000 troops, the city shut down the Reservation in August of 1917. It is rumored some bawdy houses managed to continue business through the 1920s.

References: Wallace, P. W., A Spirit So Rare, pp. 148-156.

Photo: Courtesy of Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, Texas

Thank you the Petticoat and Pistols ladies for having me as your guest today. Readers, I love comments. Leave me one and “Felicia Filly” will draw a winner for an e-copy of My Heart Will Find Yours. Visit my website at to read the first chapters of my books. I give away an ebook every month on my blog at http://www.lindalaroqueauthor.blogspot/

Happy Reading and Writing!


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49 thoughts on “Linda LaRoque ~ Women of Controversy in Waco, Texas”

  1. Interesting blog, Linda. Prostitutes sure were treated as second-class citizens. Sad, since many of the women in those days had no other options. I’ve read your novel, My Heart will Find Yours, and it’s one of my favorite time travel westerns. Whoever wins it will really enjoy it.

  2. hi linda!
    what an interesting post!
    a monthly visit to the dr to cert free of disease? that was good thinking…are they talking stds back then or just “regular” disease?

    oh i feel bad for those girls
    what an awful life it must have been
    so very interesting though…really…those women were tough

    how did they keep from getting pregnant?

    i only have a moment before i head out of town for the weekend..but i will be sure to check out your website soon
    i’ve not read any western time travel yet—but i think i would love it!

    i love your title and cover!

    thanks for sharing!

  3. Very informative blog Linda. I wish I had been aware of Waco’s history about 15 years ago when I visited friends there. My mom and I spent two weeks with her best friend. We pretty much stayed at the house the whole two weeks. If it hadn’t been that my mom’s friend was an avid reader and had tons of books for me to read, I would have been bored silly. We did see the Brazos River (beautiful), Baylor University & the outside of the Dr. Pepper Museum.

    If hindsight were foresight I would have tried to find out about the city’s history. I use to hate history when I was younger. Now as I have ‘matured’ I find that I love history and want to learn all about the history of places I go. In fact for my honeymoon I wanted to go to Philadelphia to see Independence Hall & the Liberty Bell as well as to Gettysburg. I loved it (except for the food poisoning I encountered.

    Everyone have an awesome day here at P & P.

    Smiles & Blessings,
    Cindy W.

  4. What great information you have supplied. Always love to here about history. Time travel stories are at the top of my list to read. There is just something about going from one century to another that fascinates me.

  5. Hello Petticoat and Pistols Ladies. Thank you for having me today. It’s a real pleasure to visit, share some Waco history, and visit with your readers. I love the west and this is a wonderful blog site. Always something new to learn.

  6. Hi Tabitha,
    They were pretty good at preventing pregnancy but failures were common. Children were born in the houses. At one point in Waco, children were taken from the prostitues and put in an orphanage. I’m not sure it was a better alternative for them as it was more like a work farm.

    I hope you will check out my website. Thanks!

  7. Oh, Cindy, I wish you had too. There is the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame Museum and loads of other places to visit. I hope you’ll come back again. Get in touch and I’ll help you find the interesting spots.

    Yikes on the food poisoning. One of my favorite historical spots is Williamsburg, VA.

  8. Hi Sherry,
    I hope you’ll read MHWFY. I too love history and so enjoyed the research for this story. Wouldn’t it be fun if time travel were really possible–for awhile anyway.

  9. I don’t live in Texas, so I don’t know a lot of Texas history. Thank you for all the information, it is a fascinating subject. I really enjoy time travel books, but I’m certainly glad I didn’t live in those times, I enjoy my modern conveniences too much. Especially air conditioning in this heat.

  10. I’m with you, Linda. That’s why I’d like to visit for a short time. With the ac, I want my allergy medicine when I need it. It’s more fun to visit through books. Thanks for your comment.

  11. Heck, I lived in Kileen, TX, just outside Waco, for two years in 1973-1975 and the red light district still flourished there, especially on pay day weekend. But this was an excellent, extremely interesting post. Good job.

  12. Yeah, P.L., there were 4 arrested here in Waco a couple of weeks ago. I guess it’s everywhere but I thought it was interesting that it was regulated in the 1900s.

    Killeen is an interesting place. I lived there in 1968-69 while my husband was in Vietnam. Then we moved to Maryland for 9 months before returning to Texas.

  13. So true, P.L. We lived in Killeen in 1968-69. Most of the time my hubby was in Vietnam and I taught school there.

    It’s still practiced illegally everywhere. 3 or 4 were arrested here a couple of weeks ago.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  14. I was born and raised in Texas, just north of Houston. I’ve been to Waco on my way to other places and had no idea about the history. We’re fortunate that this state is rich with history and tales. It makes me curious to know more about the history other than just the Alamo and Sam Houston. Thanks for the great post!

  15. Hi, Linda–I can’t help but think of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, the infamous “Chicken Ranch.” You did a great job with this article. We don’t really think much about the prostitutes that actually had a hand in developing this state. In some cases, where would we be without them? They did play a role.
    In my last Texas book–out next April–a prostitue has a brief role, as she is dying and brings her two little children–from different unknown fathers–to my heroine to care for. I didn’t research prostitutes for that role, but I do know a few facts and used those. Good job!Celia

  16. Hi Linda, welcome to P&P. We’re thrilled to have you here. Great blog subject! I live in Texas and have been to Waco a lot, but I didn’t know it used to be called Six-Shooter Junction. How funny. I’ve been to the Dr. Pepper Museum and the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame there. I have to stop every time I go through Waco. Lots of history there. Thanks for the tidbits about Mollie Adams.

    I wish you lots of success with your book. I love time travel stories.

  17. Thanks for stopping by, Abi.

    Robin, I think we can find interesting history not matter where we are. We just have to look, listen, and explore. Thanks for your comment.

  18. Thank you for the warm welcome, Linda. I bet you’d enjoy the book by Madison Cooper, Sironia Texas. Supposedly it is about Waco and some of its prominent citizens beginning in 1890. In two volumns, it’s hard to read but well worth the effort.

  19. Welcome to the junction, Linda! So good to have my Bandera buddy here with us. Oh, wasn’t the Silver Spur ranch wonderful?

    I totally loved My Heart Will Find Yours. It’s one of the first books I read from my Mother’s Day kindle. And I love the history you shared with us today. Can’t even imagine a bordello kind of life. Whew.


  20. Hi Linda and welcome! I’m saddened by the women forced to survive by prostitution and fascinated by those that chose to prosper on that path. Mollie was a beautiful woman–no surprise she was successful.

  21. It has been a while since I read a time travel book… always interesting to see how a character deals with the differences… Thank you for sharing this post with us today! 😀

  22. So much history and so little time. (To read it all). Thanks for all the very interesting information. Love Time Travel and will be sure to look this one up.

  23. Great post, Linda. Sounds like they had a hard life. “Women of Controversy” sounds like a great title for a book. Thanks for sharing. I wish you many, many sales.

  24. Hey Linda,

    This is really interesting. I had NO idea! What a great post–love this history. I’m in Oklahoma, and have lots of relatives in TX–in fact, that’s where both sides of my family came from “back in the day.” I love time travel books–gotta get MHWFY! Thanks for posting this.


  25. We’re neighbors, Cheryl. Oklahoma is a beautiful state. I love the red earth. One of these days I’m going to take time to explore the area more. Seems we’re always just passing through.I hope you do read MHWFY. I’d love to know what you think about it.

  26. I loved this line:

    “The women listed their occupation as actress. Waco had no playhouse at the time.”

    ::DING:: It made me grin. Thanks for the info, Linda and, as we both know, MHWFY is one of *my* favorite books {smile}

  27. Thank you for such an interesting post. Linda. Not that I think prostitution is a very good way to make a living, but it would certainly make more sense to regulate it to assure the health and safety of the women and their customers. How many of those good upstanding men who made the rules that these women had to stay in the red light district, could travel to town more than two at a time, and didn’t want them in their stores, were frequent customers?

    Another thing I have never agreed with was the prosecutions. To this day, the prostitutes are arrested and prosecuted. In most cases, their customers are set free. This is changing, but not fast enough. If it is illegal, both parties should be prosecuted. The woman can’t do it without a customer

  28. I understand what you’re saying, Patricia. At least while legal it was controlled but still the women weren’t protected. I imagine many of the men were customers, and agree with both being prosecuted.

  29. I’ve been researching my family for years. My grandfather never talked about his brother’s & sisters. I just found out today that his sister Mary C. Adams was Mollie Adams, the madam. Love to know more about her. If you have information about her would love to hear from you. Thanks

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